Sawm is an undertaking by Muslims during Ramadan, which is the holy month where Muslim families and friends come together to share a meal after a long day of fasting and reflect on the blessings of their lives. Sawm is an important part of Ramadan, but what does it actually mean?

When is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is considered to be the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.

For most Muslims, it is a time during which they fast, pray and spend time with friends and family over a 29 to 30 day period.

Ramadan is steeped in tradition and history, with many rules and codes of behaviour.

This year, Ramadan began on the evening of Thursday, April 23, 2020, and it will continue until the evening of Saturday, May 23.


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What is sawm?

Sawm is an Arabic word meaning fasting.

Sawm is particularly associated with Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is the third of five pillars of Islam.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, gambling, smoking and all sensuous pleasures from sunrise to sunset.

Sawm is directly stated in the Quran as “eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till night”.

What are the pillars of Islam?

The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to the tenets of the religion.

The Five Pillars are:

  • Shahadah: Sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
  • Salat: Performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
  • Zakat: Paying an alms or charity tac to benefit the poor and the needy
  • Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca.

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Why is sawm important for Muslims?

Ritual fasting is an obligatory act during Ramadan and requires Muslims to abstain from food, beverages including water, sexual intercourse and other activities, during daylight hours.

Muslims who are physically able and not otherwise exempt, are required to fast from dawn to sunset for the entire month of Ramadan.

Muslims fast because it is a religious duty commanded to followers in the Quran.

In terms of the religious practice, fasting gives all Muslims an opportunity to reflect in a spiritual way about their lives and develop a sense of self-discipline.

Practically-speaking, fasting teaches Muslims to identify with the poor and needy.

Who is exempt from fasting during Ramadan?

Fasting is a crucial part of Ramadan, however, not all Muslims are expected to observe the tradition.

The following are exempt from the rules:

  • Those who are ill, including mental illness, physical illness and those on medication.
  • Prepubescent children
  • Breastfeeding mothers as fasting may harm their baby.
  • Pregnant women because fasting may harm their unborn child.
  • Menstruating women as a hadith says they are forbidden from observing the fast.
  • The elderly as fasting could make them ill.
  • Those travelling or spending time away from their home.

How will coronavirus impact Sawm?

Ramadan is commemorated by 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and is traditionally a time present with family members for the daily evening and morning meals called iftar and suhoor respectively.

However, with the global coronavirus pandemic, it is likely this year’s Ramadan will be impacted.

Lockdowns have been put into effect around the world, meaning there is a ban on public gatherings and many people are expected to remain in their homes.

In terms of fasting, it is possible coronavirus will have little impact on the fast and potentially it may even assist with people keeping to the fast as it may be easier if people stay at home and avoid the physically taxing activities they would be participating in outside in the heat.

However, it is possible more people will be exempt this year due to illness.

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