Sawm linguistically means refraining, silence, suspension and what is included in its meanings. Sawm has been mentioned with this meaning in Allah’s سبحانه وتعالى noble book.
Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:
فَكُلِي وَاشْرَبِي وَقَرِّي عَيْنًا ۖ فَإِمَّا تَرَيِنَّ مِنَ الْبَشَرِ أَحَدًا فَقُولِي إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لِلرَّحْمَٰنِ صَوْمًا فَلَنْ أُكَلِّمَ الْيَوْمَ إِنْسِيًّا
“So eat and drink and be glad. And if you see any human being, say: ‘Verily, I have vowed a fast unto the Most Gracious so I shall not speak to any human being this day.”
As for As Sawm in the sharee’ah terminology, it is refraining from those things that break the fast and they are: food, drink, sexual relations, excess water through mouth/nose and vomiting, with the intention of getting closer to Allah سبحانه وتعالى from Fajr of a day until its Maghrib. This Sharee’ah meaning of fasting has been mentioned in numerous noble ayaat and there is no need to bring them up here as they are well known amongst people who are knowledgeable of them.
The Merits of As Sawm
There are many Ahaadeeth that mention the merit of Fasting of which I will mention some: Narrated from Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ said:
1) “Allah سبحانه وتعالى said: Every action of ibn Aadam (man) is for himself except for Fasting which is for me and I will reward for it. Fasting is a Shield (from hellfire). So, the fasting person should avoid all sexual relations, he should not behave foolishly, and if someone insults him or fights with him then he should say: I am a fasting person. And by Him in whose hand is my soul the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of Musk. The one fasting has two joys, one when he breaks his fast and when he meets his Rabb he will feel the joy for his fasting.” Narrated by Imaam Al Bukhaari (1904) and Muslim, Nisaa’i, Ibn Maajah and Ahmad.
Also from Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Your Lord Tabaarak wa ta’aalaa said: Every action is Kafaarah (expiation) except for fasting, because it is for me and I will reward for it…” Narrated by Abu Daawud At Tayaalissy (2485) and Ahmad.
And from Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Every one of the sons of Adam’s actions is multiplies, a good action will have ten of it’s like or up to seven hundred times and Allah Azza wa Jalla says: ‘Except fasting because it belongs to me, and I reward it…” Narrated by Muslim (2707). An-Nisaa’i, Ad Daraami and Bayhaqi.
Ahmad (9712) and Ibn Majah narrated it with the following words: “Every one of the sons of Adam’s actions is multiplies, a good action will have ten of it’s like or up to seven hundred times to what Allah wills, Allah Azza wa Jalla says: Except for fasting, it is for me and I will reward for it…” The addition is ‘to what Allah wills’.
2) On the authority of Sahl bin Sa’d (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ said: “There is a gate in Jannah called Ar-Raiyaan and those who observe fast will enter it on the Day of Judgement and none will enter from it except them. It will be said ‘Where are those who use to observe Saum?’ They will get up and none except them will enter it and after they have entered it will be locked and no one else we be able to enter through it.” Narrated by Buhkaari (1896) and Muslim and Nisaa’i.
Ibn Maajah (1640) and Tirmidhi narrated it as following: “So those who were from amongst the Saa’imeen (faster’s) will enter, and whoever has done will never feel the quench of thirst again.”
3) On the authority of Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood (ra) that he said that the Prophet ﷺ said: “He who can afford to marry should do so because it will help him to lower his gaze and save his private parts. And whoever cannot marry then he should fast as it will diminish his desire (wijaa’a)*.” Al Bukhaari (1905), Muslim, Daawud, Nisaa’i and Tirmidhi.
*Wijaa’a means to put pressure on the testicles or its veins so as to cut the desire.
4) On the authority of Hudhayfah bin Al Yaman (ra) that he heard the Prophet ﷺ saying:
“The Fitnah (affliction) of a man is in his family, money and neighbours and As Salaah, As Saum and As Sadaqah are expiation for them.” Al Bukhaari (1895) and Muslim.
Ibn Abi Shaibah (595:8) reported it with this wording: “The Fitnah of a man is in his family, his money, his own self and his neighbour and fasting, sadaqah and ordering the right and forbidding the wrong are expiation for them.”
And also from Hudhaifah (ra) from the Prophet ﷺ: “Who ends his final day (of life) and he fasted will enter Jannah.” Narrated by Al Bazzaar (1038) and Ahmed and Al Haythami said that its people (narrators) are trustworthy.
5) On the authority of Abdullah Ibn Umar (rah) that the Messenger ﷺ said: “Fasting and the Quran will intercede for the servant on the Day of Judgment. Fasting will say: By my Rabb, I prevented him from food and desires during the day so let me intercede for him and the Quran will say: I prevented his sleep at night so let me intercede for him, Therefore they will both intercede.” Narrated by Ahmad (6626) and its sanad (chain) is Hasan. Tabaraani also narrated it in his Al-Mu’jam Al Kabeer and Al Haakim narrated it and verified its soundness.
6) On the authority of Abu Umaamah (ra) who said: “I came to the Messenger ﷺ so I said: ‘Command me with an action which will cause me to enter Al Jannah’. He ﷺ said: ‘Alayka bis Saum (Fast), because there is nothing equal to it’. I came to him a second time and he said (again): ‘Alayka bis Siyaam (Fast)’.” Narrated by Ahmad (22501) and Nisaa’i, ibn Hibbaan, ibn Khuzaimah, Ibn Abi Shaybah, and Tabaraani in Al Mu’jam Al Kabeer.
And in another version from Ibn Hibbaan (3425) and Nisaaa’i (Alayka bi saum fa laa mithla lahu...) “Fast as there is nothing comparable to it.” Here ‘mithla’ is used instead of ‘idla’ in the previous version to mean ‘the like of/equal to’.
7) On the authority of Abu Hurairah (ra) who said that the Messenger ﷺ said: “There are three whose requests (du’aa) will not be turned down: The just ruler, the one who fasts until he breaks it and the one who is oppressed. Allah سبحانه وتعالى will raise them on the Day of Judgement without (al ghumaam) clouds and the doors of the heavens (skies) will be opened for them and He will say: With my Izza (glory) I gave you victory even if it was after a while.” Narrated by Ibn Maajah (1752).
Al-Gumaam (clouds) has the same meaning as mentioned in the following Ayaat as Allah سبحانه وتعالى states:
وَيَوْمَ تَشَقَّقُ السَّمَاءُ بِالْغَمَامِ
“And (remember) the day that the Heaven will be rent asunder by clouds.”
(Al Furqaan, 25:25)
هَلْ يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِيَهُمُ اللَّهُ فِي ظُلَلٍ مِنَ الْغَمَامِ
“Do they then wait for anything other than that Allah should come to them in the shadows of the clouds.”
8) On the authority of Othmaan ibn Abi Aas (ra) that he said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying’: “Sawm (fasting) is a shield (protection) from the fire just like the shield of one of you (protects you) in battle.” Narrated by Nisaa’i (2231), Ibn Maajah, Ahmad, Ibn Hibbaan and Ibn Abi Shaybah.
9) On the authority of jaabir ibn Abdillah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Our Rabb Azza wa Jalla said: Fasting is a shield (Junnah) the servant seeks to shield himself with it from the Naar (fire) and it (fasting) is for me, and I will reward/recompense for it.” Narrated by Ahmad (14724) with a sanad (chain) which is Jayyid (good) and also narrated by Al Bayhaqi.
10) On the authority of Abi Ubaidah (ra) who said that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say: “Fasting is a shield for the one who does not violate it…” Ahmad (1690/1700)
In a version of ad Daraami (1733): “Fasting is a shield for the one who does not violate it,” Abu Muhammad said, This means al Gheeba (back-biting). Tabaraani narrated it in Al Mu’jam Al Awsat (4533) from Abi Hurairah (ra).
So how noble are the Fadaa’il (merits) of the Ibaadah of Fasting. Fasting is a shield, i.e. a guard and protection. It is a blocker of desires when one cannot marry and it expiates the sins in the time of affliction. It intercedes on behalf of its master on the Day of Judgement and for those who fast belongs the gate of Ar Rayyaan, the one who enters from it will never experience thirst again. It is sufficient alone to look at what came in the Hadeeth,
‘Every one of the sons of Adam’s actions is multiplies, a good action will have ten of it’s like or up to seven hundred times to what Allah wills, Allah Azza wa Jalla says: Except for fasting, it is for me and I will reward for it’.
If there were no other ahaadeeth mentioning the merits of fasting then this would have been enough. It is true that there is no act equal to or like that of fasting as mentioned in the sixth hadeeth and the only result of this act is entering into Jannah as it came in the hadeeth reported by Hudhaifah (ra) and found with al Bazzaar and Ahmad. Also as mentioned in the seventh hadeeth; it is the deserved right of the faster to be honoured by Allah سبحانه وتعالى and have his du’a responded to and answered.
The merits of Ramadhaan
In relation to the merits of Ramadhaan the following ahaadeeth have been related:
1) On the authority of Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet ﷺ use to say: “The five prayers, and from one Jumu’ah to the next, and one Ramadhaan to the next count as a an expiation for all that is between them if the Kabaa’ir (major sins) are avoided.” Imaam Muslim (552), Ahmad and Al Bukhaari in his At Tareekh Al Kabeer.
2) And also from him (ra) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Shame/pity (raghima Anf) on the man who when I am mentioned does not pray on me and pity on the man who enters into Ramadhaan and does not have all of his sins forgiven before its passing and pity on the man who when his parents reach an old age and they don’t cause him to enter Jannah (because of his good treatment of them).” Rabiy said: ‘I don’t know it (the hadeeth) except that he said: ‘or one of the two (parents)’. Imaam Ahmad (7444), Tirmidhi, Ibn Khuzaimah, al Haakim. Its Isnaad (chain) is jayyid (good).
3) From Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“When Ramadhaan begins the doors to Jannah are opened and those of Jahannam are locked and the Shayateen are chained up.” Al Bukhaari (1899), Muslim, An Nisaa’i, Ahmad, Ibn Hibbaan, Ad Daarami with differences in some words.
4) From Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever fasts Ramadhaan with Imaan and Ihtisaab (expecting reward from Allah) then all of his previous sins will be forgiven.” Al Bukhaari (38) Nisaa’i, Ibn Maajah, Ahmad, Ibn Hibbaan, and Ahmad (8989) and Nisaa’i in a second version stating ‘all of his previous and forthcoming sins will be forgiven’. Al Mundhiri said the Isnaad is Hasan but Hamaad had doubt in its connection or that the addition to the Hadeeth only goes back to one link in the chain from Qateebah bin Saeed from Sufyaan.
5) From ibn Abbaas (rah) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The performance of Umrah in Ramadhaan is equal to Hajj.” Ibn Maajah (2994), Nisaa’i, Ahmad. Ibn Maajah (2991), Ahmad and Tirmidhi narrated the Hadeeth with the same wording from Wahab bin Khanbash. Ahmad (14855) and Ibn Maajah also narrated it from Jaabir (ra).
Al Bukhaari (1863) narrated from Jaabir (ra) and Muslim and Abu Daawud with the wording; “Verily Umrah in Ramadhaan is like Hajj or Hajj with me.”
Tabaraani in his Al Mu’jam Al Kabeer (364/25) and Abu Daawujd, Ahmad on the authority of Mu’qal (ra) (she) said: “‘I have become old and sick. Is there an action that can recompense me for my Hajj? He ﷺ said: ‘Umrah in Ramadhaan will recompense for it.'”
6) From Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “On the first night of Ramadhaan the Shayaateen are tied up and (maradatul) Jinn, the doors to the fire (hell) are locked so that not one of its doors will be opened. The doors to Jannah will be opened and not one of its doors will be closed. A caller will call ‘Oh desirer of Good (Aqbil) proceed! (come forward) and Oh desirer of evil (Aqsir) fall behind! And to Allah سبحانه وتعالى belongs those who are freed/saved from the fire. This will happen in every night (of Ramadhaan).” Ibn Maajah (1642), Ibn Hibbaan and Bayhaqi. Al Haakim narrated it and verified its soundness (saheeh) and adh Dhahabi agreed. Ibn Khuzaimah (1883) narrated it with a slight difference and Tabaraani in Al Mu’jam al Kabeer (1586) an Nisaa’i narrated similar to it except on the way of Utbah bin Farqad (ra).
The significance of the above ahaadeeth are clear and do not require further explanation. If I add the ahaadeeth related to the merits of fasting in a complete manner to this topic then the merits of both fasting and Ramadhaan combined can be revealed in a perfect way.
Ibn Abbaas (ra) said: ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was the very best (most generous) of people, and he was at his best in Ramadhaan when he would meet with Jibreel (rha) and he would meet Jibreel every night and would go over (revise) the Quran. The Messenger ﷺ was even better in bringing Al Khair (goodness) than the fair winds’. Al Bukhaari (6), Muslim, Nisaa’i, Tirmidhi, Ahmad and Ibn Hibbaan.