Day 2: What is Fasting and Should I Offer Food/Drink?

What is Fasting?

Many faiths have fasting for special occasions or as a cleansing in preparation for an occasion. Sometimes before surgery or doctor visits a patient is asked to fast. However, fasting is an unique and integral characteristic of Islam. Literally defined, fasting means to abstain completely. In Islam, that means to ‘abstain completely’ from food, drinks, smoking, and intercourse before the break of dawn until sunset during the entire month of Ramadan.  (This means from about 20 minutes before sunrise to sunset Muslims are not allowed to ingest any food or drink or anything for nutritional purposes – this includes pills.)

Muslims not only refrain from eating and drinking, but also from inappropriate thoughts and actions. Muslims fast in order to deepen their personal connection with God, to shift their focus from worldly possessions and activities toward the remembrance of God. It is a time to develop/strengthen self-discipline, a time of prayer, good deeds (charity), and spiritual reflection.

What are the different types of fasting?

  • Mandatory fast during the month of Ramadan
  • Supererogatory (additional, but not required) Fast:
    • Fasting for six days during the month of Shawwal (the month after Ramadan)
    • Fasting on the tenth day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar)
    • Fasting on the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah (the twelfth and final month of the Islamic calendar)
    • Recommended Fast: fasting three days a month or three days a week, preferably Mondays and Thursdays.

Who must fast?

All Muslims, from the age of puberty who are mentally and physically well should observe the fast during Ramadan. Fasting is not to add stress or undue hardship to a person’s life.

Who is exempt from fasting?

  • The mentally unwell/unstable
  • Young children (pre-puberty)
  • The elderly
  • the chronically ill (for whom fasting is unreasonable or strenuous)
  • Pregnant and nursing women may POSTPONE their fasting. (Pregnant women should discuss it with their doctors and should also know their personal limit)
  • the ill and travelers may also postpone their fasting.
  • Women during menstruation or of c=post childbirth confinement do not fast, but are required to make up the missed days
  • THOSE WHO MISS DAYS OF FAST DURING RAMADAN ARE REQUIRED TO MAKE UP THOSE DAYS AFTER RAMADAN. They have from the end of this Ramadan to the beginning of the next to complete these days. However, it is recommended that these days be fulfilled as soon as possible since it is unknown when one will die/meet the Day of Judgment.

What does not break the fast?

  • If anyone forgets that he or she is fasting and accidentally eats or drinks, he or she should complete their fast.
  • Unintentional vomiting
  • Swallowing things that are not possible to avoid, such as your own saliva, street dust, smoke, etc.
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Injection or intra-venous which is solely medicinal and not in any way nutritional

What does break the fast?

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Vomiting
  • Menstruation

Reader Question: Should I offer food and/or drink to my Muslim friends during this time?

I would recommend that you not. If you forget and ask, that’s fine. However, try not to because it only reminds them that they cannot eat or drink and may tempt them. We all know once something is in our head it sticks. If you keep offering food or drink or asking them if they need to “take a break” they’ll keep thinking about it, or start counting the hours until they can which, in the end, defeats the purpose of fasting.

If you’re non-Muslim your life will continue on as normal during Ramadan and no one is asking you to go out of your way to accommodate anyone. However, if you are aware of Ramadan and have Muslim colleagues/friends/acquaintances, it is considered a sign of respect to not make a show of eating or drinking in front of them.

In Muslim countries that have non-Muslim residents, although they are not required to fast or observe Ramadan, they are required to eat or drink away from those who are fasting.

The few days or week that I’m not fasting, it’s a regular day for me. I can eat and drink as I like. However, I avoid doing so in front of my brother and father (especially in this dreaded heat @_@! Seriously, my face turned pink from the heat today.)

Blast from the Past!

In college, age goes out the window and seniors mix with freshmen, juniors with sophomores etc. My experience was additionally weird because I started a semester ahead and never fit in with the freshman anyway. Most of my friends were older and for some reason (-.-) this gave them the “right” to be overprotective of me. The guys never let me walk by myself and they glared at other guys who talked to me. The girls were always yelling at me to dress warmer or eat more.

The way my college was set up, most of my classes were from 6pm-9pm. This was somewhat of a problem when Ramadan fell during the Fall or Spring semester. But, I remember one year a friend, who happened to be Jewish, was taking the same English class. She’s a healthy eater and for some reason always had carrots. Baby carrots in a little Ziploc bag.

We always sat together in the back corner (making snarky comments ^_^; we were horrible). She’d ask, “Is it time yet? Do you want a carrot?” She’d rummage through her bag. “I have hummus. Or goldfishes.” She didn’t do it throughout the day, just during the minutes leading up to sunset. It always cracked me up because she was more nervous about it and insistent I eat than I was. One day I was caught up in the lesson, lost track of time, and just felt her poking me in the side. “Eat, eat!”

Now, every year she messages me or posts on my Facebook wall, “It’s carrots and hummus season!”


See: Day 1: What is Ramadan and What Do I Say?!

7 thoughts on “Day 2: What is Fasting and Should I Offer Food/Drink?

  1. I remember on of my undergraduate college (in the 60s) instructors was from Iraq, and he told when he first came to the US to study he didn’t know anyone so he asked a guy in his dorm took him to breakfast and gave him bacon and eggs (oops!). The instructor said when he found out what he’d eaten he brushed his teeth and brushed his teeth and brushed his teeth. I’d like to think most of us are now more informed about other people’s beliefs.

    • Actually, over Fourth of July weekend, my family and I drove up to Canada to visit my cousin. We stopped to fill up gas and grabbed a bite at the McDonald’s. My aunt asked for a salad without meat, specifically bacon. They gave us a Bacon Ranch salad that has the bacon bits right at the top. When I gave it back and asked for a Caesar salad that doesn’t have bacon, the guys at the back were making snarky comments, “Oh, that one’s new. I haven’t heard not being able to eat bacon.”

      We’re generally more informed, but not enough to not make snide comments apparently -.-

  2. Loved the blast from the past section! It reminded me one time in college when one of my classmates had woken up late and forgot to eat his big breakfast before sunrise and was a sad panda during the afternoon. >_<

  3. Are there degrees of observance, as with Old Order Mennonites versus more integrated congregations? Reformed versus Orthodox Jews? Or is strict observance of Ramadan a sine qua non of Muslim identity?

    • Ramadan is the only mandatory fasting we have. There aren’t degrees of observance for it. Although, I know many people who simply choose not to. On the other hand, there are even more people who, although they do not practice throughout the year, are some of the most devout people during Ramadan.

      There are other fasts that are recommended or optional and those are the ones on which people have differing opinions.

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