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Elderly People (Al-Harim)
When we speak of the elderly people, we are speaking of two categories: the old person who
has reached the point of absent-mindedness and aimless talk, (Al-hazyaan) the person who
cannot comprehend what he or she is doing or saying. There will be no fast for these
people, nor will they be required to feed the needy for the days missed, because their
case is like that of a child before reaching the age of discretion, Tamyeez. But if he or
suffers relapses, the fast is mandatory on him, while he comprehends and when he
does not comprehend there will be no fast. These rules about the elderly people apply to
the rest of their Islamic obligations, including Salaat, and Hajj, etc.
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Physical Disability (Al-'Ajiz)
The aim of this religion is not to burden people to a point that they will be incapable
physically of carrying out the duties mandated by Allah (SWT).
This is why when there is clear evidence that fasting will result in the
opposite of the intended result, namely endangering the sanctity of life itself, the
Lawgiver (Shaari'e), makes room for the believer. By physical disability (Al-'ajiz), we
mean the old person who is mentally sound but physically weak, and observation of the fast
would further weaken his body.
Also, at this point the fast is not mandatory upon the old person because he is unable to
do so. In the case of the terminally ill, like the cancer or AIDS patient whose fasting
may worsen their condition, Allah (SWT) states:
"...So fear Allah as much as you can" (Al-Qur'an 64:16) Also, "On no soul
does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear..." (Al-Qur'an 2:286). These two
verses indicate that when the body is no longer capable of executing the prescribed
duties, the pen that records the deeds ceases to record. These people who have been
allowed to break their fast of Ramadan, would have to compensate for each and every day
that they break by feeding one indigent person.
Before the fasting of Ramadan was prescribed to the believers, everyone was given a choice
between fasting or feeding. This is what Al-Qur'an refers to in chapter
"Al-Baqarah": "...for those who can do it (with hardship) is a ransom, the
feeding of indigent..." (Al-Qur'an 2:184). This verse was abrogated by the verse of
When a believer is incapable of fasting due to the reasons mentioned above, feeding
becomes a substitute.
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For feeding, you have a choice between providing a poor person about one kilo and ten
grams of wheat, rice, or any kind of staple of the best kind. Or to provide a meal after
the month of Ramadan, by preparing food and inviting poor people, whose number should
equal the number of days you missed. Or the whole amount may be given to one or two
families. Imam Bukhari (RAA) reported that Anas bin Malik, at an advanced age fed poor
people bread and meat one or two days every year.
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Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
When pregnant women or nursing mothers eat, they do so for the health of themselves and
their babies. Their decision to fast depends on how they feel. If they feel that fasting
may jeopardize their life and injure the unborn or newly born, the Lawgiver gives them
permission to break fast. They will have to make it up at any time after Ramadan before
the next Ramadan.
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A traveler has a choice between fasting and breaking the fast, regardless of the length
and the purpose of the journey. Whether the journey is an emergency, for Hajj, to visit
relatives, for business, or if a believer is a frequent traveler like the airplane pilots,
bus and truck drivers, train engineers, or ship captains. As for cab drivers, if the
weather is hot, they may change their working hours to nighttime until the weather is
There is one condition: that they are not intending their journey as a
masquerade and trick to avoid fasting. If that is the intent, breaking the fast is
prohibited and fasting becomes mandatory upon him during the course of the journey.
Allah (SWT) states: "But if any one is ill or on a journey (the prescribed period
should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want
to put you in difficulties..." (Al-Qur'an, 2:185) Allah repeated this verse twice to
underscore the fact that it is not abrogated with the general command to fast.
The above verse has considered the hardship encountered on a journey as equal to hardship
in sickness, and thus allows those faced with either condition not to fast. Perhaps the
reason can be found in the very meaning of the Arabic word Safar, which implies exposing
oneself during the course of a journey to elements of hardship in transportation, food,
time and climate changes, cultural shocks of all sorts, or even just general wear and
Even in this age of jets and supersonic air travel, traveling poses a danger to the
sojourner. Because of this possibility, the Lawgiver has permitted the traveler to eat, so
fasting does not add to his already difficult situation. This is why the Messenger of
Allah (PBUH) has been reported as saying, "The journey is a type of punishment."
He or she, however, would have to make up the day. The permission to not fast during a
journey is the same as if a person decides to fast while on a journey, he can do so and
the fast is valid.
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Type of Journey
The journey that may entail fast breaking is the one that falls in the
category of shortened prayers (Qasr), and the period of breakage is the period in which
one can shorten the prayer.
What is Better, Fasting or Breaking?
In analyzing the case of a traveler, many scholars said the best in this case is what is
easiest for the traveler. But one can strive to fast for the following reasons:
This was the preference of the Prophet (PBUH) as related by Abi Darda (RAA), who said:
"We journeyed with the Prophet (PBUH) during Ramadan when it was an extremely hot
(season). Some of us shaded ourselves with our hands, because of the extreme heat. No one
was fasting among us except the Prophet and Abdullah bin Abi Rawahah. The Prophet broke
his fast in consideration for his companions when he knew that the fast was getting the
best of the
companions and bringing on them an unnecessary hardship." (Muslim) In another hadith
reported by Jabir Bin Abdullah (RAA): "When the Prophet (PBUH) journeyed to Makkah,
in the year of victory, he fasted until he reached a place known as Kara'ah Al-Ghanim. He
was informed that the companions who were fasting were having difficulty with the fast.
So, they were waiting to see what he would do. The Prophet (PBUH) then requested a goblet
full with water after Asr prayer and drank it while everyone was looking." (Reported
by Muslim) This hadith indicates how fasting is better
during a journey, unless there is unreasonable hardship. Another reason why fasting is
better is because it helps to meet the
obligation of fast without any delay. For you do not know when death or sickness may come.
Besides, it is easier to fast when all the believers are fasting at the same time. This is
why they say that the difficult obligations, when done with other Muslims, become easier.
It is easier to fast the whole month of Ramadan, whereas, when a person misses one day of
Ramadan, he may put off redeeming his fast until Sha'aban, one month before the
If fasting is difficult for him during the course of a journey, the traveler
should break his fast. In previous hadith reported by Jabir (RAA), when the Prophet broke
this fast because of the difficulty of the believers, he was told that some people
insisted on fasting. The Prophet (PBUH) said, "they are rebels, they are
In another hadith by Jabir bin Abdullah (RAA) said: "During one of the Prophet's
journeys, he saw a heavy crowd around a man who was being shaded.
The Prophet (PBUH) inquired, `What is this'? They said `He is fasting.' The Prophet
(PBUH), said: `It is not righteousness to fast during a journey.'" (Muslim/Bukhari)
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The Non-Terminally ill
When a person becomes ill and his prognosis indicates a serious condition then he is
granted permission (Rukhsah) to break his fast. Even though he was not terminally ill and
was not in a life-threatening situation.
However, this permission does not include simple illnesses, such as a headache or
stomachache. All these do not warrant breaking the fast. If fasting becomes harmful for
the patient, then it becomes mandatory for him to break his fast. Allah (SWT) said: "
Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves, for Allah has been to you Most Merciful."
(Al-Qur'an, 4:29) Elsewhere, He stated: ``And make not your own hands contribute to (your)
destruction..." (Al-Qur'an, 2:195)
These two verses are general in everything that one may do which might undermine the
integrity of life. In a Hadith reported by Bukhari, the Messenger of Allah (SWT) said:
"Your soul, indeed, has rights on you!" (Bukhari) Among its rights is your
protecting it from harm.
If one falls sick during the daytime and completing fast becomes hard on him, he is
permitted to break his fast for this reason. If he is cured during the daytime, say 10:00
a.m., and he has not been fasting, his fast for that day is not valid because he was not
fasting at the beginning of the day, and the fast is for all day not half of the day.
However, he would have to make up the day or days he missed after Ramadan. Allah (SWT)
States: "Fasting is for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill, or on a
journey, the prescribed number (missed) should be made up..." (Al-Qur'an, 2:184) This
verse indicates that when a believer intends to fast and discovers
during a journey that he or she can not continue, he should break and make it up later. If
a traveler who is not fasting returns home during the daytime, his fasting of that day is
invalid because he did not observe it from the beginning of the day. The mandatory fast
starts with the break of dawn.
Should he observe the rest of the day in fasting or not? Some scholars say he should
restrain from eating the rest of the day as respect for the fast, although he would have
to make it up later. But others said there is no valid reason to force a person who
has been permitted by the Lawgiver not to fast at the beginning of the day, to abstain for
the rest of the day. That is why Abdullah bin Mas'ood (RAA) said, "Whoever eats in
the beginning of the day should eat at the end of the day." This means if a person is
allowed to eat early part of the morning due to certain valid reasons, it is lawful for
him to eat at the later part of the day. This is also the ruling of Imam Malik and
Shafi'e. But they say he should not eat or drink in public
because no one knows the reason of his breaking and so they would not think badly of him.
And also to prevent any weak-minded person from trying to emulate his actions.
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