It is not entirely accurate to translate the word "siyam" to "fasting". For the purpose of this article, it will be referred to as the "Islamic fast".
"Sawm" or "Siyam" is a special kind of service to God by able-bodied and sane persons, by observing a particular kind of abstinence from food, drink, and marital relationship for a specified period from dawn to sunset, being compulsory in a specific lunar month called Ramadan , the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
The word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic root r-m-d which means "to burn away". This is the month in which God grants amnesty to all the believers, to all fasting Muslim men and Muslim women.
In Islam, the following categories of persons need not fast:
- The very young, the elderly, the infirm, the insane.
- Menstruating women, pregnant and nursing mothers, however they must make up for the days not fasted later in the following months as soon as they are able to keep the fast.
- Travelers also can postpone the fast if they wish to.
-Persons suffering from some diseases that cause low blood sugar.
During the Islamic fast (and indeed at all times), the person must refrain from indecent talk, slander, lies and backbiting.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "If one does not abandon falsehood and other actions like it, God has not need that one should abandon one's food and drink" (Al-Bukhari).
The Impact of Fasting on Behavior
There is a big difference between the Islamic fast and mere starvation. The Ramadan fast is an exercise of self-discipline involving food intake, use of tongue, hands, eyes, ears, thoughts and sex.
Many of the undesirable habits and traits of the previous months are automatically corrected in this month. Some Muslims might have been habituated to a particular type of wrong doing like gambling, smoking, drinking, backbiting, fraud, hot temper, domestic violence, and so on.
Fasting breaks these habits either gradually for some or immediately for those with a stronger will-power, especially if supported by constant supplications. To do so , it needs faith and determination.
Fasting is an institution for the improvement of the moral and spiritual character of a Muslim. The purpose of fasting is to help develop self-restraint, self- purification, God- consciousness, compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing, to love humanity and to love God.
The aim of this spiritual exercise is to enable man to achieve proximity to God and obtain His pleasure.
Fasting is the most rigorous of all spiritual disciplines imposed on every adult Muslim man and woman, it frees oneself from egoism, replacing it with incredible peace within the person which makes him able to accept human differences.
The month of Ramadan suffuses the whole environment with a spirit of righteousness, virtue and piety. Just as plants have their season of flowering , so is Ramadan, it is the time of the year for the growth and flourishing of goodness and righteousness.
The month of Ramadan is earmarked as a time for all Muslims to fast together and ensure similar results. Collective aspects of fasting manifest themselves in the fact that it takes place in the same lunar month for the faithful all over the world.