Siyam (Fasting)

Siyam is one of the main pillars of Islam. It is mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint." (Quran 2:183)

Based upon the Qur'an, it has been the consensus of Muslims throughout history that a Muslim who rejects the legitimacy of Siyam rejects Islam as well. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said about the significance of the month of Ramadan: "A great month, a blessed month, containing a night which is better than a thousand months. The Almighty has appointed the observance of fasting during it as an obligatory duty, and the passing of its nights in prayer as voluntary practice. If someone draws near to The Almighty during it with some good act, he will be like one who fulfills an obligatory duty in another month, and he who fulfills an obligatory duty in it will be like one who fulfills seventy obligatory duties in another month."

A quote from another Hadith states: "The month of Ramadan is the month of endurance and the reward for endurance is paradise. It is a month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness and whose end is freedom from hell."

Significance of Ramadan

Like any other injunctions of Islam, the benefits of the Ramadan are not limited purely to either "spiritual" or "temporal" elements of life. In Islam, the spiritual, social, economic, political, and psychological all intermingle in a consistent and cohesive whole. For convenience of presentation, however, the significance of Siyam (fasting) is discussed under four sub-headings: social, physical, spiritual and psychological.

Social Elements

1) Fasting promotes the spirit of unity and belonging within the Muslim Ummah (Nation). Millions of Muslims all over the world fast during the same month following the same rules and observances.

2) Fasting promotes the spirit of human equality before The Almighty. All Muslims male and female, rich and poor, from all ethnic backgrounds go through the same experience of deprivation with no special privileges for any group or class.

3) Fasting promotes the spirit of charity and sympathy towards the poor and needy. A rich person may be able to "imagine" the suffering of the poor or "think" about hunger. This may explain, in part, why Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity.

4) Fasting also promotes the Islamic form of sociability. Muslims are urged to invite others to break the fast with them at sunset, to gather for the Qur'anic study, prayer and visitations. This provides spiritual atmosphere and better chance for socialization in a brotherly and spiritual atmosphere. Hazrat Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani (R.A.A.) relates that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: Anybody who offers meal for the breaking of the fast of another person earns the same merit as the one who was observing the fast without diminishing in any way the recompense of the fasting person. (Tirmizi and said this is sound and good). Hazrat Umm 'Ammarah Al-Ansaria (R.A.A.) relates that once the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) visited her when she placed some food before him. He (S.A.W.) asked her to eat also. Thereupon she said: I am fasting today. This He (S.A.W.) remarked when non-fasting persons eat before a fasting person the angels call for Allah's mercies upon him till they have finished or he said, till they have eaten to their satisfaction. (Tirmizi reported this and said it good). Hazrat Abu Hurairah (R.A.A.) relates that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: 'When any of you is asked to join in a meal, he should accept the invitation. And if he is fasting, he should pray for the host, and if he is not fasting he should join the host.' (Muslim)

Medical and Health Aspects

A great deal has been written about the medical and health benefits of fasting, both by Muslim and non-Muslim scientists. These benefits include the elimination of harmful fatty substances from the blood stream, helping cure certain types of intestinal and stomach ailments and the removal of body tissues. Needless to say that some ailments may be aggravated by the fasting, in which case, the individual is exempted from fasting. For those who may be engaged in islamically (medically) undesirable habits such as overeating or smoking, the self control and discipline exercised in Ramadan provide an excellent beginning to "kick" these bad habits.

Spiritual and Moral Elements

1) Fasting above all is an act of obedience and submission to the Almighty. This submission and commitment is based upon the love of The Almighty and the earnest effort to gain His pleasure and to avoid His displeasure. Hazrat Abu Hurairah (R.A.A.) says that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: "The Almighty and Master of Honor says: All other actions of a person are for himself, except the case of his fasting which is exclusively for Me and I shall pay (recompense) for him for the same. The fast is a shield (against vice and the fire of Hell)." Therefore when anyone of you is fasting he should abstain from loose talk and avoid verbosity and noisy exchange of words. If somebody starts abusing him or picks up a quarrel with him, he should tell him that, 'I am observing a fast.' By The Almighty in whose hands is the life of Muhammad (S.A.W.), the breath of the mouth of one who is fasting is more pleasant in the sight of The Almighty than the fragrance of musk. A fasting person gets two kinds of pleasure: firstly he feels pleasure when he breaks his fast, and secondly he will be joyful by virtue of his fast, when he meets his Lord. (Bukhari and Muslim) This is the wording of Bukhari.

Another version of Bukhari adds: The Almighty says: The fasting person abstains from food, drink and from satisfying his passion simply for My sake; as such a fast is undertaken for My sake, I shall grant him the recompense for this. Other virtuous deeds (done in the month of Ramadhan) are rewarded ten times.

Imam Muslim's version says: A man's good acts are recompensed many times, from ten times to seven hundred times. Allah the exalted says: But a fast is an exception because it is undertaken simply for My sake, (i.e. there is no limit for its recompenses.) I, Alone, shall bestow the reward for it. (The person who observes a fast) gives up his food, drink and sensual desires for my sake. For a fasting person there are two pleasures - firstly; joy when he breaks his fast and secondly another joy when he meets his Lord. His breath is more pleasant in the sight of Allah than the fragrance of musk.

2) Fasting is an act of acknowledgment of The Almighty as The Only Master and The Sustainer of the Universe. It is only through His bounties that we derive our existence and our sustenance.

3) Fasting is an act of atonement for our errors and mistakes. Hazrat Abu Sa'eed Khudri (R.A.A.) says that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: When a person fasts for a day, for the sake of The Almighty, then The Almighty drives away the Hell from him to a distance of seventy years of traveling. (Bukhari and Muslim)

4) Fasting trains the believer in sincerity; unlike other acts of 'worship', it is entirely based on self-restraint.

Psychological Elements

1) It enhances the feelings of inner peace, contentment, and optimism. These feelings result from the realization of The Almighty's pleasure.

2) It teaches patience and perseverance and enhances the feeling of moral accomplishment. Hazrat Aba Hurairah (R.A.A.) related that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: If a person does not refrain from lying and indecent activities, Allah does not want that he should abstain from eating and drinking. (Bukhari)
Note: The idea behind this tradition is that backbiting, lying and indecent activities while fasting lessen the recompense of the fast and decrease its radiance. Therefore one should shun these things while fasting.

3) Voluntary deprivation of the lawful appetite leads one to appreciate the bounties of The Almighty which are usually taken for granted (until they are missed!)

4) For a complete month every year, Muslims go through a different and exciting experience which breaks the normal routine of life. Not only can this be refreshing, it also teaches the person to adapt to varying conditions and circumstances in his/her life.


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

March 1991
Ramadan 1411
Letters to the Editor
The Virtues of Fasting
Qur'an and Science
Fasting (Siyam)
The Kid's Corner
Women in Islam
The Prophet Sheth
The Prophet Idris
Islamic Dietary Laws
Teachings of the Prophet
Why I Embraced Islam
List of Publishers