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Islam / Cult and Festivals / Five Pillars
Arabic: 'as-sawmPlay sound

Article about the Muslim calendar.

Sawm in Tunis 1995
Sawm in Tunis 1995
Sawm in Tunis 1995
Sawm in Tunis 1995

Fast in Islam, lasting one month, during the whole of the month of Ramadan, and one of Islam's Five Pillars. Ramadan is frequently used as name of the fast itself, both by Muslims and almost exclusively by non-Muslims.
Sawm is decreed for all Muslims above 13 (girls) and 14 (boys), and in good health.
The fast lasts from break of day until the sun disappears under the horizon. The night is a period of eating, joy, sleep, but also religious duties.
Sawm is mentioned four places in the Koran, but central is sura 2:
Koran sura 2: The Cow
179 Those among you believing, it is decreed that you fast, as it has been decreed for those living before you — so that you will guard yourselves against evil —
180 for a certain number of days. If any of you are sick, or on a journey, then a number of other days. For the one who cannot sustain the fast, there is a ransom: give food to one poor man. But the best is doing a good deed without thinking of it. Fasting is the best for you, if you but knew it.
181 The month of Ramadan, when the Koran came down to earth, to guide mankind, to teach what is right and what is wrong, those present in this month, shall fast... God wants to make this easy for you, not difficult, so that you can make full the number of days.
Sawm was established in 624 CE (2 H), from which year the above passage is taken. Until then no fasting seems to have been practiced neither by the first Muslims, or among the pagans of Mecca, except the Jewish inspired Ashura, which had been established only two years earlier.
Sawm is one of the pillars of Islam, and practiced by a majority of the people even in the most secular Muslim countries. Muslims shall abstain from:
  • food, beverages, tobacco, spittle, perfume;
  • deliberate vomiting;
  • sexual intercourse;
  • seminal emissions;
  • menstruation (women menstruating will compensate with days of fasting after Sawm, equivalent to the number of days lost);
  • bleeding in child bed (compensation after the same rules as for menstruation);
  • bad thoughts;
  • intoxication.
If a Muslim breaks one of these rules, it has to be deliberate to count as a break of the fast. If the fast is destroyed, it only destroys the one day, which can be compensated for after Sawm. Muslims are well aware for all these obligations, and often follow them strictly.
When the night comes, people wait for a signal marking the end of Sawm for that specific day. This is marked by a gunshot, shelling over the town; calling from the mosques; and in modern times, through TV and radio. The first thing all Muslims do is drink some water, then a traditional meal called iftar is eaten, where eating together with other people is considered very important. During the iftar, streets are totally empty, and all families are gathered in the houses.
After the iftar, people relax a couple of hours, and then prepare themselves for visiting social spots, friends or families. The social activities can often extend deep into the night, as many shopkeepers work in the night (and sleep through the day). Women and girls enjoy much freedom during the Sawm, and are allowed to stay up long in the evenings. Important in the evenings are shows in the streets, shopping, and simply meet and see other people. TV is taking over a major part of the joy in the evenings of Ramadan, with sending hours after hours of the most popular sort of TV-programs, soap operas and films.

By Tore Kjeilen