Fasting was one of the features of the Sacred Laws prior to the Sacred Law of the Messenger of Allah e. However, the method of fasting given to this Ummah is unique.
The basis for it being obligatory is in Allah’s saying: O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may attain taqwa. Fasting was made compulsory in the month of Sha`ban in the second year of the Hijrah.
The Messenger of Allah e fasted the month of Ramadan nine times, only one of which was the full thirty days, the rest being twenty-nine only. Perhaps the wisdom in this was to comfort his Ummah and to show them that the fasting person has a complete reward whether the month is twenty-nine days or thirty and will receive that which is promised to someone who fasts the whole month such as forgiveness and entry to paradise through the Gate of Rayyan. There is of course an extra reward for fasting an extra day if the month is thirty days long.
Fasting is commonly known to be an integral part of the religion. Whoever denies this has committed disbelief unless he has recently embraced Islam or has grown up in an area far from the presence of scholars. Whoever does not fast without an excuse while not denying its compulsory nature is imprisoned and prevented from eating and drinking so that he has at least fasted outwardly, and this may lead him to intend fasting and thus attain the reward for doing so.
The word sawm (fasting) linguistically means refraining and in the terminology of the Sacred Law it means refraining from that which breaks the fast in a specific fashion.
The Entrance of Ramadan
The entrance of the month of Ramadan is affirmed (meaning that fasting becomes obligatory for all those who fulfil the pre-conditions below) by the completion of thirty days of the month of Sha`ban or by sighting of the new moon of Ramadan. The testimony of a single upright male witness who is legally responsible (mukallaf) is sufficient in this regard.
If someone sights the new moon but their testimony is not accepted (because they do not fulfil the conditions mentioned above) fasting is obligatory for that person alone.
Someone who is unable to determine the exact entrance of Ramadan through being imprisoned or the like must make a judgement about the entrance of the month and then fast it. If his judgement turns out to be correct he is considered to have performed the fast. If he judged Ramadan to be later than it actually was his fasting is considered as making up. If he judged Ramadan to be earlier than it actually was his fasting is considered to be supererogatory and he must still fast the month. If it remains unknown to him whether his judgement was correct or not his fast is valid.
Integrals of fasting
The First Integral of a valid fast are:
1. The intention. If the fast is obligatory or due to a vow the intention must be made in the night prior to dawn. It must also be specific (such as “fasting Ramadan” or “fasting to honour a vow”). The Prophet e said: “The one who does not intend fasting before Fajr has no fast.” The most complete intention is to say,
نَوَيْتُ اَنْ أَصُوْمَ غَدً عَنْ أَداءِ فَرْضِ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ هذهِ السَّنَةِ لِلَّه تعالى
“I intend fasting the following day performing the obligation of Ramadan in the present year for Allah Most High”
2. Refraining from things which break the fast, which are:
v Sexual intercourse if deliberate
v Eating or drinking or smoking
v Vomiting which is deliberately induced
v The entrance of anything (solid, liquid etc) into the body cavity through a passageway (such as the mouth, the nose, the ear or the urethra etc). That which does not enter through a passageway (such as oil being absorbed through pores or kohl reaching the eye) does not break the fast.
v The exit of sexual fluid due to touching the skin, kissing or foreplay, not due to a thought or a glance.
v These things do not break the fast if they are done by someone ignorant of the fact that they break the fast or if they are done absentmindedly or under compulsion.
Pre-conditions of a Valid Fast
v They must be Muslim
v They must be of sound intellect
v A woman must be free from menstrual or post-natal bleeding for the duration of the day. If she is not free from bleeding it is unlawful for her to refrain from those things which break the fast with the intention of fasting.
Who Must Fast Ramadan?
Fasting Ramadan is compulsory for a person who is:
v Sound of intellect
v Has reached puberty
v Physically capable of fasting.
The following must make up missed fast days:
v an apostate who returns to Islam,
v a woman with menstrual or post-natal bleeding (once the bleeding has stopped);
v a traveller once his journey has ended;
v a sick person who has recovered from his illness.
A child’s guardian must order the child to fast at the age of seven, and must discipline the child if he or she does not fast at the age of ten. In both cases the child must be physically capable of fasting.
It is permissible for the following people not to fast
v A traveller whose journey is long and permissible
v A sick person who fears that fasting would cause him considerable harm
v A woman who is pregnant or breast-feeding if she fears harm to herself or her child
Making Up Missed Fast Days
All of the aforementioned people must make up the fast days which they missed. Some must also pay an expiation, which is 0.51 litres of food for every fast day missed. The scholars categorise them as follows:
• Those who must make up the fast and pay an expiation. This applies to someone who breaks their fast out of fear of harm coming to someone else, such as a pregnant woman who fears harm to her child. A second category are those who fail to make up missed fast days before Ramadan comes round again.
• Those who must make up the fast only. This applies to the traveller, the sick person who is likely to return to full health and the pregnant woman who fears harm to herself only or herself and her child.
• Those who must pay an expiation only. This applies to an old person and a sick person who is unlikely to return to full health. Both are unable to fast and unable to make up the fast at a later date so they must merely pay an expiation.
• Those who are not obliged to make up the fast nor pay an expiation. This applies to a child or someone who loses their intellect not by their own doing.
Kafaarah al udhmaa
(the great expiation)
Whoever deliberately has sexual intercourse during the day in Ramadan must continue fasting for the rest of that day, and then make it up and pay “the Great Expiation” which is to free a sound Muslim slave. If this is not possible he must fast for two consecutive months, and if this is not possible he must feed sixty needy people (0.51 litres of food per person). The woman is not obliged to expiate.
Note! Someone who breaks their fast without a valid excuse is obliged to make up their fast immediately, whereas someone who does so with a valid excuse is not obliged to make up their fast immediately.
It is recommended to fast:
v On the first nine days of Dhu’l-Hijjah, especially the Day of `Arafat (9th Dhu’l-Hijjah) (for someone not performing Hajj).
v On the 9th and 10th of Muharram (`Ashura’)
v On six days in the month of Shawwal and it is recommended that they be the six consecutive days after `Eid al-Fitr.
v During the sacred months which are Dhu’l-Qa`dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab
v On the “white days,” the days which follow nights in which the moon is full, which are the 13th, 14th and 15th day of every month.
v On Mondays and Thursdays
v The best fast according to the hadith is the “Fast of Dawud” – i.e. to fast every other day.
Makruh (offensive) fasts
It is Makruh (Offensive) to:
v Single out Friday, Saturday or Sunday for fasting
v Fast every day of the year (other than the days on which it is unlawful to fast) if this harms the fasting person or causes him or her to neglect doing something which is recommended.
Sunnah (Recommended) Measures While Fasting
v It is recommended to have a predawn meal (suhur), even if it only consists of a gulp of water. Its time enters from the middle of the night, but it is recommended to delay it to just before dawn such that one stops eating around quarter of an hour before dawn.
v It is recommended to hasten to break the fast if one is certain that the sun has set. One should break it on an odd number of dates, though if one has none, water is best.
v It is recommended to say after breaking the fast:
Allahumma laka sumtu wa `ala rizkiqa aftartu,
‘O Allah for You I have fasted and upon Your provision I have broken my fast.
A more complete dua of iftar
اللَّهُمَّ لَكَ صُمْتُ و بِكَ آمَنْتُ و على رِزْقِكَ أَفْطَرْتُ ذَهَبَ الظَّمَأُ و ابْتَلَّتْ العُرُوقُ و ثَبَتَ الأَجْرُ إِنْ شَاءَ الله الحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذي أَعَانِي فَصُمْتُ و رَزَقَنِي فَأَفْطَرْتُاللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ بِرَحْمَتِكَ الَّتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَنْ تَغْفِرَ لِي
‘O Allah, for You I have fasted, in You I believe and upon Your provision I have broken my fast. The thirst has gone and the veins have become saturated and the reward has been obtained, Allah willing. Praise be to Allah Who has assisted me so that I fasted and provided for me so that I broke my fast. O Allah, I ask You by Your mercy which encompasses everything to forgive me.’
و الله أعلم