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Sawm: History, Intention, and the Fasting Period

by Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)

The following is part of Enter the Sunnah’s Fiqh Series, concise posts on various fiqh topics about why we do what we do with proofs from the primary sources in Islam according to the usool of the Hanafis. Insha’Allah, with the upcoming month of Ramadan, this series begins with issues related to fasting (sawm).


In the earlier days of Islam, it was mandatory for the Muslims to fast on ‘āshūrā’1 and the middle days2 of the month. We know this from the command of our Nabi (Allah bless and give him peace) on the morning of āshūrā’, “Whoever has not eaten, should complete his fast and whoever has eaten, should refrain from food the rest of the day.”3 And Abu Dawūd’s narration, “The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless and give him peace) would command us to fast on the middle days of the month.”4 After the mandating of the Ramadan fast, the consensus (ijma’) of the scholars is that the fasts of āshūrā’ and the middle days of the month are no longer mandatory.

Allah subhana wa ta’ala mandated the fast of Ramadan in the second year after hijrah with the verse: “O Believers, fasting has been mandated upon you just as it was upon those before you, so that you may have taqwa.”5

The Intention of the Ramadan Fast

Make your intention for each fast from the preceding day’s sunset or up until the midpoint of the fasting day.

Like every other act of worship, fasting requires an intention from the one performing it. Our Nabi (Allah bless and give him peace) said, “Actions are only according to their intentions.”6 In other words, the intention to fast as an act of worship is what makes it an act of worship. This can be verbally stated or just a thought occurring after the sunset of the preceding day.

The hadith, “Whoever has not eaten, should complete his fast,” tells us one can make the intention even during the actual fasting day with the caveat that half of the day7 has not yet passed. Of course, if you ate earlier in the day, that will not count as a fasting day.

The Fasting Period

Fast from the start of Fajr until the sunset.

The Qur’an guides us in respect to the period of fasting by stating, “Eat and drink until the white thread of the dawn becomes distinct from the black thread. Then complete the fast up until the night.”8 Our Nabi (Allah bless him and give him peace) explained in numerous hadiths the white thread becoming distinct from the black thread refers to the beginning of Fajr, while “the night” refers to the completion of the sunset.

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_____ 1 Ashūrā’ refers to the 10th day of Muharram. 2 “Middle days” refers to the 13th, 14th and 15th of each Islamic month. 3 Sahīh Muslim (hadith #1136) and Sahīh al-Bukhari (hadith #1960) 4 Sunan Abi Dawud (#2449) 5 Al-Baqarah: 183 6 Sahīh al-Bukhari (#1) 7 “Half of the day” refers to the midpoint between the start of Fajr until sunset. 8 Al-Baqarah: 187



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