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published: 3/17/04
updated: 6/13/13

Sawm: Fasting During Ramadan

What is Sawm?

Sawm (also siyam), fasting, commemorates the revelation of the Qur'an to humanity during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. During Ramadan, all adult Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during daylight hours. Exceptions are made for travelers, soldiers, menstruating women, and the ill, although such persons are expected to fast later when they become able.

In addition to being a time of fasting, Ramadan is an opportunity for increased prayer and devotion. During the last 10 nights of Ramadan, some Muslims retreat to a mosque for even more intensive study and contemplation. One of these nights, usually the 27th of Ramadan, is the "Night of Power," the holiest day of the year.

In the year 2005 (1426 AH), Ramadan will take place from approximately October 1 to November 30. Observance begins and ends upon the first official sighting of the new moon, so overcast skies may delay or prolong the fast.

The observance of Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast), a major Islamic holiday. See Islamic Holidays for more on these and other holidays.

The other pillars of Islam are:

  1. Daily confession of faith (shahada)
  2. Daily ritual prayer (salat)
  3. Paying the alms tax (zakat)
  4. Pilgrimmage to Mecca (hajj)


  1. "Islam." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  2. "Sawm." John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford UP, 2000), p. 518.