Aside from the five-times-daily prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan is the most visible and recognizable of Muslim acts the world over. During the 30-odd days of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours, drinks included, and abstain from bodily pleasures like sex or other forms of sensual abandon. The focus is on humility, spiritual oneness with God and social oneness with the umma, or Islamic community, across the globe.
Fasting in Islam has its origins in Judaism, Christianity and the pre-Islamic Arab world. Although Ramadan is when Muslims fast most, they may fast voluntarily the rest of the year, or fast three days a month, or six days during the month of Sawwal, which follows the month of Ramadan, or fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Each of these proscriptions is recognized in Islam.
Traditional Muslims may also fast to atone for specific sins, the way Catholics recite rosaries or follow their priest’s instructions to atone. For example, failing to honor an oath or accidentally killing a Muslim may be mitigated by fasting. Sufis, as rigorous in their spiritual exercises as Jesuits, consider fasting part of their religious calisthenics.