Sawm (Arabic: صوم) is an Arabic word meaning "to abstain", and refers to fasting which is also the fourth of the five pillars of Islam during the month of Ramadan. Fasting in Islam is the abstenance of food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn until dusk. During this time, a Muslim is also required to refrain from doing evil actions and speaking evil words.
During Ramadan, fasting becomes obligatory on every able-bodied Muslim who has attained the age of puberty. Those who are traveling or are sick are required to make up the missed days after Ramadan and before the month of the next year. Fasting is also obligatory in the fulfilment of an oath or for expiation. Supergatory fasts can also be performed, and there are specific days recommended for fasting, which include the day of 'Arafah, the 10th of Muharram, six days of the month of Shawwal, three days from the middle of every month, and mondays and thursdays. Fasting is forbidden on particular days, some of which are the two Eids and the three days that follow Eid ul-Adha.
Fasting is an ancient rite which was ordrained to people as a means of worshipping God prior to Islam, as mentioned in the Qur'an (002:183). Other religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and even Hinduism have concepts of fasting in them.
Before the Qur'anic obligation of fasting in the month of Ramadan was revealed, the Prophet and the other Muslims fasted 'Ashura, the tenth of Muharram. As related in the hadith, when the Prophet migrated to Medina from Mecca, he found the Jews fasting on Muharram 10, and inquired as to why they did so. The Jews informed him that it was the day that Allah saved the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh, and that Moses used to fast this day as an expression of gratitude. On hearing this, the Prophet said, "We are closer to Musa than you are", and fasted the day while also commanding the Muslims to fast as well. The following year, the verses for fasting Ramadan were revealed, upon which the fast of 'Arafah became optional.
Fasting is obligatory only during the month of Ramadan, in fulfilling an oath, and in expiation of a sin. There are, also, other days in which fasting is supergatory. Fasting during Ramadan is exempted for some people.
Fasting became obligatory during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during the second year of hijra (2 AH (623 CE)). Prior to the hijra, the Prophet used to fast 3 days of each month (amounting to 36 days a year). Fasting begins when the new moon is seen, and ends when the new moon of the following month is sighted. Besides fasting, Muslims attempt to complete the reading of the Qur'an at least once, preform supergatory prayers, and do itikaf.
The Qur'an and a number of hadith speak of the elevated status of Ramadan. In one hadith, the Prophet is recorded as having said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the Heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Certain groups of people are exempted from fasting during Ramadan altogether, others are required to make up missed days later. Those that are exempted from fasting have to feed a poor person for every day that they did not fast, except children who have not reached puberty. These people are:
- Old, feeble people
- Those who are chronically ill
- The insane
Others are temporarily exempted from fasting i.e., missed days must be made up after Ramadan:
- Travelers on a journey
- A sick person
- Pregnant and nursing women
- Menstruating women
There is no specific days or sequence of days that is ordained to make up the fast. Although it is recognised that a person's time of death is already ordained, and it could be at any time.
 Other obligatory fasts
Fasting becomes obligatory in two other cases: in the expiation of a sin (kaffarah), and in fulfilling an oath. Some sins, when comitted, required them to be expiated in different ways, some of which include fasting for a definite period. When one breaks an oath, one of the options of expiation is fasting for three consecutive days. When a person has been accidentally killed, the expiation for such sin is fast for sixty consecutive days in addition to paying compensation to the deceased's family. The practice of zihar (a type of divorce common in pre-Islamic Arabia where a husband would say to his wife, "you are like my mother") requires fasting of sixty consecutive days.
When an oath is made to fast, it must be fulfilled, just as any other oath.
 Nafl fasts
Besides the known obligatory fasts, there are also recommended voluntary fasts. Voluntary fasts can be observed at any time of the year, except on a few specific days. There are also specific days which the Prophet Muhammad has recommended to fast on, or has fasted on himself on:
- Day of 'Arafah
'Arafah is the ninth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah when the pilgrims go to the plain of Mount 'Arafat and stay there engaged in rememberance of Allah until the evening. However, the pilgrims themselves are not allowed to fast as it wil result in hardship for them. Abu Qatadah reported that Prophet having said that the fast of 'Arafah atoned the sins committed during the preceding and following year.
According to some reports, fasting the first nine days of Dhu al-Hijjah is also recommended. Hafsah, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, related that the Prophet never missed four things: the fast of the tenth day of Muharram, fasting ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah, fasting three days every month and praying two Rak'ahs of prayer before Fajr salat. reported by Ahmad
- Six days of Shawwal
- Specific days of each month
 See also
Al Birr Foundation , Sawm (fasting)
- ↑ William Lane, Edward; Stanley Lane-Poole. Arabic English Lexicon, 1749.
- ↑ Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127
- ↑ Mischler, Ælfwine (2003-26-02). Fasting the Day of `Ashura’. Retrieved on January 8, 2008.
- ↑ Baig, Khalid. The Meaning of Ramadan. Retrieved on January 17, 2008.
- ↑ Bello, Abdullateef. Why Do Muslims Fast during Ramadan?. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
- ↑ Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 123
- ↑ Sahih Muslim, Book 6, Number 2361
- ↑ Zahid, Ishaq. GLOSSARY OF ISLAMIC TERMS. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
- ↑ WAJIB (COMPULSORY) SAUM. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
- ↑ Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 117