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Fasting in the month of Ramazan is the third pillar of Islam. It is mandatory upon all healthy adult Muslims. The Arabic word for fasting is 'saum which literally means 'to abstain'. When fasting, one has to abstain from food, drink, smoking, intercourse, etc. from dawn to dusk.

These prohibitions, however, are lifted from sunset to dawn. The ultimate goal of fasting in Islam is to achieve piety or taqwa, that is a state of constant awareness of Almighty Allah. Believers who enjoy taqwa constantly think on how to please Allah by doing good and avoiding evil. They are promised great rewards in the Hereafter.
The revelation that made fasting compulsory upon Muslims is contained in the following verse:

"O you who believe! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, that you may be pious." [Al-Baqarah: 183]

Allah Almighty did not impose fasting to burden His servants. Islam has set guidelines on those upon whom fasting is mandatory. Travelers and those who fall ill may break their fasts, but they must make up for the days they missed during the other months of the year. Women in menstruation and those bleeding after childbirth are not permitted to fast, and they must make up for the days they have missed.

People with chronic illnesses should feed a poor person (fidyah) for each day that they miss, and they do not have to make up with fasting at another time. Scholars unanimously agree that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, who fear for their own health or the health of their children, may forego fasting as long as their conditions persist.

Fasting is a form of ibaadah (worship) that is entirely private. Only Almighty Allah alone knows whether His servant is truly fasting, and He promises great rewards for those who observe their fast during Ramazan.

Sahl narrated that the Prophet SAW said:

"There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, 'Where are those who used to observe fasts?' They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it." [Bukhari]

Fasting in the month of Ramazan is determined by two ways: that is, when the new moon is sighted on the 29th evening of Sha'baan; failing which when the preceding month of Sha'baan completes its full 30-day cycle.

Ibn Omar narrated that he heard the Prophet SAW say:

"When you see the crescent (of the month of Ramazan), start fasting, and when you see the crescent (of the month of Shawwal), stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast (and you can't see it) then regard the crescent (month) of Ramazan (as of 30 days)". [Bukhari]

The Holy Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad SAW at night in the month of Ramazan. This night is described in the Qur'an {Chapter 97: Al-Qadr (The Night of Power)} as Lailatul-Qadr or Lailatul Mubaarak which means the Night of Power or the Night of Blessing respectively. The relevant chapter (surah) specifically states that the reward for one good deed performed on this night is equivalent to that of 1,000 months

Allah Almighty practically invites Muslims to benefit from this special night of all nights. Generally, scholars are of the opinion that Lailatul-Qadar occurs in the last ten days of Ramazan, more so on one of the odd dates (i.e. 21, 23, 25, 27 and 29th).

As such a Muslim is expected to increase his level of ibaadah, recite the Holy Qur'an, remember Allah and do good deeds on those days. Many opt for seclusion (iktikaf) in the neighbourhood mosque during the last 10 days of Ramazan.

Islam recommends parents to teach their children to fast when they are about seven years old, but only if they are able to. The child will be rewarded for fasting, and the parents will be rewarded for bringing him up properly and guiding him to do well. It has been reported that Al-Rubay' bint Mu'awwidh (r.a.) said:

"We used to make our children fast, and we would make them a toy made out of wool. If any one of them started to cry for food, we would give them that toy to play with until it was time to break the fast." [Bukhari]


A Means of Forgiveness

It is a reality that none of us is perfect. We all have some
weaknesses and shortcoming and we find ourselves committing sins out
of ignorance or out of submission to our desires and whims and thus
driving ourselves away from Allah darkening our heart and sealing
them from guidance and overloading our books of bad deeds. However,
Allah said of Himself that He is the Most Merciful the oft-Forgiving.
As part of this infinite Mercy He made available for us various ways
of achieving forgiveness and sin expiation. Among the most important
and beneficial of these ways of forgiveness is fasting in general and
in Ramadan in particular. Let us discover this glad tiding from the
sweet words of the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam.

Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam
said : "The time between the five prayers, two consecutive Friday
Prayers, and two consecutive Ramadan are expiations for all that has
happened during that period, provided that one has avoided the grave
(major) sins." [Muslim]

Abu Huraira narrated that Allah's Messenger said : "Whoever observes
fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to
attain Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven."

"Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan (and that
is called Qiyam) faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain
Allah's rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be
forgiven. [Bukhari]

Abu Hurairah also narrated that the Prophet, salla Allahu alaihi wa
sallam, climbed upon the mimbar (pulpit) and said: "Aameen [O Allah
grant it], aameen, aameen". So it was said, "O Messenger of Allah,
you climbed upon the mimbar and said : "aameen, aameen, aameen"? So
he said :"Jibraa'eel, `alaihi assalam, came to me and said, 'Whoever
reaches the month of Ramadan and does not have [his sins] forgiven
and so enters Fire, then may Allah distance him, say aameen". So I
said "aameen". [Ibn Khuzaimah, Ahmad and al-Baihaqui : Sahih]

Hudhaifah Ibn al-Yamaan reported that the Prophet, salla Allahu
alaihi wa sallam, said: "The evils caused for a man through his
family, wealth and neighbor are expiated by prayer, fasting and
charity." [Bukhari and Muslim]. In another narration in Sahih al-
Jami`: "The evils caused for a man through his family, his wealth,
himself, his children and his neighbor are expiated by fasting,
prayer, charity, enjoining the good and forbidding the bad.