Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

The Five Pillars of Islam

A series of short films on the five pillars of Islam - the five duties obligatory for all Muslims - told through objects from Oxford collections.

Detail of a sitarah made for the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, Egypt, 1791-1792


In this short film, the Yousef Jameel Curator of Islamic Art discusses the fourth of the five pillars of Islam: sawm, or fasting.



The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting, or sawm. All adult Muslims who are physically able are expected to perform this duty for 30 full days throughout the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. From sunrise until sunset, Muslims are asked to abstain from drinking, eating, sexual intercourse, and other activities. Fasters wake up before sunrise to consume the only meal that will sustain them through the day, the sahur. Food and drink are then only resumed after sunset, when the fast is broken with a light snack of a few dates, followed by a full meal consumed after the evening prayer. Because of the hardships of fasting, vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, the old, and the sick are exempt from fasting. This is especially so when Ramadan occurs during the summer months; as the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar of 29 or 30 days each, Ramadan falls approximately 11 days earlier each year.

It was during Ramadan that Muhammad received his first revelation, and because of this it is considered meritorious to read the whole Qur’an during this month. To facilitate the even distribution of the text over this period, the Qur’an is often found divided into 30 volumes, or juz‘, a practice seen from the first centuries of Islam. One of the major Muslim festivities the Eid al-Fitr, or Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, awaits Muslims at the end of this long and challenging endeavor. As shown in this painting [EA1961.53] the new moon, marked by a crescent, has traditionally been welcomed with joy; its appearance in the sky signals the end of Ramadan, and gives way to days of celebrations that are shared by Muslims around the world.

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