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The Five Pillars of Islam: Sawm

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Every world religion has a set of core beliefs that form the foundation for the principals of the religion and in Islam there are five basic pillars upon which the religion is built: Shahadah, Salaat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj. These five pillars are practiced universally across cultures, ethnicities, schools of thought and nations. The fourth pillar, Sawm, is the Arabic word for fasting and fasting is prescribed for all Muslims, particularly during the month of Ramadan.

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The Holy Quran states in Surah 2:183:

"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint."

Fasting is commended as a way for Muslims to learn self-control but in addition, the Holy month of Ramadan is an obligatory act of worship during which all Muslims fast for 30 days from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations with their spouses. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, are permitted to break the fast and to make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able and children begin to fast from puberty. Although fasting is beneficial for maintaining good health, it is mainly a method of self-purification, self-restraint and a way of remaining thankful for the blessings that God, Allah in Arabic, has bestowed.

The Holy Qur’an goes on to declare in Surah 2, Ayat 185:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.

There are numerous blessings derived from the observance of fasting in general and in particular during Ramadan. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: "The month of Ramadan has come to you, a blessed month, in it the gates of Jannah are opened, the gates of Hell are closed, the devils are imprisoned, in it is a night better than a thousand months... whoever is deprived of the good of this month has truly been deprived." (Ahmad, Nasaa'i, Ibn Maajah)

Additional sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, (SAW), about Ramadan and fasting are:

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, 'I am fasting." The Prophet added, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), 'He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times."

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 120:

Narrated Sahl:

The Prophet 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."

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 122:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened."

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 124:

Narrated Ibn Umar: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "When you see the crescent (of the month of Ramadan), 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 Ramadan (as of 30 days)".

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 125:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven."

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 126:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:

The Prophet was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel visited him, and Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur'an to Gabriel, and when Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind (which causes rain and welfare).

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 175:

Narrated Umar bin Al-Khattab:

Allah's Apostle said, "When night falls from this side and the day vanishes from this side and the sun sets, then the fasting person should break his fast."

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 3, Book 31, Number 178:

Narrated Sahl bin Sad:

Allah's Apostle said, "The people will remain on the right path as long as they hasten the breaking of the fast."

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