What is siyam in islam? What does siyam means in islam?

The lexical meaning of the word, ‘sawm’ (fasting), is to keep oneself away from an action. In legal terminology, it means, for people who are legally responsible, to carry out this act of worship, by staying away from eating, drinking and engaging in sexual relations from the time of the dawn until the setting of the sun, with the intention of performing an act of worship. Fasting is a source of self-restraint, piety and achieving God consciousness. The purpose of sawm is to seek taqwa (heightened spiritual awareness of Allah). Fasting was even prescribed by Allah for the people before the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), “O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa [self-restraint, piety and God-consciousness]”[1] There are countless spiritual and moral benefits to fasting. Sawm is an act of obedience to Allah. A fasting person is willing to sacrifice his basic humanly needs in submission to Allah’s Will and to seek His pleasure and blessings. In their hunger and thirst, the humans can feel the essence of Allah’s immense power. Sawm teaches good behavior and discipline; it does not require abstinence from eating and drinking only, but rather, a fasting individual must also try to keep in check, all their improper behavior. The Prophet is reported to have said, If one does not abandon falsehood in words and deeds, Allah has no need of his abandoning his food and drink”.[2] Therefore, fasting strengthens people’s willpower and helps them to control the wants and desires of their inner self (nafs). By exercising patience while being hungry, human beings learn to apply self-control in all difficult circumstances; they learn to become masters of their desires rather than slaves to their longings. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) expressed this truth by stating, “Fasting constitutes half the patience.”[3] Another hadith expressing the importance of fasting is as follows; A man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and said, “Order me to do something from which Allah will make me benefit from.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, “I recommend fasting to you, continue with that because that is an act of worship with no equal.”[4] Fasting vitalizes the feelings of compassion, love and mercy in people; it enables these peaceful feelings to replace resentments and disappointments. Moreover, fasting can help people’s physical health by removing harmful substances from the body which have accumulated over time; the Prophet stated, “Fast and you will gain health.”[5] In the following Hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), further expressed that fasting is also a means by which sins are forgiven;Whosoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah then all his previous sins will be forgiven.”[6] Sawm unites Muslims all over the world, it brings together the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the men and the women; whatever their status, they share the same experience of sacrificing their needs to please Allah, may He be glorified and exalted. Sawm may also help the wealthier Muslims to empathize with those Muslims and non-Muslims who suffer poverty and hardship; by experiencing the effects of hunger and thirst, any Muslim can better understand the suffering of another.

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the five basic principles of Islam. It was made obligatory upon believers in the second year of the Hijrah. The obligation of fasting is stated in the following verses of the Qur’an, “O you who believe decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” and, “So whoever sights [the new moon of]the month, let him fast.”[7] In order for the Ramadan fasting to be considered obligatory, it must be undertaken during the month of Ramadan. Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, “Start fasting when you see the crescent of the month of Ramadan.[8] As it is understood from the verses of the Qur’an and the above Hadith of the Prophet, it is obligatory upon every Muslim, who is mukallaf (legally responsible), to fast in the month of Ramadan every year. Taking the obligation of fasting lightly or denying that it is an obligatory act of worship is unacceptable in Islam. As for the person who believes that fasting is obligatory, but still does not fast without having a valid excuse, he/she is seen as committing a sin.

Fasting is classified into different categories according to certain rulings; namely, obligatory (fard), recommended (mandub), disliked (makruh) and forbidden (haram). There are two types of fasts that are fard; firstly, fasting in the month of Ramadan, which is obligatory upon all Muslims who carry the conditions of being a mukallaf. In other words, Muslims who are able-minded, have reached puberty and have no valid excuses that prevent them from fasting, are required to fast in the month of Ramadan. Muslims are obligated to make up any Ramadan fast (qada and kafara) that could not be performed, or, that was broken due to a valid excuse or without an excuse. According to most Muslim jurists, the making up and the expiation of these fasts needs to be fulfilled in the same year they were not performed. Those who did not fast in the month of Ramadan must make up for these days in the days other than the month of Ramadan, except the days when fasting is not allowed. Secondly, if someone vows to fast, the fast becomes obligatory for them (nadhr). The recommended fasts according to the Sunnah are, such as, fasting on the day of Arafa for the person who is not performing the major pilgrimage (Hajj), fasting on the eight days before the day of Arafa, fasting on the day of ashura (that is the tenth day of the month of Muharram), fasting on a day before or after ashura, fasting in the months of Rajab and Shaban, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, fasting on the fifteenth day of the month of Shaban, and fasting three days in every lunar month.  Disliked or makruh fasting according to Islam is as follows; it is considered reprehensible to fast three days consecutively on the thirteenth,  the fourteenth and the fifteenth days of a lunar month.  Even though fasting in the month of Shawwal is Sunnah, it is reprehensible to fast six days consecutively without taking a break after the feast of Ramadan.[9] Finally, the forbidden category of fasting includes; not fasting on the day of the Ramadan festival (Eid al-Fitr, the day of the sacrificial holiday (Eid al-Adha), the days of tashriq (total four days). It is also forbidden for women who are menstruating to fast until their menstruation ceases and for women who are experiencing post natal bleeding following child birth. Furthermore, it is forbidden to fast for any person who is suffering from a terminal illness or a condition whereby fasting may lead to the further deterioration of their health or even result in their death.

There are two essential principles of fasting, which are, to make an intention and to stay away from things that break the fast. In order for the intention to be considered valid, it should be made at night or just before the time of dawn. The intention can be made for the whole month of Ramadan, or it can be made for one day at a time. Concerning the former method, one intention is sufficient for all the fasts that are going to be performed consecutively, however, it is important to note that the fasts should not be interrupted due to making a journey, becoming ill or menstruation etcetera. Concerning the latter method of making an intention, the intention needs to be renewed every night for the next day’s fast. It is considered mandūb to make a separate intention for every day. It is perfectly satisfactory to make this intention in any language, in the mind or out aloud.[10]

It is recommended for a Muslim to partake in the ‘suhur’, a pre-dawn meal. It is the Sunnah of the Prophet to eat a pre-dawn meal; suhur is intended to reduce the hardship of sawm during the day. However, if due to over-sleeping or any other cause, upon waking a person finds that it is already dawn, or if they are not certain whether dawn has broken, they should refrain from eating or drinking. It is safest to awake early enough to eat and finish the meal about 20 minutes before dawn, since eating after dawn would nullify the day’s fast. As soon as the sun has set, the Muslim should break his fast with iftar (breakfast). It is suggested that if the iftar is light, for example, a few dates or other fruit and water; one may have it before offering the Sunset prayer. However, if one is having a heavy iftar, perhaps it is better to offer the prayer first to avoid missing its proper time. It is Sunnah to break the fast with dates, water or something sweet, to say an invocation at the time of iftar and to invite a fasting Muslim to iftar. Ramadan is also seen as the best time to help relatives and give charity to the poor.

It is important to note that if necessary, the following types of people are allowed to defer their fasting: (a) The ill: if the sawm is likely to make the illness worse. (b) The mentally ill: for as long as the mental illness lasts. (c) The traveler: when the journey is made to such a distance that it is possible to shorten the salah, (d) The pregnant woman: if the sawm is likely to harm the health of the mother or her unborn child and (e) The nursing mother: if the sawm is likely to harm the health of the mother and/or prevent her from having enough milk for her baby. This is because Allah, Almighty does not burden his servants with responsibilities they are not able to carry out. Allah states in the Qur’an,“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil). For a certain number of days; but whoever among you is sick or on a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days; and those who are not able to do it may effect a redemption by feeding a poor man; so whoever does good spontaneously it is better for him; and that you fast is better for you if you knew.”[11]

It is also important to note that if the fasting is missed without a valid excuse and the missed fast(s) cannot be made up, then the fidya is paid. This is the financial compensation paid for every obligatory fast that has not been carried out, “…and upon those who are able [to fast, out during Ramadan and could not be made up but with hardship]-they must give a ransom [as before the following year’s Ramadan by those who are unable to fast payment of fidya as a compensation substitute]of feeding a poor person [each day].” Fidya is normally given as currency, the monetary value of the weight of one mud[12], approximately 687 grams, to a charity organization that provides food items,[13]  or to the poor as compensation for each day that a person was not able to fast in the month of Ramadan. The new Muslim can visit their local Muslim charity to find out the current rate of fidya or give food items locally. It is important to note that those who are unable to fast because of their old age or chronic illness, they are not obliged to pay the fidya, but it is mustahab (recommended) if they do so.

For the new Muslim it is imperative that they clearly understand the things and the situations that break the fast and require both making it up (Qada) and expiation (Kafara). For example, engaging in sexual relations while fasting, intentionally emitting semen while fasting, revoking the intention of fasting during the day or night, intentionally taking something solid or liquid through the mouth that will break the fast, intentionally vomiting and intentionally eating or drinking something that is edible during the daytime in the month of Ramadan breaks the fast, and, requires both qada and kafara. Depending on the person’s choice, the kafara for such broken fasts can be one of the following three things: 1. Feeding sixty poor people; for each poor person a mud amount of food is given. 2. Fasting for two months consecutively in accordance with the lunar calendar. 3. The freeing of a slave (this was carried out in the past when slavery was widespread; it is difficult to undertake in the present day and age). Other situations require only qada, for instance, when the fasting is broken due to: a. illness, however, when a person has recovered, after Ramadan, he or she should fast the number of days equal to the number missed during Ramadan; b. if a person is travelling then after Ramadan that person should fast a number of days equal to the number of days missed during travel in  the month of Ramadan; c. if a person has to be intravenously fed or have injections for nutritional purposes[14] then the person has to make up their missed fast(s). However, a person does not have to do the qada if he or she eats, drinks, smokes, or engages in sexual activity while in a state of forgetfulness during the state of fasting. In this case, he or she should stop eating, drinking etcetera the moment they remember and continue to fulfill the fast of that day. This brings us to the situations and incidents that do not break the fast, for example; involuntarily vomiting, a fly or any insect entering one’s mouth, dust from the road entering one’s throat, flour entering the throat of the miller, baker etcetera, liquid medicine applied to a wound around the stomach or chest area, cleaning one’s teeth, a thirsty person rinsing his/her mouth with water, and being in the state of janāba. All of these do not break the fast.

As a new Muslim if you are partaking in the fasting of the month of Ramadan for the first time, you may come across the act of, ‘itikaf’, which lexically means, ‘to stay somewhere, to wait, to be patient and not to leave a certain location’. In Islamic legal terminology it means that a Muslim who has reached the age of discernment, retires inside a masjid while fasting and distances himself from sexual desires and everything related to it. Itikaf is one of the nafila (extra) acts of worship. The minimum amount of time for itikaf is one day and one night. The most virtuous itikaf is the one that is carried out in the last ten days of Ramadan because Laylat al-Qadr (The night of Power)[15] is amongst these days. During the itikaf the Muslim spends his or her[16] time in salah, asking Allah’s forgiveness, remembering Allah (dhikr), reciting the Qur’an and invoking Allah’s blessings on the Prophet. In many Muslim cultures today, this is considered a very virtuous and popular act of worship, and, most mosques are filled up with Muslims carrying out itikaf during the last ten days of Ramadan.

[1].  Q. 2:183[2]. Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 30, Hadith 1[3].Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab as-siyam. 44.[4].   Sunan an-Nasai, Kitab as-siyam, 165.[5].Sunan at-Tabarani, Bab as-sawm, 5.[6].Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 32, Hadith 1[7].Q. 2: 183[8].Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 30, Hadith 10. [9]In both of the above mentioned cases the reasons that cause reprehensibility of fasting is the worry about leading people to think such consecutive fasting is obligatory in Islam.[10]. I intend to fast in the month of Ramadan, as a Fard act of worship to You. I pray to You to accept the fast from me.[11]. Q. 2:183-184[12].Q. 2: l84.[13]. A measurement used in the time of the Prophet (peace be up on him)[14]Other medical injections, such as vaccinations, do not nullify the fast[15] This night is considered the holiest night of the year, and is traditionally celebrated on the 27th night of Ramadan but it is possible for it to be during any night of the last ten days of Ramadan. It is known as the “Night of Power,” and commemorates the night that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Prayers are answered and blessings are abundant.[16]. Females normally do this act of worship at home.

Source: Islam For New Muslims An Educational Guide,Assoc. Prof. Amjad M. Hussain, Erkam Publications

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