Fasting

Fasting – Ramadan
Siyam (Fasting the Holy Month of Ramadan)

Along with salat, another important form of worship is fasting. It is obligatory for each Muslim, who is an adult of sane mind and physically able, to fast the holy month of Ramadan. The Holy Quran states, “O you who believe, Observing the fast is prescribed to you s it was prescribed for those before you so that you may become pious.” (2:183)

Ramadan is the month of mercy, repentance, and purification, and lasts for a period of 29 or 30 days. During the hours of fasting, which is from dawn until sunset, food and drink and conjugal relations between husband and wife are forbidden. Human life is dependent on food and drink, and the continuation of the human race depends on the marital relationship. While fasting, one refrains from them both, as if bearing witness to God that for His pleasure man gives up the factors (temporarily) upon which his very existence depends. There are many lessons to be learned from fasting. We sacrifice physical comfort to endure hunger and thirst. Fasting creates a sense of equality between the rich and the poor.

By developing an empathic attitude toward hunger and thirst, fasting makes the wealthy remember the needs of the poor, and impresses a feeling of compassion in their hearts.

“Saum” (also known as fasting in English) means to restrain, to keep patience and self-control. This also means conscious abstinence from food, drink and sexual relationship from dawn to dusk with the sole intention of worshiping Allah (SWT).  Like Shahada, Salat, Zakat and Hajj, Fasting (Saum) is one of five pillars of Islam. Although fasting helps cleanse and purify the heart, mind and soul, the real purpose of fasting is to develop Allah’s conscious (Taqwa). Fasting in the month of Ramadan was made obligatory in the 2nd year of Hijra. Allah  states in Sura Baqra of the Quran;

“Oh Believers, Fasting is prescribed on you as it was prescribed for the people before you so that you are mindful.”[1]

            There are many ahadith that explain the importance and rewards of fasting. In one hadith narrated by Abu Huraira; Allah’s Messenger said, “Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to achieve Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”[2]

Different Kinds of fasting: There are six (6) kinds of fasting; Fard (obligatory) fasting, Wajib (compulsory) fasting, sunnah fasting, Nafil (optionl) fasting, Makrooh Tanzeehi (undesirable) fasting and Makrooh Tahreemi (forbidden) fasting.

Fard Fasting: These are the prescribed and fixed obligatory days of fasting such as fasting for 29 or 30 days in the month of Ramadan.

Wajib Fasting: These are non-fixed and non-prescribed days of fasting that become obligatory in certain cases; such as “qada” (missed) fasting days of Ramadan and the fasting days of atonement or one pledges to fast on certain days. Although these fasting days become obligatory on the person, their timing is not fixed.

Nafil and Sunnah Fasting: These are voluntary days of fasting. Some of these were practiced on certain days or urged by Prophet  and became Sunnah. Fasting on these days is Mustahab (Desirable). These are; fasting on 9th and 10th of Muharram, fasting on 13th through 15th of every lunar month and fasting in the field of Arafat on 9th of Zulhaj. Fasting on certain days has great rewards. Some examples are; six days after Eidul Fitr, fasting on alternate days, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, and fasting on 15th of Sha’ban.

Makrooh Tanzeehi (undesirable) days of Fasting: Fasting on certain days is considered undesirable. For example, fasting specifically on Saturdays, happy days of fire-worshippers and fasting throughout the year are makrooh (undesirable). Similarly, “Saum Sukoot” (not to speak during fasting) and keep on fasting every day without breaking the previous day’s fast are undesirable.

Makrooh Tahreemi (forbidden) days of Fasting: Fasting on the days of Edul Fitr, Eidul Adha and 11th, and 13th of Zulhaj are considered so undesirable that some scholars consider them haraam (forbidden).

Conditions for Fasting: A person who is fasting has to be a Muslim, sane, pure and clean. Women should not fast during the period of “Haiz-o-Nifaas” (their menstrual periods). However, they will have to complete the missing days (called qadha) after Eid-ul Fitr. Fasting is not compulsory for children (minors). However, when a child reaches the age of eight years, his/her parents should guide him/her for prayer and fast and when he is of ten years, parents should make him fast provided that he/she is healthy.

Intention: It is necessary to make intention (Niyyat) of fasting. But, saying intention loudly or verbally is not necessary and an intention at heart will suffice. However, when eating together, it is better to express the intention verbally especially for children, so that they remember. Intention to start fasting at Sahoor time (Sahr, predawn meal) is as follows;

I have the intention of fasting tomorrow for the month of Ramdan

Although it is preferred to say intention in Arabic, one can intend in any language he/she wishes. If one forgets the intention at Sahoor time, he/she should make intention as soon as possible.

Dua for breaking the fast (Iftaar) at sunset: When time for fasting is over, it is preferred to say a dua (prayer) before breaking the fast (Iftaar). Following dua is recommended;

Oh Allah, I have fasted for your sake, and I believe in you, and I break the fast with the food provided by you.

It is better to recite additional duas at Iftaar time. It is also preferred to give and share food and meal with others.

Mustahibaat (Preferred acts in Fasting):

  1. It is sunnah to eat a predawn (Sehri) meal shortly before dawn.
  2. Breaking fast (Iftaar) immediately after sunset.
  3. Breaking fast (Iftaar) with dry or fresh dates if available. If dates are not available, then with water.
  4. Making fating intention at night.

Makroohaat (undesirable acts) in Fasting:

  1. Chewing gum, rubber, plastic items or other such things while fasting; delaying an obligatory bath until after dawn; too much complaining of hunger and thirst; using dirty and indecent language; quarrelling; backbiting; telling lie and swearing are all undesirable acts.
  2. Tasting any food or drink is also undesirable. However, a woman can taste the food during cooking if she feels that her husband is an ill-tempered person.
  3. Using toothpaste or tooth powder to clean one’s teeth. Teeth can however be cleaned with a miswaak (tooth stick) of any fresh branch or root.

Things that do not break the fast: Eating or drinking something unintentionally, or swallowing any other item unintentionally including dust, own saliva, taking a non-nutritional injection, taking bath to keep cool, unintentional small vomiting, brushing teeth without toothpaste and wet dreams do not break the fast.

There are some things or acts however, that can break one’s fast. In some of these cases of broken fast, only qadha is necessary to make up the fast. However, in some cases both qadha and kaffarah are necessary to make up the fast.

How to make up the broken fast (Qadha, Fidiya and Kaffarah):

Qadha and Fidiya: If a fast is broken due to some illness or some other genuine reason, and therefore one fast is performed in place of one missed or broken fast, it is called qadha. Travelers, women in their menstrual periods and temporary sick people have to make qadha for missing or broken fasts. A person who has become permanently sick and/or weak because of old age or otherwise, and has no hope of recovering, can compensate fasts by paying fidiya (feeding one poor person two meals daily for each missing day of fasting). If a fasting person swallows some food, drinks some water while gargling, vomits mouthful, swallows any other thing including blood from gums, eating or drinking mouth full forgetting about the fast will all break the fast. But only qadha is necessary to compensate (one day fasting for each missed fast). To eat and drink after dawn or breaking the fast before sunset and then realizing the fault, with also break the fast and qadha becomes essential. Breaking any fasts other than Ramadan fasts needs only qadha.

Sick people (whose health does not allow them to fast) should make up the lost fasting days (qadha) when they recover after Ramadan. A traveler (one who is going on a journey and does not intend staying more than 14 day at his/her destination) can do qadha. However, it is better for him/her to fast in Ramadan than doing qadha later, provided the journey is not a tiresome one. Pregnant and breast-feeding women, old people who are very weak, insane people and people going on Jihad are all exempt from fasting.

Kaffarah: Breaking a fast intentionally without any excuse and a valid reason requires both qadha and kaffarah for compensation. He/she has to fast for 60 consecutive days for each intentionally broken fasting day. If a person is unable to fast for 60 consecutive days, he/she should feed sixty (60) poor people for two (2) meals each; or feed one poor person two meals a day for 60 days. The person can also give enough food or alternatively equivalent value in cash to poor people.

Start of the month of Ramadan (Moon Sighting):[3]

The mouth of Ramadan is in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for mankind and clear sign and the criterion (between right and wrong). Therefore, whoever witnesses this month should fast.[4]

It is well known amongst astronomers that the time of moon rise differs from place to place. The moon might be seen at one place and not at another. Therefore, according to the verse, whoever witnesses the start of the month, will start fasting. This may give some indication that having a central place for whole Muslim Ummah to decide for one moon sighting and one date to start fasting may not be necessary.

It is narrated by Abdullah bin Umar; Prophet  said: “Do not fast until you sight the new moon, and also do not stop fasting until you sight the new moon. And if it is cloudy, then complete thirty days.”[5]

             This clearly indicates the sighting of the moon for the start and end of the month. If we also study another hadith in this context, one can start thinking that perhaps Muslims can rely on mathematical calculations. It is also narrated by Abdullah bin Umar, prophet  said, “We are Ummee (illiterate) people. We do not know reading and math. Month can be of 30 days, or of 29 days.”[6]

Had they known math and other scientific knowledge, they might have relied partially on calculations along with sighting.

Many things have changed with the technological advancements along with very accurate calculations; and therefore scholars should sit together and find a reasonable solution that adheres to the current situation and also does not contradict the Islamic rules. Depending upon the will and open mindedness, this issue can amicably be resolved once for all.

[1] Surah 2(Al-Baqra), Ayah 183.

[2] Sahi Bukhari

[3] Specialized books on moon sighting should be consulted for further knowledge. Different scholars have different views on this issue.

[4] Surah 2 (Al-Baqra), Ayah 185,

[5] Hadith Bukhari;

[6] Hadith Bukhari