An Academic Study of Jurisprudence of Fasting 1

Definition of the Ṣawm or Ṣiyām

Ṣawm or Ṣiyām (fasting) means in language to abstain from something. Maryam (Mary) (peace be upon her) said,

“Indeed, I have vowed a fast to the All-Merciful. Thus, I shall not speak today to any human being.” (Qurʾan 19:26)

In the legal usage of the term, it means to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset. This must be accompanied by the niyyah, intention.1

he great commentator Al-Qurṭubī, the author of Al-jamiʿ lī Aḥkām Al-Qurʾan, adds to this definition that the perfect and complete Fasting is that in which acts of disobedience are avoided and acts of worship are maintained.2

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If one does not eschew lies and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from his food and his drink.” [Al-Bukhārī].


Applying the niyyah here means that you observe fasting as an act of worship only for the sake of Allah and out of obedience to Allah.3

The legal ruling regarding fasting the month of Ramaḍān:

It is obligatory to fast the month of Ramadan according to the Qurʾan, the Sunna and the Consensus.

1. Allah says:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those (who have believed) before you, so that you may be (ever) God-fearing. … So whoever among you bears witness to the month shall then fast it. (Qurʾan 2: 183-185)

2. On the authority of ʿAbdullahh, the son of ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (ra), who said:

I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Islām has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the ṣalāh (prayer), paying the zakat (obligatory charity), making the hajj (pilgrimage) to the House, and fasting in Ramaḍān.” [Al-Bukhārī and Muslim]

3. There is a consensus among all Muslim scholars that fasting Ramadan is obligatory.


The prerequisites for the obligatoriness of fasting:

There are four prerequisites:

1. Islām

If non-Muslims fast or do any act of worship, it will not be accepted. Allah says,

“Yet truly it has been revealed to you, O Prophet, and to those of the prophets before you: If ever you were to associate any gods with God, then utterly futile would be all your good works. And, most surely, you yourself would have become among the losers, of an everlasting Paradise. (Qurʾan 39:65)


ʿAʾisha reported:

I said: Messenger of Allah, the son of Judʿan established ties of relationship, fed the poor. Would that be of any avail to him? He said: It would be of no avail to him as he did not ever say: O my Lord, pardon my sins on the Day of Resurrection. (Saḥīḥ Muslim)



2. Reaching puberty

This is the second prerequisite. In Islām, there are three sings that denote a certain person has reached puberty.

1. The first wet dream and menstruation

There is an agreement among scholars on only one of these three sings which is having the first wet dream for boys and the first menstruation for girls. This is the most authentic sign.

2. being 15 years old (only lunar years are used here)

Some scholars hold the opinion that if a person is 15 lunar years old, he or she is an adult who is obliged to fast and do other acts of worship.

3. Growing of pubic hair

However, the first sign is the most famous among the scholars.


What is the legal ruling regarding the child who fasts?


If the child fasts, his or her fast is valid and acceptable. In addition, he and his or her parents will be rewarded. So, it is recommended for the children to train and learn to fast before they reach the age of puberty but it is not obligatory.


Narrated Al-Rubayiʿ bint Muʿawadh:

“The Prophet (ﷺ) sent a messenger to the village of the Anṣār in the morning of the day of ʿAshurāʾ (10th of Muḥarram) to announce: ‘Whoever has eaten something should not eat but complete the fast, and whoever is observing the fast should complete it.’ “She further said, “Since then we used to fast on that day regularly and also make our boys fast. We used to make toys of wool for the boys and if anyone of them cried for, he was given those toys till it was the time of the breaking of the fast.” (Saḥīḥ  al-Bukhārī)


3. Sanity

An insane person cannot be asked to perform any act of worship because they cannot understand the Shariʿa address.

Narrated Alī ibn Abū Ṭālib:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: There are three (persons) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper till he awakes, a boy till he reaches puberty, and a lunatic till he comes to reason. (Related by Al-Nasāʾī, Abū Dāwūd and Ibn Mājah)


4. Ability

In addition to the three prerequisites mentioned above, fasting is only obligatory if the person has the ability to observe it. Allah says:


“God does not task a soul beyond its capacity.” (Qurʾan 2:286)


What is the legal ruling regarding an old man or woman who cannot fast or make up the missed days?

What if the person suffers from a chronic disease such as diabetes or kidney failure?

To answer these questions, let us first look at the interpretations of the following ʾaya (verse of the Qurʾan): Allah says:


“It is for a specified number of days. But one among you who is sick or is on a journey shall then fast the same number of other days. Yet for those who are (yuṭīqūnahu) (hardly) able to endure it, and do not fast, the redemption for each day, is feeding an indigent person “instead”.” (Qurʾan 2:184)


Ibn ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) holds the opinion that the word yuṭīqūnahu means that if a person finds it very difficult to fast or cannot fast, they should break their fast and feed an indigent person instead.


However, the majority of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) say that the above mentioned ʾaya is abrogated.

In fact, the obligation of fasting was gradual. At first, it was optional for a person to fast or to feed an indigent person.

They say that the word yuṭīqūnahu means if a person who can fast but chooses not to fast, they must feed an indigent person.

In short, ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) disagrees with the other Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) in the following two points:

1. Ibn ʿAbbās interprets the word (yuṭīqūnahu) ‘those who are able to endure it’ as ‘those who are hardly able to endure it.

2. He uses the verse as a proof while it is abrogated.


The Majority of scholars hold the opinion that the abrogating verse is the following:

Allah says:

“So whoever among you bears witness to the month shall then fast it. Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey (such a person shall then fast,) the same number of other days.” (Qurʾan 2:185)


Some scholars also hold the opinion that old age and sickness are legal excuses for breaking one’s fast but the person must feed in indigent person instead.


This is the second proof for that:

In a Suspended Hadith4 related in Saḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, Al-Bukhārī said,

“After growing old, Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) used to feed an indigent person bread and meat every day”


In short, there are two opinions regarding the answer to the two questions mentioned above:

1. Feeding an indigent person is a substitute for fasting in case of inability.

2. There is no substitute for fasting in case of inability. Feeding is only recommended if a person wants to emulate Anas (may Allah be pleased with him)


Breast-feeding and pregnant women


If pregnant women and those who breast-feed fear that fasting may cause harm to them or to the fetus or the baby, they should break their fast.


What should breast-feeding and pregnant women do if they break their fast?


There are here a number of opinions:

  1. Some scholars treat pregnancy as illness. Allah says,

“One’s mother bore one in feebleness upon feebleness” (Qurʾan 31:14)


In this case, they are treated as sick people who break their fast and make up the missed days later.


  1. Scholars who adopt the opinion of Ibn ʿAbbās mentioned above say that they should break their fast and feed an indigent person for every day.


  1. Other scholars like Ibn Ḥazm al-Ẓahirī say that they should break their fast without making up for the missed days later or feeding an indigent person for every day.


Ibn Ḥazm used the following Hadith as a legal proof to support his opinion:


Narrated Anas ibn Malik:

A man from Banū ʿAbdullahh ibn Kaʿb brethren of Banū Qushayr (not Anas ibn Malik, the well-known Companion), said: A contingent from the cavalry of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) raided us. I reached (for he said went) to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who was taking his meals. He said: Sit down, and take some from this meal of ours. I said: I am fasting, he said: Sit down, I shall tell you about prayer and fasting. Allah has remitted half the prayer to a traveller, and fasting to the traveller, the woman who is suckling an infant and the woman who is pregnant, I swear by Allah, he mentioned both (i.e. suckling and pregnant women) or one of them. I was grieved for not taking the food of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). (Related by Al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd and Ibn Mājah)


Other scholars say that this hadith allows the pregnant and breast-feeding women to break their fast. However, it did not disallow them to make up the missed days.


The preferred opinion is the first one as it is in agreement with the explicit meaning of the verses related to fasting.


1, 2, 3: http://www.newmuslim.net/acts-of-worship/the-best-10-virtues-of-fasting-in-islam-what-are-they/

4: The Suspended Hadith is a hadith in which one or more of the narrators are removed from the beginning of the chain of narration.

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