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The Fourth Pillar of Islam - Sawm

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The Fourth Pillar of Islam - Sawm


In this essay I will be writing about the 4th pillar of Islam, Sawm
(fasting). I will define what fasting is, why Muslims fast, how and
when they fast. I will also clarify the ritual and moral duties a
Muslim must perform during this sacred month and what rewards are
promised from Allah for fasting. I will furthermore go on to explain
the difficulties Muslims face when fasting in non-Muslim countries. I
will also explain that its not Muslims alone who are commanded to fast
but Christians (lent) and Jews (Yom Kippur) also have been commanded
to fast. I will end this essay by summarizing and giving my opinion on

Fasting is another unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam.
Literally defined, fasting means to abstain "completely" from foods,
drinks, intimate intercourse and smoking, before the break of the dawn
till sunset, during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of
the Islamic year. The Islamic calendar is Lunar, i.e. based on the
moon so Ramadan falls eleven days shorter every year. Fasting is a
test of control, to see if we can control our innermost desires for a
certain period of time, which might include eating and sexual
entertainment. While fasting a Muslim has to keep his emotions under
control, no evil thought or wrong deed should be committed. If the
emotions or the heart or behaviour of a Muslim are wrong then the fast
looses its real significance.

"There are many who fast during the day and pray all night, but they
gain nothing but hunger and sleeplessness." (Hadith)

This quote is showing us that there is no sincerity, meaning that
fasting without the right Niyyah (intention) will be worthless as you
will have not understood the real value of fasting. It has to be done
with the heart. Some people lie, use bad language eat haram
(forbidden) food and therefore break there fast unknowingly. Allah
sees and hears all, so the people who fast without the right niyyah,
who are they fooling? Another hadith which backs up what I am saying
and backs the previous hadith is: "If you do not give up telling up
lies God will have no need of your giving up food and drink."

As I have mentioned earlier Islam alone is not the only religion that
directs its followers to fast but all the Monotheism (believing in one
god) religions are meant to fast. In Christianity for example,
Christians give up some luxuries such as alcohol and sweets on lent,
which begins with Ash Wednesday. This fast is a reminder of the
sacrifice and death of Jesus. Lent encompasses the six weeks of
preparation, which lead up to Easter. It also recalls the time Jesus
spent in the desert when he was tempted by the Devil.

In Judaism you have, Yom Kippur-The Day of Atonement. This is when
Jews repent for all the wrong doings they have done in the past and
they fast for 25 hours.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, it starts from the
moment the new moon is seen and finishes when the new moon of shawal
is seen. It is a month of spiritual guidance, praying and lamenting to
Allah. It is the month in which the Qur'an was revealed and it can be
seen as a medium for purification and developing the conscience of our
relationship with Allah it is also the month in which "Lailat-ul Qadar
[night of power]." Fasting during the month of Ramadan was ordained
upon the Ummah of Muhammad (pbuh) in the second year of Muhammad's
migration to Madinah. Ramadan came to be an important month in the
Islamic calendar because it's the month in which the Qur'an was
revealed with clear guidance and differentiation (Between Good and
Bad). It was when the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was praying in a
mountain in madinah called "Mount Hira" when all of a sudden the
prophet heard a voice, it was angel Gabriel. Gabriel had bought down
to Muhammad (pbuh) the first word of the Qur'an which was recorded as
"surah Iqra" and that is when the religion of Islam started. So this
month is very important as it commemorates the start of the religion
of Islam.

All Muslims should fast because it is the 4th pillar of Islam, these
pillars are the basis from which the religion stands and develops,
without strictly obeying the 5 pillars you cannot classify yourself as
a Muslim. For a person to deny fasting or not to fast without a valid
reason is very harsh indeed. The punishment will be so great that one
will not be able to bear it in the hereafter. The prophet (pbuh) has
said in a hadith:

"Whosoever eats during one day of Ramadan, without a valid reason
[acceptable in shariah], shall never be able to recoup that day even
if he fasted for the rest of his life"

When Muslims all over the world fast in the same way it shows the
unity among the Muslim ummah and from that peace and harmony is
gained. In Ramadan no one is rich or poor everyone is equal as both
the rich and poor would be doing the same things. Allah has ordered us
to fast because he wants us to remember the unfortunate people that
live in this world and that it is our duty to look after them. Some
Muslims consider fasting hard but they no not think that what they
suffer for one month the poor are suffering for their lifetime. Having
said that fasting teaches us self-discipline and we have a
understanding of what life is like for the poor and unfortunate and it
should make us question our own character, am I doing my part in
helping overcome poverty in this world?

Allah has not prescribed fasting for us just so that we please him but
it is for our own good. There are many rewards in fasting but there
are also many punishments like the one I have mentioned before.
Fasting is so dear to Allah that he has allocated a special door of
entry into heaven for those who have fasted with sincerity "In
paradise there are eight gates among which is a gate called Ar-Rayyan
which only those who fast will enter." (Hadith) likewise "It is a
month of endurance and the reward for endurance is paradise. It is a
month of sharing with others." (Hadith)

Fasting Ramadan is Farz (compulsory) upon every Muslim, Male or
female, who has the following qualifications:

a) To be mentally and physically fit, which means to be sane and able.

b) To be of full age, the age of puberty and discretion, which is
normally about 15.

c) To be present at one's permanent settlement, your home, business
premises etc. This means not to be on a journey of about 50 miles or

d) To be fairly certain that fasting is unlikely to cause you any
harm, physical or mental, other than the normal reactions to hunger,
thirst etc.

The people are/allowed to be excused from fasting are:

a) The insane as they do not know the meaning of fast, they would just
think of it as a fun thing to do and also it might cause mental and
physical damage to them.

b) Children under the age of puberty

c) The very old and weak who cannot bear the hardship of fasting

d) An ill person as it might damage their health

e) A Muslim soldier serving in a Muslim army

f) Women who are breast-feeding, pregnant and who are on their

Those people who have missed out/broken a fast it is compulsory for
them to make it Qaza. That is to fast at some other time, preferably
before the next Ramadan. Or if for any reason that is not possible the
person concerned must pay the equivalent of one meal to a poor person.
If the person concerned is poor himself then he is forgiven for not
fasting with an acceptable reason.

A typical day for a Muslim family in Ramadan would be to make up
before sunrise and have a meal called Suhur, as this is all you would
have, to last you a whole day. Then afterwards you would pray Fajr
salaat and most people would go back to sleep but it is more rewarding
to stay up and read Nafal salaat and the Qur'an. After that people
would be ready to set of on their day-to-day activities bearing in
mind that business has to be done without cheating and lying. Bad
thoughts and deeds should be avoided. During the course of the day a
Muslim should pray Zuhur and then afterwards Asar. Soon afterwards it
would be time for Iftar, when Muslims all over the world would be
seating down to break there fast with the Adhan of Magrib. It is
advisable to have a light meal to keep your digestive system working.
The prophet (pbuh) himself only had a glass of water and a date (a
fruit grown in hot countries) as stated in a hadith. Then Magrib
prayer would be offered and then you could do whatever you desire,
most people take a rest. Then the extended prayer that only happens
during Ramadan would be offered, known as "salat-ul-taraweeh." In
which during the course of the month the whole Qur'an has to be
read/recited. After that you can indulge yourself in a big feat and
have a little celebration to reward yourself for the good deed you
have done during the course of the day. Afterwards you would go back
to sleep and get ready to wake up again for the next morning.

To fast in Britain is much more difficult for a Muslim then to fast in
a Muslim country because there, it is a way of life, culture and
tradition where everyone is doing the same thing where as in Britain
Muslims are a minority and the society is different. It would be
increasingly hard for a Muslim to fast in Britain because they would
have to wake up themselves whereas in an Islamic country the Adhan
wakes you up. Here there are not as many mosques as in Islamic
countries and so one might have to travel a great length just to go
and pray in a mosque. Here the weather is constantly cold, not helping
at all, it makes the person hungry and so do the smells of food that
are smelt while walking past shops.

To me as a Muslim fasting is more important than festivals because
festivals have no real significance whereas fasting does. Festivals
are there for enjoyment and pleasure and rewarding yourself for good
deeds but if you have not done a good deed then why celebrate? Muslims
believe that one day they will return to Allah and Allah will question
them have you been following my religion (which includes practicing
the 4th pillar of Islam) and have you done any good deeds. He will
also ask them did you take advantage of the holy moth of Ramadan and
what did you gain from it, for there were many rewards for those who
fasted. Festivals do create a sense of unity, happiness and joy but it
does not have the spiritual values that fasting does. When you fast
you are showing people that you are willing to go without food for a
day, you are willing to sacrifice your pleasure for your own good and
to please Allah, also to see how life must be for the unfortunate.
Some people will argue that festivals are more important, but then the
real question is, is festivals more important than one of the 5
pillars of Islam?

In my opinion fasting is an act which everyone should do not just
Muslims. It would give everyone the chance to think of how fortunate
they are and it would also provide the opportunity to feel sympathy
for the poor. In my conclusion I would say fasting encourages love,
discipline, unity, peace and sympathy, which are the basic attributes
a human should have. If you want you're past sins forgiven and to be
once again purified of all wrong doing then fasting is the way to do
it. "He who fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward,
Allah will have his past sins forgiven…." (Hadith)


Fajr-the first prayer of the day

Zuhur- The second prayer of the day

Asr- The third prayer of the day

Magrib- The fourth prayer of the day

Isha- the fifth prayer of the day

Hadith- Quotes and sayings of the prophet

Iftar-When you break the fast

Islam-A way of life, the religion of Muslims

Mosque- A Muslim place of worship

Nafal salat- a part of the salat, which can be prayed as many times
whatever reason, whoever for

Qur'an-sacred writings of Islam revealed by God to the prophet

Suhur-An extra meal, before first light

Tarawee salaat- Taraweeh is a recommended congregational prayer
offered by the prophet

Niyyah-you intentions

Qazah-to make up for something you have missed for example a prayer or

Adhan- call to prayer

Salaat- prayer


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