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Can Sawm & Ramadan be something else?

Updated: May 30

SAWM - Root word

Sad-Waw-Miim = to fast/abstain.

sama vb. (1) impf. act. 2:184, 2:185 n.vb. (1) 19:26 n.vb. (2) 2:183, 2:187, 2:187, 2:196, 2:196, 4:92, 5:89, 5:95, 58:4 pcple. act. 33:35, 33:35


Is Sawm fasting and solely fasting from the Quran, or can it be something different?


Let’s look at an example from the Quran:

For example, in 19:26, in the story of Mary, after she has given birth to her son Jesus, the traditional translation using Yusuf Ali’s translation reads:

19:26 - Transliteration

fakuli wa-ish'rabi waqarri aynan fa-imma tarayinna mina al-bashari ahadan faquli inni nadhartu lilrrahmani sawman falan ukallima al-yawma insiyyan

19:26 – Yusuf Ali English

“So, eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being’”. (Yusuf Ali)


From the verse above, we need to ask the following questions:


1- Why is ‘sawm’ translated to mean ‘fast’ here?

2- If indeed ‘sawm’ meant fasting from the verse above, wouldn’t Mary be eating and drinking, and then deceptively pledging to have fasted? Is this a trait of a righteous woman?

3- Would a lactating mother abstain from eating and drinking to the detriment of her child? Would this be a wise choice? Would God decree such a punishment on a woman he exalts and then extends it to her innocent new-born child?


I believe in this instance, the word ‘sawm’, is translated incorrectly as ‘fast’, rather than about Mary’s vow of silence, in my view, which it should be, hence, keeping with the essence of the Quran. The correct account of the verse could possibly be:


"She ate the dates and drank the water and was consoled. When she met anyone, she signified her self-discipline and abstinence from speaking; that she had made a vow of silence to the One Most Gracious; and did not talk to anyone about the event of that day.” (19:26).


In the context of the verse above, in 19:26, sawm here means the discipline of silence, and reading the whole verse in context, it means abstaining from speaking about a specific matter.


Sawm can also mean fasting but attaching only this meaning gives the wrong impression that sawm means ritual fasting or fasting alone, when in fact it means more than that.


If we have a look at 2:185


2:185 - Transliteration

shahru ramadana alladhi unzila fihi al-qur'anu hudan lilnnasi wabayyinatin mina al-huda wal-fur'qani faman shahida minkumu al-shahra falyasum'hu waman kana maridan aw ala safarin fa'iddatun min ayyamin ukhara yuridu al-lahu bikumu al-yus'ra wala yuridu bikumu al-'us'ra walituk'milu al-'idata walitukabbiru al-laha ala ma hadakum wala'allakum tashkuruna


2:185 - Yusuf Ali English Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.


This is the verse traditionally said to decree fasting: the ritual abstinence of food and drink during the month of Ramadhan in the traditional religious calendar.


However, taking what we have learned from 19:26, sawm means undertaking a Self-discipline or Self-restraint in a manner like that which Mary undertook after the birth of her son, Jesus. (19:26)


Taking the above into account, in context, the translation could mean:

“The Quran was revealed in an intense period to provide guidance for all people, with clear teachings in this statute book as the criterion. Those of you who witness such times shall undertake Self-discipline. Those who are ill or on unavoidable duties may substitute the same number of other days. God wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfil your obligations and to exalt God for guiding you and to express your appreciation.” (2:185)


The word ‘Ramadan’

Root word

Ra-Miim-Dad = to be burning, heat, be blasted by the sun. ramaDda - to sharpen (a spear) between stones, roast, pasture on a burning ground, burn. ramDda - scorching heat, burning hot (ground). ramadzan - the ninth month of Islamic calendar, the month of fast.

ramadan n. 2:185


Personally, I don’t feel witnessing a month makes much sense.


To me, it is when you witness a situation, particularly an extreme one, that you need sawm, Self-discipline; the measures that we need to take, to extract ourselves from such a condition.


Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. Indeed, the guidance; the Quran was revealed during such a period of intense fear and turmoil.


Lastly, in 2:185:

The word ‘Shahida’ is in the past tense of the verb SH-H-D.


He Witnessed (Past)

He witnesses (present)

He’ll witness (future)

To me another indication that this was at the time of the revelation of the Quran.


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