Sawm is the Arabic term used to describe the act of fasting. Passed the age of puberty, Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadan, which entails abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations and displeasing speech and behaviour from sunrise until sunset.
The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and includes the night in which the holy Qur’an was first revealed to mankind, known as Laylat al-Qadr (the night of decree). The month of Ramadan therefore marks an important moment for mankind and requires special devotion from Muslims. “It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So, any one of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful.” (Qur’an
During this sacred time, Allah asks that Muslims temporarily abstain from their needs and base desires that make up our human selves.
Muslims who are physically or mentally unwell may be excused some of these, as may those who are under twelve years old, the very
old, those who are pregnant, breast-feeding, menstruating, or travelling. If an adult does not fast for the reasons above they should try to make up the fast at a later date, or make a donation to the poor instead.
Muslims do not only abstain from physical things during Ramadan. They are also expected to do their best to avoid evil thoughts and deeds as well. There are many good reasons for this fast, including:
During Ramadan many Muslims will try to eat a large meal called suhur just before dawn. When daylight is over, most Muslims will break or open
the fast with dates or water, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, before having a proper meal later. The evening meals during Ramadan are occasions for family and community get-togethers.
The month of Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr. This is marked by dressing up and visiting the mosque
for prayer, and with visits to family and friends for celebratory meals.
Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each successive year, so there is no Western season associated with Ramadan.
A Muslim chaplain discusses self-denial and corporal mortification with contributors from Opus Dei and a Greek Orthodox church.