What Are the Islamic Requirements for Fasting During Ramadan?

Fasting During Ramadan Requires Observers to Abstain from All Impure Acts

Muslims Mark End Of Ramadan In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Women stand in prayer during an Eid al-Fitr celebration, marking the end of Ramadan. Justin Merriman /Getty Images

In line with the long history of fasting in the Abrahamic faiths, Muslims fast from dusk until dawn during the month of Ramadan, which occurs in the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar and lasts between 29 to 30 days (dates may vary due to moon-sighting, and the length of fasting may change based on an observer's location). Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam as well as one of the greatest acts of worship a Muslim can perform.

The act of fasting during Ramadan has specific regulations and rules. The idea is to cleanse one's body, mind and soul from the world's impurities, improve moral character, focus on the positive, pray and become closer to Allah. 

Ramadan and Invalidation

Muslims must have the intention to fast every night during the month of Ramadan. Intention and abstaining from acts that nullify the fast means that the fast is valid. A fast becomes invalid if one eats, drinks, smokes, engages in sexual intercourse, intentionally vomits, menstruates or bleeds during childbirth. Other requirements for Ramadan include having hit puberty and being sane. One should only take medication in case of a life-threatening situation.

Permissible During Ramadan

Among acceptable actions during Ramadan, Muslims can shower, draw blood, breathe in different smells, rinse the mouth and nose, take injections or suppositories, apply deodorant, kiss or embrace their spouse, and apply eyedrops.

Unintentional vomiting (perhaps due to illness), bathing and brushing teeth do not invalidate the intention to fast. Swallowing one's own saliva or phlegm (accidental consumption) and wearing contact lenses is permissible. It is also permissible to feel the intention to break the fast but not follow through with it.

Muslims should break the fast at the appropriate time by either drinking water or eating an odd number of dates. But important to remember is that a single sip of water breaks the fast.

Special Rewards

Muslims should pray and study and recite the Quran during Ramadan to gain special rewards. They should use miswaak, a piece of root found in trees in the Arabian Peninsula, to clean their teeth. If miswaak is not available, any cleaning tool will suffice.

Special Circumstances

Islamic scholars have outlined fasting requirements for the general population and explain the accommodations that can be made when someone is unable to fast because of sickness or other health reasons. There are general guidelines and special cases for circumstances such as sickness and chronic health problems, for instance. A pregnant woman who believes fasting will harm her baby is excused from fasting. Also excused are travelers, the elderly and the insane. However, those who are capable are expected to make up for missing the fast when it is permissible. The poor may be excused but must ask Allah for forgiveness.