Professor Mahmoud Ismail Saleh

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ -  ١٨٣

"O believers, prescribed for you is the Fast, even as it was prescribed for those that were before you -- haply you will be god-fearing" )the Qur’an, 2: 183)

Fasting in its various forms have been prescribed and observed by followers of different religions, sometimes during a specific part of the year (such as Lent for Catholics).

In Islam fasting has very clear rules to be observed by a Muslim. They include:

  • Specific time: from Fajr (‘dawn’, around one and a half hours before sunrise in normal geographic zones) to sunset.
  • Specific procedures: complete abstention for foods, drinks (and other nutrients) and sexual relations.
  • Specific time of the year for the obligatory fast: the month of Ramadhan (the ninth lunar month of the Muslim calendar).
  • Allowance is made for people on travel, sick, or unable to observe fasting.

أَيَّامًۭا مَّعْدُودَٰتٍۢ ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍۢ فَعِدَّةٌۭ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ وَعَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ

يُطِيقُونَهُۥ فِدْيَةٌۭ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍۢ ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًۭا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌۭ لَّهُۥ ۚ وَأَن تَصُومُوا۟ خَيْرٌۭ

لَّكُمْ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ ١٨٤


[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So, whoever among you is ill or on a journey then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are unable to fast a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.” (Qur’an, 2: 184)


The expression “unable to fast” refers to elderly persons and people suffering from chronic diseases that prevent them from fasting.

Benefits of fasting are both spiritual and physical:

  1. Spiritual benefits:
  • These are summed up in the words: “so that you may be God-fearing, which is a comprehensive concept in Islam covering all aspects of piety or righteousness where a person obeys all the rules of the religion (doing what is prescribed and avoiding the forbidden acts). 
  • In particular, we find that the month of Ramadhan is actually a month of training a Muslim to learn self-control both physically and in behavior. He learns to completely abstain from certain joys of life for a specific period of time (that could be up to fifteen hours) of each day. It is self-control because he is the only human that watches him. Therefore, we read in a Divine Hadeeth (saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): Allah says: “All the deeds of a human being are for him except fasting. It is for me, and I will reward him for accordingly.”
  • Besides restraining oneself from eating, drinking and sex, a Muslim is required to observe proper social conduct, i.e., he should not do things that hurt others.


 /1240 - عنْ أَبي هُرَيرَةَ  قالَ: قالَ رسولُ اللَّه إِذا كَانَ يَوْمُ صَوْمِ أَحدِكُمْ، فَلا يَرْفُثْ وَلا يَصْخَبْ، فَإِنْ سَابَّهُ أَحَدٌ، أَوْ قاتَلَهُ، فَلْيَقُلْ: إِنِّي صائمٌ متفقٌ عَلَيْهِ.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allah () said, "When any one of you is observing Saum (fasting) on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise the voice; and if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him, he should say: 'I am observing fast."'

 2/1241- وعنهُ قَالَ: قَالَ النبيُّ مَنْ لَمْ يَدعْ قَوْلَ الزُّورِ والعمَلَ بِهِ فلَيْسَ للَّهِ حَاجةٌ في أَنْ يَدَعَ طَعامَهُ وشَرَابهُ رواه البخاري.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Prophet () said, "If one does not eschew lies and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from his food and his drink."

  • Socially, fasting teaches a Muslim to more compassionate to the less fortunate members of the community; hence, more generous to them.

We can actually see this in the behavior of many people during the month of Ramadhan. This compassion is manifested in and enhanced by zakat al-Fitr (‘poor dues of breaking the fast’) where every Muslim who has means beyond his immediate needs should give a specific amount of food to needy people by the end of Ramadhan, before Eid prayer, which is the congregational prayer performed on the day to celebrate the conclusion of Ramadhan. This helps the needy members of the community share in the celebrations.  

Another spiritual manifestation during Ramadhan are the voluntary prayers during the nights of the month, called taraweeh, which may be performed individually or in congregation.

A further manifestation of spirituality observed by Muslims is the recitation of the Qur’an during the month on a regular basis, some trying to read the whole Book in Ramadhan.

  1. Health Benefits:

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: صوموا تصحوا (“Fast and you will be healthy”). This statement has been medically proven in recent times. We find many works indicating the benefits of fasting for the human well-being.

The Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has the following to say on the subject:

“Ramadan is special time for reflection, self-improvement, kindness and spirituality - and fasting is one of the key pillars of the Holy Month, with those observing Ramadan fasting from dawn to dusk”.

Here are some of the positive impacts fasting can have on your health and well-being:

  1. Regulates ‘bad’ cholesterol
    Many people aim to lose some weight by fasting. However, a recent study found that fasting also affects the lipid profile. This results in reduced blood cholesterol, which can keep heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases at bay.
  2. Curbed appetite
    Observing Ramadan and fasting gives your lifestyle and digestive system a positive U-turn. As your body gets used to eating less, your digestive system gets a chance to rest and your stomach gradually shrinks in size. This reduces your appetite, and the results can last longer than many trend diets.
  3. A month-long detox
    Fasting not only uses your fat reserves, but also cleanses your body of harmful toxins that might be present in fat deposits. With the digestive system on a month-long overhaul, your body naturally detoxifies, giving you the opportunity to continue a healthier lifestyle beyond Ramadan.
  4. Boosted mood and mental clarity
    Fasting can be a method of ‘supercharging’ the brain, increasing growth and development of new brain cells, in turn sharpening responses to information in the world around us. Studies also show that fasting can also make the brain more resilient to stress, more adaptable to change, and can improve mood, memory and even learning capacity.”

Source: Health Bite, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Retrieved March 9, 2023.

“Health Benefits of Fasting

Although fasting can be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, the mental and physical benefits can:

  • Boost cognitive performance.
  • Protect from obesity and associated chronic diseases.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Improve overall fitness.
  • Support weight loss.
  • Decrease the risk of metabolic diseases.”

Source: Boulder Medical Center. Retrieved March 9, 2023.