Saum in Islam [Archives:1999/50/Culture]

December 13 1999

By: Abdllah Saleh Al Hashedi
Sanaa University
In the technical language of Islamic Law, Saum signifies fasting or abstaining from food and drink and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. The institution for fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and it comes after the institution of prayer and zakat or charity. It was in Madinah in the second year of Hijra (over fourteen hundred years ago) that fasting was made obligatory and the month of Ramadan was set apart for this purpose. In the Holy Qur’an Allah says:
“O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-muttaqun (the pious).” [2:183]
Another fact which can be made in this statement is that fasting is also a universal institution. That is to say that the practice of fasting has been recognized well nigh universally in all the higher revealed religions though the same stress is not laid on it in all and the forms and motives vary.
Although all practices of worshipping are for Allah, here Allah singles out Saum (fasting), because fasting can not be practiced for the sake of showing off, as nobody except Allah can know whether one is fasting or not. Therefore, fasting is a pure performance that can not be blemished with hypocrisy. The prophet Muhammed said:
“By Him in whose Hand my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah Says about the fasting person), he has left his food, drink and desire for My Sake. The Saum (fast) is for me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 1894)
One might ask himself why Islam chose Ramadan for Muslims to fast and not any other month? In fact, historically this month is very special for all Muslims. In the Holy Qur’an Allah says, “The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance for mankind and clear proof for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). “[2:185]
It is clear from this statement that the choice of this particular month was not without reason. It’s been chosen because the revelation of the Holy Qur’an began in Ramadan. The first revelation came to the noble Mohammed (PBUH) on the 24th night of the month of Ramadan when he was in the cave of Hira. Therefore it was in Ramadan that the first ray of Divine Light fell on the prophet’s mind and the angel Gabriel made his appearance with the great Divine Message. Therefore, Ramadan was considered to be the most suitable month for the spiritual discipline of the Muslim community which was to be affected through fasting.
In Islam, fasting has it’s own values and benefits for Muslims. Primarily, it is a spiritual discipline. Both the Holy Qur’an and Hadith lay special stress on the fact that seeking Divine Pleasure should be the ultimate object of fasting. In the Holy Qur’an Allah says, “So let them obey Me by fasting and believe in Me, so that they be led aright.” [2:186]
A Muslim keeps fasting regularly day by day for the whole month with a set purpose of drawing closer and closer to the Divine Being. In fact, a man can simply avail himself of the best diet, yet he prefers to remain hungry. He has the cool drink in his possession, yet he is parched by thirst. In other words, he touches neither drink nor food because he believes that it is the commandment of Allah that he should not do so. The Divine Presence which may be a matter of faith to others, becomes a reality for a fasting Muslim. This kind of feeling is made possible by the spiritual discipline underlying fasting.
Fasting is considered to be a perfect moral exercise for Muslims. The exercise of abstaining from everything that is not allowed, strengthens the moral side of life. Fasting for one month teaches man a high lesson that, instead of being a slave to his appetites and desires, he should be their master. The man who is able to rule his desire, to make them work as he likes, is the man who has achieved true moral greatness.
Fasting also brings to man a very important social value which affects the whole Muslim world. The rich and the poor live in different environments. The rich usually sit down on tables laden with dainties and with these they load their stomachs four or even six times a day. On the other hand, the poor cannot satisfy their hunger even twice a day. It is only in Ramadan that the rich can feel the pangs of hunger like the poor by going without food for a day. In this case both the rich and the poor are brought on the same level in that they are only allowed two meals a day for the whole month. Moreover, this experience definitely awakens sympathy for the poor in the hearts of the rich.
The physical value of fasting is not less important than the above values. Ramadan is considered to be a rest for the digestive organs to restore their strength and increase their better capacity for work. Now many doctors all over the world declare that fasting is a perfect means which helps people to keep fit for life on this earth. In addition to this, fasting accustoms man to face the hardships of life and increases his powers of resistance.