Sawm (fasting) is undertaken during the entire month of Ramadan and at other times of the year. Sawm is the fourth Pillar of Islam.
It is obligatory for every able-bodied Muslim who has reached puberty to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Fasting commences at dawn and ends at sunset. Before dawn, the suhur meal is eaten. The next meal, Iftar, is eaten immediately after sunset. Iftar is also referred to as breaking the fast, traditionally done with dates and water followed by a meal, as per the example set by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Whilst fasting, no food or drink is consumed. Abstinence from sexual relations, nourishment and comforts such as chewing gum or smoking is also obligatory during the hours of fasting. It is expected that one tries to control their tongue and temper whilst fasting.
Fasting has been medically proven to have health benefits, but principally, fasting for Muslims is a method of annual spiritual purification, renewal and reflection. By self-denial of worldly comforts, a fasting person comes to understand what it feels like to be hungry, thereby enabling them to empathise with the poor and needy in society by sharing their suffering. Fasting encourages self-discipline and helps to forge a stronger bond of obedience to Allah by the endeavour to become spiritually stronger.
Muslims believe that sawm helps to train them not to become slaves to their material needs and desires, and heightens their awareness of Allah. Fasting in Ramadan is communal, a shared undertaking that encourages stronger family ties and stronger friendships, an important aspect of Islam.
O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous [2:183]
The sick and those travelling can defer their fast and make up for it later. Women are exempt from fasting during menstruation, pregnancy, and breast-feeding but are also required to make up for their missed fasts before the next Ramadan.
(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew. [2:184]