Sawm is the act of fasting in Islam, and usually refers to the fasting done during the month of Ramadhan (9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar). A more accurate description would be abstention, because when a person fasts, he abstains from eating and drinking, having sex, and other activities which are deemed unIslamic.
By the latter, I'm referring to the fact that during sawm, a person is made more conscious of his activities, and hopefully, this 4 weeks of abstention would be habit-forming and the new and better habits would persist.As an example, if a person likes to gossip, during sawm, he is made more conscious of his submission to God during this time and thus distance himself from such activities. Hopefully, this will not just be during the time of fasting but be a new habit.Sawm, thus is an effort to increase one's piety consciously.
Thus, there are some activities that are otherwise legal (eating, drinking and sex with your wife/husband) that is restricted temporarily during this month. During this month, Muslims are encouraged to increase activities that bring them closer to God - supernumerary prayers, zikir, community work, etc.Sawm is not confined to the month of Ramadhan and may be performed as a mustahab during other periods such as:
- On every Mondays and Thursdays
- For 6 days in Syawal (except during the first 3 days)
- Day of Arafat (9th day of Dzulhijjah) and the preceding 8 days (i.e. the first 9 days of Dzulhijjah for those not performing the Hajj)
- Day of Asyurah (10th day of Muharram)
- In the month of Rejab and Sya'ban (these are the 7th and 8th months - the months preceding Ramadhan)
Similarly, there are days when you can't perform a fast
Swam is performed from dawn (beginning of Fajr) to dusk (beginning of Maghrib). In the polar regions where there may be seasons of days and nights only, they may make up for these obligatory Sawm during the times when the days and nights are more normal.As with all activities in Islam, it begins with niyah or intention.
- Days of celebration (Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha)
- Singling out Fridays ONLY - it is alright to fast on Fridays of you do fast other days as well
- Fasting EVERYDAY of the year
The Muslim who is intending to perform sawm shall recite:نَوَيْتُ صَوْمَ غَدٍ عَنْ أَدَاءِ فَرْضِ رَمَضَانَ هَذِهِ السَّنَةِ لِلَّهِ تَعَالَىNawaitu sawma ghadin 'an adaa-i, fardhi syahri Ramadhaana hadzihis-sanati lillaahi ta'alaa
I state my intent to fast tomorrow in the month of Ramadhan for AllahThis must be made beforehand and must be made verbally. Without this, the sawm is not valid. It may be said in languages other than Arabic (unlike sholat).During the sawm, be aware of yourself and your activities. Aim to be a better Muslim. Sawm has been known to soften even the hardest of emotions (including anger, lust, etc). This is the chance.This will also be a good time for those intending on losing weight and improving your health (though this shouldn't be the primary reason). The caveat is that you do not eat excessively during break-fast and before Fajr - that would defeat the purpose.In Islam, it is sunnat or Mustahab to eat as close as possible to Fajr (generally, Imsak, or time till no longer permissible to eat) is up to 10 minutes before the Fajr prayers and as early as possible once the azan is recited for Maghrib. Look at the kindness present in the rules of Islam for the benefit of its followers.You are recommended to eat dates as this is the practice of Rasulullah.After you;ve had some (light) food, recite the following as a show of thanks to Allah:اَللّهُمَّ لَكَ صُمْتُ وَعَلى رِزْقِكَ أَفْطَرْتُ Allahumma laka sumtu wa `alaa rizqika aftartu
O Allah! For You have I fasted and upon Your sustenance have I broken my fast.ذَهَبَ الظَّمَأُ وَابْتَلَّتِ الْعُرُوقُ وَثَبَتَ الأَجْرُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ Dhahab az zamaa’u wab tallatil urooqu wa thabat al-ajru Insha-Allah
The thirst has vanished, the veins have been wetted and the reward is established - Insha-Allah.