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According to verse 183 of the Surah of Baqarah (2) fasting, like ritual prayer and zakat, was an obligatory rite practiced in the pre-Islamic period by the followers of Judaism and Christianity. Though fasting is salbi (passive) in nature, i.e. avoiding food and drink and certain other activities, it is ijabi (positive) in outcome, i.e. purification of body and soul through eschewing physical gratification. Fasting is a practice in self-restraint and perseverance and a means of gaining control over one’s body and soul. Shi`ite as well as Sunni hadiths have reported the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as recommending, “fast so that you may become healthy.” Fasting during the month of Ramadhan was made an obligation in the 2nd year after hijrah. Fasting entails the avoidance of muftarat (things that break one’s fast) from the true dawn to the shar`i sunset. Every mukallaf (one who is obligated to fulfill the religious duties) who remains in his place of residence during the month of Ramadhan is obligated to fast; those who have been sick or on a trip during Ramadhan are to perform compensatory fasting after they become well or come back from their journey. Those who are permanently unable to fast must compensate by feeding the needy (Baqarah 2: 183 – 185). 

Every year during Ramadhan, Muslims throughout the world practice fasting, a event that imparts a special mood and appearance to the Islamic community. During this period, the course of daily life undergoes a tangible change and the routine practice of having meals takes on the garb of a religious ritual, often accompanied by feeding the needy. Ramadhan is considered by Muslims as the Divine Month, where they all do their outmost to draw nearer to God through their additional acts of worship. 

Every Muslim of sufficient bodily stamina is obligated to fast during the entire month of Ramadhan. This implies avoidance of food and drink as well as sexual intercourse in the period between the true dawn and the shar`i sunset. Some fiqhi sources mention few other forms of muftarat. 

Other forms of obligatory fasting are those in compensation of missed fasting or those made obligatory through a religious vow. Supererogatory fasts include those on such `ids as Mab`ath, the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Ghadir Khumm, and days in the months of Rajab and Sha`ban. It is forbidden to fast on the `ids of Fitr and Qurban.

Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadhan by holding the Fitr festival, on the first day of the month of Shawwal. In addition to performing the `Id al-Fitr prayer, they pay a head tax (zakat) as fitriyyah as well as other charitable payments. 

I`tikaf (retreat), discussed in fiqhi sources as a concomitant of fasting, is a term applied to the practice of seeking retreat in a mosque while fasting. Spiritual retreat in Islam is distinguished from similar practices in other religions in that the temporary relinquishing of daily affairs is accompanied by fasting and being present in the house of God (i.e., mosque) as well as following the same rules that are obligatory for one who is performing the rites of hajj pilgrimage. I`tikaf is supererogatory, but becomes obligatory in certain cases, such as a religious vow.

* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.410 - 411

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