The Linguistic and Juristic meaning of Saum and Ramadan


The linguistic meaning of Saum

The linguistic meaning of siyam (sing. saum) is derived from sama, which means to restrain from eating, drinking, talking, etc. If an individual refrains from these things, he is a saim. The Noble Quran uses the word in the general sense when it revealed the conversation between the angel (Jibrael) and Mary (Maryam), the mother of Prophet Jesus. The angel instructed her:

“So eat and drink and be glad, and if you see any human being, say: ‘Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.’?” [Surah Maryam, 19:26]

The phrase “I shall not speak” is the interpretation of the Arabic word saum. The reason for this interpretation is that saum cannot mean fast, i.e., to restraint from food, because Mary had just been told to eat from the fruits of the palm tree. This general meaning is common to the Arabic language.

The juristic meaning of Saum

In the terminology of the Shari’ah, the word saum means to abstain from food, drink and sexual activity from dawn to sunset, with the intention of doing so sincerely and solely for Allah, the Exalted. This is because fasting purifies the soul and cleanses it from the evil that might cause it to become a miser and their ill behavior. [Tafsir ibn Katheer: 1/496,497]

The linguistic and juristic meaning of Ramadan

The word Ramadan is called so such to indicate the heating sensation (of the stomach as a result of thirst). Others have said that it is called as such because Ramadan scorches out the sins with good deeds, as the sun burns the ground; others have said that it is called as such because the hearts and souls are more readily receptive to the admonition and remembrance of Allah during Ramadan, as the sand and stones are receptive to the sun’s heat.

The framers of this beautiful language may have been inspired in naming this month Ramadan. Otherwise, the relation between the heat and its properties is miraculously similar to that of Ramadan. While the heat represents the matter that helps shape, form, and mold virtually every matter – from metal and plastics to plants and living cells – Ramadan undoubtedly helps a serious believer remold, reshape, reform, and renew his physical and spiritual disposition and behavior. [Essentials of Ramadan the Fasting Month, p:16]

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