The Fiqh of fasting
A summary of the most important rulings concerning fasting, especially in the month of Ramadan.
The month of Ramadan
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is also one of the most virtuous and significant months.
From amongst its virtues are:
- The Qur’an was revealed in this month. Allah Ta’ala says “Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed…” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:185)
- The doors of Jannah and Allah’s mercy are open.
- The doors of Hellfire and Allah’s wrath are closed.
- The devils (shayateen) are chained up. The Prophet (salallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “When the month of Ramadan enters, the gates of Jannah are open, the doors of Jahannam are closed, and the Shayateen are locked up.” (Bukhari, Muslim and others).
- To fast in Ramadan is obligatory in this month. Allah Ta’ala says: “Whoever witnesses the month (of Ramadan) must fast.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:185)
Fasting in Islam
Allah Ta’ala says: “O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you, just as it was done for those before, so that you may attain Taqwa.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:183)
As mentioned earlier, fasting in the month of Ramadan is an obligation and also a pillar of Islam. Sayyiduna Abdullāh Ibn Umar (RadiAllahu anhu) narrated that the Prophet (salallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars, (1) testifying that there is no deity except Allah and that Muḥammad (salallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is His servant and final messenger (2) establishing the prayer, (3) giving the obligatory charity, (4) pilgrimage and (5) fasting in the month of Ramadan.” (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim and others)
Definition of fasting
Linguistically, fasting means ‘restraint’ (imsak).
In the Islamic Shari’ah, fasting is to (i) abstain from eating and drinking and conjugal acts with ones’ spouse – (ii) between the true dawn and sunset with the (iii) intention of fasting.
Types of fasting
There are 9 types of fasting;
(1) Fard specified; during the month of Ramadan
(2) Fard non-specified; making up fasts missed in Ramadan
(3) Wajib specified; fasting for making a vow while specifying a date
(4) Wajib non-specified; (i) fasting for making a vow without specifying a date, (ii) making up a broken non-Fard fast
(5) Sunnah; Ashura (Muharram 9/10 or 10/11).
(6) Mustahab; (i) 13th, 14th and 15th of every Islamic month, (ii) every Monday and Thursday, (iii) six days of Shawwal, (iv) Arafah (9th Dhu’l Hijjah) and the (v) fasting of the Prophet Dawud (alaihis salam) – which is to fast on alternate days.
(7) Nafl (voluntary); any fast on any day apart from the above-mentioned days and the following disliked days;
(8) Makruh Tanzihi; (i) to fast on the 10th of Muharram alone, (ii) singling out Friday or Saturday alone and (iii) the fasting of wisal (continuous fasting without iftar) (iv) ‘the day of doubt’ (30th Sha’ban)
(9) Makruh Tahrimi; to fast on (i) Eid al-Fitr, to fast on (ii) Eid al-Ad’ha, the (iii) three days that follow and
Who is obliged to fast in Ramadan?
Fasting is obligatory in the month of Ramadan upon the following:
- Muslim male and female
- Purity (non-menstrual state) for females
Who is excused from fasting the month of Ramadan?
- A menstruating woman
- A woman in the state of nifas (post-natal bleeding)
- A traveller is also excused from fasting if he initiates his journey before the time of Fajr enters. However, it is better that he fasts providing that this does not cause undue hardship.
The intention of fasting is necessary. If a person stays away from all those things that break ones fast without an intention, the fast will not be valid.
It is not necessary to express the intention verbally, as the place of intention is the heart. Hence, the firm determination of the heart will suffice, although it is recommended to utter the intention verbally.
The time for intention is from maghrib of the night before, until midday for specific Fard, specific wajib, sunna and Mustahab fasts.
The intention for non-specific Fard and non-specific wajib fasts must be made before the beginning of fajr time, while specifying the type of fast.
The verbal intention is to say: “bi sawmi ghadin nawaytu” or it can be said in any language.
Du’a at the time of iftar
One may read one of the following du’as when breaking the fast;
Allahumma inni laka sumtu wa bika amantu wa `ala rizqika aftartu
dhahab az-zama’u wab-tallatil ‘uruqu wa thabatal-ajru inshaAllah
Alhamdulillahil-ladhee a’anee fa sumtu wa razaqani fa aftartu
Mustahab acts during fasting
- To partake of the pre-dawn meal (suhur) before fajr time enters.
- To delay the suhur to a little before fajr time.
- To break the fast immediately after sunset without unnecessary delay.
- To break one’s fast with dry or fresh dates if available. If dates are not available, then with water.
- To make the intention at night before fajr enters.
- To engage in worship such as Tilawah, salah, tasbeeh etc.
Makruh acts during fasting
- Idle talk and acts such as swearing and backbiting
- Kissing the spouse and anything that may entice desires, even if it is halal.
- To chew gum, rubber, plastic items or other such things.
- To taste any article of food or drink and spit it out, without anything being swallowed.
- To collect one’s saliva in the mouth and then to swallow it, trying to quench thirst.
- To delay a bath that has become obligatory intentionally until after fajr time.
- To use paste or tooth powder to clean one’s teeth.
- To complain of hunger and thirst.
- To take the water too much up the nostrils when cleaning the nose.
- To gargle more than necessary.
Things that invalidate the fast
Things that break one’s fast are of two kinds; some require Qada (to keep one fast in place of one that breaks), whilst others require both a Qada and kaffara (to fast for two months/sixty consecutive days).
When is Qada necessary?
- Anything put by force into the mouth of a fasting person.
- Water going down the throat whilst gargling, (whilst being conscious of one’s fast).
- To vomit a mouthful intentionally or to return vomit down the throat.
- Intentionally swallowing a pebble, piece of paper or any item that is not used as food or medicine.
- Swallowing something edible, equal to or bigger than a chick pea which was stuck between the teeth. However if it is first taken out of the mouth and swallowed, it will break the fast whether it is smaller or bigger than the size of a chick pea.
- Inhaling snuff into the nostrils.
- Swallowing the blood from the gums if the colour of the blood is more than the saliva with which it is mixed.
- To eat and drink forgetting that one is fasting and thereafter thinking that the fast is broken, to eat and drink again.
- To eat and drink after subh sadiq or to break the fast before sunset due to a cloudy sky or a faulty watch, etc., and then realizing one’s mistake.
When is kaffarah (along with qada) necessary?
Kaffarah automatically necessitates a qada fast, and is only required for broken fasts in Ramadan.
Kaffarah is necessary when intentionally eating, drinking, cohabitating or breaking the fast in any other manner, such as smoking, without a valid reason. This will make both qada and kaffara necessary.
However, if a person is genuinely unable to keep these 60 fasts, with a valid reason valid reason, such as continuous sickness (based on reasonable surety, which requires either clear signs, relevant past experience, or the reporting of a qualified and upright Muslim doctor), then one has the option of choosing from one of the following four:
- Feed sixty poor people to their fill for two meals
- Feed one poor person two meals a day, for sixty days; or
- Give sixty poor persons approx. 1.6 kg of wheat or its value in cash
- Give to one poor person not less than approx. 1.6 kg of wheat, rice or food grains, etc. or its value in cash for sixty days.
WHAT DOES NOT BREAK THE FAST
- Eating, drinking, smoking or having conjugal relations with one’s spouse out of forgetfulness.
- Applying kohl to the eyes or oil to the head.
- Passive smoking.
- Blood emitting from the body.
- Swallowing food stuck between the teeth if it is less than the size of a chick-pea.
- Waking up in the state of major impurity.
- Gathering saliva in the mouth and then swallowing it.
- Using a miswak or toothbrush.
- Intending to break one’s fast without actually doing so.
Fidya for one who cannot fast
A person who is ill or really old and cannot fast, and has no hope of recovery after Ramadan, must give fidya. That is, to give approx. 1.6 kg of wheat or approx. 3.2 kg of barley or the value of the above in cash.
If, however, an old or sick person gains strength or recovers after Ramadan, he must keep the missed number of fasts and whatever was given as fidya will be voluntary charity for which he will be rewarded.