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Fasting in the Quran

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One of the salient topics discussed in Islamic rulings is fasting. Though a common feature in many Abrahamic religions, fasting has been associated with Muslim practices. In this article we will be exploring different aspects of fasting in the Quran and try to understand some of the reasons why it is so important in Islam. We will attempt to do so by answering a list of questions such as:

Definition of Fasting

Fasting is the act of abstaining from food and or drinks, during certain hours for whatever purpose. Similarly, the literal meaning of the Arabic term which is Sawm (صَوم) means any form of abstinence, but when used in a religious context, it refers to refraining from engaging in certain actions that would make a person’s fast void as declared by the Lord.

Fasting in the Quran

The word Sawm and its derivatives have been mentioned around 14 times in the Quran. Allah has said in verse 183 of Surah Al-Baqarah:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be God-wary. 1

The fact that it is stated in the above verse that fasting was obligatory upon past nations does not necessarily mean each and every one of them were obligated to fast, nor does it suggest that they fasted the way Muslims do. However, what we can understand from other instances in the Quran, is that what is meant by past nations is usually the Jews and Christians.

Moreover, there are certain verses in the Holy Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity which highlight the importance of fasting. Other verses about fasting in the Quran speak about the time during which a Muslim is obligated to fast and of course, specific circumstances in which a Muslim is pardoned from this duty.

Certain Conditions of Fasting in the Quran

The Quran states:

أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ ۚ وَأَن تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

That for known days. But should any of you be sick or on a journey, let it be a [similar] number of other days. Those who find it straining shall be liable to atonement by feeding a needy person. Should anyone do good of his own accord, that is better for him, and to fast is better for you, should you know. 2

In another verse, Allah says regarding fasting hours:

وَ كُلُوا وَ اشْرَبُوا حَتَّي يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيامَ إِلَي اللَّيْل

Eat and drink until the white streak becomes manifest to you from the dark streak at the crack of dawn. Then complete the fast until nightfall. 3

The Purpose of Fasting in the Quran

As other commands of God, there are many hidden and apparent wisdoms to why a person must fast. The best answer, of course, is what Allah has explained as one of the reasons for fasting in the Quran. When taking part in an action, each person would naturally need motivation, and the best way to acquire that motivation is to understand the benefits they would inherit from engaging in that action.

As stated in verse 183 of Chapter Two of the Holy Book, Allah has made fasting incumbent upon the believers so they may be God-wary. One may ask how fasting will benefit us in terms of developing God-wariness. In response to this question, we must point out that the key is in self-control.

When a person trains themselves to abstain from things that are otherwise lawful and halal to them under normal circumstances, for the sake of God, they will reach a higher level of awareness and enlightenment.

Subsequently, once they master the art of saying no to the desires of their lower selves and put a reign on the temptation driven spirit, they will be able to walk on the path of piety with ease.

Obeying other commands of God will no longer seem like a chore to them and they will always be conscious of their actions as a result of the state of awareness and watchfulness that they had to maintain during their fast.

Physical Benefits of Fasting

In addition to spiritual values, research has shown that fasting results in numerous health benefits as well. If done right, the process of refraining from eating and drinking for a month each year and on other occasions during the year can help the body with natural detoxification.

Moreover, by fasting in a manner that Islam has truly recommended, i.e. not over eating after breaking our fast, not skipping the pre-dawn meal, including recommended foods into our diet such as dates and roasted barley flour and cutting down on sugar and fat consumption, we can rid our body of toxins that it has accumulated throughout the year.

Also, fasting has been proven to increase the body’s metabolism and strengthen the immune system. Studies have also shown that fasting can have a drastic positive effect on high blood pressure and can help naturally bring it to a balanced state.

Several other benefits have been ascribed to fasting to an extent that even none religious practices are adopting it as a method of self-care.

Rules of Fasting

As all other rituals, fasting also has a set of regulations in order for it to be valid. Even though the common perception towards fasting is that one must abstain from eating and drinking, there are many more details that one must observe for their fast to be accepted. One of those factors is the time of fasts.

Regarding the days of fasting in the Quran, Allah has employed the term “ayyaman ma’dudaat” (أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ). The reason for this could be so that the Muslims who have just been obligated with this duty do not feel overwhelmed. By stating that they only need to fast a few days a year and only for a few hours during those days, it is implied that the action of fasting is meant to be simple and unchallenging for the believers.

Times of Fasting

From other verses mentioned above, it is made clear that one is obligated to fast from fajr, when a bright line of light appears in the sky and extends till sunrise, until night time. Even though different Muslim sects have various opinions on when night time is, it is primarily considered as the time that the sun has set into the horizon and the redness in the eastern section of the sky has faded.

Things Which Invalidate a Fast (Mubtilat)

There are a number of [apparent] items that break a person’s fast if the fasting person engages in them intentionally and with the knowledge that they will make their fast void. Also, the fasting person must commit these actions willingly and, in the case where they were forced to do so, no harm is done to their fast. These actions are:

  1. Eating
  2. Drinking
  3. Sexual intercourse
  4. Inhaling thick smoke or dust
  5. Masturbation
  6. Ascribing false things to God, the Noble Prophet and his infallible successors
  7. Applying liquid enema
  8.  Intentional vomiting
  9. Remaining in a state of impurity (jinabah) until fajr

Validity of the Soul of Fasting

On the other hand, countless narrations speak of certain acts that might not technically make a person’s fast void, but will erase the spiritual benefits of their fast and prevent them from receiving the blessings and rewards that come as a result of fasting. In fact, such actions are those that one must pay heed to not only while fasting but throughout their lifetime. A few instances of those actions are:

  • Backbiting
  • Lying
  • Impure thoughts towards others
  • Lustful gaze towards those who are not permitted for us and much more

In a beautiful hadith, we read in this regard that:

كَمْ مِنْ صَائِمٍ لَيْسَ لَهُ مِنْ صِيَامِهِ إِلَّا الْجُوعُ وَ الظَّمَأ

How many are those who fast yet receive nothing from their fast but hunger and thirst. 4

A similar narration also states:

صوم النّفس امساك الحواسّ الخمس عن سائر المآثم و خلّوالقلب عن جميع اسباب الشّرّ

The fasting of the soul is the abstinence of the five senses from all sins and emptying the heart from all evils. 5

In addition to those which make a person’s fast completely void, there are items that will not damage a person’s fast but are disapproved. These actions are referred to as makruhat and are as following:

  1. Applying medication or collyrium in the eyes
  2. Doing anything which causes fatigue such as giving blood
  3. Applying medication in the nose without the knowledge that it will reach the throat
  4. Smelling aromatic plants
  5. Women sitting in water
  6. Using a suppository
  7. Making the clothes that are on the body wet
  8. Causing the mouth to bleed i.e. teeth extraction
  9. Brushing the teeth with wet wood
  10. Putting water or any other fluid in the mouth without a due cause
  11. Immersing the entire head in water

Types of Fast

Much like other Islamic obligations, there are four types of fasting:

Obligatory Fast (Wajib)

In addition to the holy month of Ramadan, a Muslim becomes obligated to fast for a number of other reasons such as:

  •  Oath (nathr-نذر)
  • Atonement (kaffarah-کفارة)
  • Compensation for lapsed fast (ghadha-قضا)
  • Substitution for Hajj sacrifice
  • Third day of spiritual retreat (I’tikaf-اعتکاف)
  • Compensation for a deceased father which is obligatory upon the eldest son

Though fasting is recommended for a one who is capable, on any day of the year, there are some days during which fasting are more rewarded than others. However, we must keep in mind that we are only permitted to engage in recommended fast, sometimes referred to as voluntary fast, under the conditions where we do not have any compensation fasts for lapsed days upon us or in the case that we do, there is sufficient time until the next month of Ramadan to observe them. Some days during which it is recommended to fast are:

  • Mondays and Thursdays of each week
  • The first, middle and last days of the lunar calendar
  • The month of Rajab
  • The month of Sha’ban
  • 18th of Zilhijjah known as Eid al-Ghadeer

Disapproved Fast (Makruh)

Opposite to recommended fasts, there are days throughout the year that due to some reasons, it is best for a person not to fast, unless it has been obligated upon by means of oath; some of those instances are:

  • The 10th day of Muharram known as Ashura
  • The day where one is doubtful of whether it is the 9th or 10th of Zilhijjah
  • For a guest to fast without the consent of their host

Forbidden Fast (Haraam)

Perhaps in order to strengthen the spirit of obedience in the believers, even a sacred act such as fasting is forbidden in some cases, for them to understand that no action is of value unless it is done purely for the sake of God. Thus, when God commands us, we refrain even from an otherwise obligatory and bountiful act such as fasting. With this said, there are some occasions where a Muslim is not permitted to fast such as:

  • The first day of the month of Shawwal or Eidul Fitr
  • The 10th day of the month of Zilhijjah or Eidul Adha
  • When a believer is traveling or is ill

      However, in the case where a person is traveling or is ill during days when fasting is obligatory, it is upon them to compensate for the lapsed days once they have returned home or regained their health.

People of Obligation

A question one might be asking at this point is that, are all Muslims obligated to fast? The technical answer to that question is no; it is only incumbent upon Muslim men and women to fast after they have reached religious puberty and have become mukallaf (مکلّف).

This means a woman needs to complete 9 years and a man needs to complete 15 years in lunar calendar to have reached the age where they are obligated to fast. Moreover, there are few groups of people whom Allah has directly addressed in verses regarding fasting in the Quran, pardoning them from this duty. As mentioned earlier in verse 184 of Surah al-Baqarah, those people are:

  • Travelers
  • Those who are too weak due to old age
  • Those who are ill

In addition to this, a woman who is on her menstrual period or is experiencing lochia (postpartum bleeding) and a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding with the risk of fasting harming them or their child, are not obligated to fast. 

The Month of Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calendar during which it is obligated upon religiously mature Muslims to observe fast from fajr until night time. The month of Ramadan can either be 30 or 29 days starting from one crescent sighting to the other.

Crescent Observation

 In some sects of Islam, scholars determine when the crescent moon which usually develops a day after the new moon, will appear in the sky thus declaring the beginning of the new month. This process gains most significance during the month of Ramadan due to the obligation of fasting on the first day of Ramadan and the prohibition of fasting on the first day of the month of Shawwal.

However, other scholars believe that a sighting by the naked eye is necessary in order to mark the beginning of the lunar months. The verse regarding the month of Ramadan and fasting in the Quran states:

فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ

So let those of you who witness it fast [in] it. 6

Significance of Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan is the most sacred month to Muslims and narrations instruct us to spend our time during this month supplicating, refraining from sin, giving charity, reciting the holy Quran and moving towards bettering ourselves in light of the doors of blessings that are opened in this holy month. A hadith from the Noble Prophet says in this regard:

ان ابواب السماء تفتح فى اول ليلة من شهر رمضان و لا تغلق الى اخر ليلة منه.

Verily the doors of heaven open on the first night of the month of Ramadan and are not shut until the last night. 7

For this reason, Muslims are encouraged to engage more in spiritual matters and take this opportunity to turn to God, repent from their past sins and reflect. Moreover, as stated in narrations, the reward of all the good deeds that a Muslim engages in is multiplied during this holy month as are the sleep of one who is fasting and even the breaths they take. It has been narrated from Prophet Muhammad that:

شَهرُ رَمَضانَ شَهرُ اللّه عَزَّوَجَلَّ وَ هُوَ شَهرٌ یُضاعِفُ اللّه‏ُ فیهِ الحَسَناتِ وَ یَمحو فیهِ السَّیِّئاتِ وَ هُوَ شَهرُ البَرَكَةِ؛

The month of Ramadan is the month of Allah, and it is the month in which Allah multiplies good deeds and erases bad deeds and it is a month of blessing. 8

In another beautiful hadith we read:

لو يعلم العبد ما فى رمضان لود ان يكون رمضان السنة.

If a servant knew of what was in Ramadan, he would wish for Ramadan to last a year. 9

In addition to this, the month of Ramadan is believed to be the month in which the holy Quran was first revealed unto God’s Last Messenger, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him.

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ

The month of Rama¤¡n is one in which the Quran was sent down as guidance to mankind, with manifest proofs of guidance and the Criterion. 10


  1. Quran 2:183, Ali Quliqarai
  2. Quran 2:184, Ali Quliqarai
  3. Quran 2:187, Ali Quliqarai
  4. Nahjul balaghah, p. 495
  5. Tasnifu Ghuraril Hikam, p. 176
  6. Quran 2:184, Ali Quliqarai
  7. Biharul anwar, vol.93, p.344
  8. Biharul anwar, vol.96, p.340
  9. Biharul anwar, vol.93, p.346
  10. Quran 2:185, Ali Quliqarai
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1 Comment
  1. Zulykhah says

    AssallamunA laykum
    i love this write up
    can i get it translated to arabic
    jazakumllahu khayr

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