Accessible Conspectus: Fasting Ramadan

This post is part of a series of posts aimed at making The Ultimate Conspectus accessible to readers who have never read fiqh before.

5 Fasting

Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam mentioned in the well-known hadith narrated by ʿUmar bin al-Khaṭṭāb (may Allah be pleased with them): the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Islam is based on five pillars: testifying that there is no deity except for Allah and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, establishing prayer, offering zakāt, performing Ḥajj, and fasting Ramaḍān.”

The Arabic word for “fasting” is “sawm.” Its basic linguistic meaning is abstention. Its technical meaning in the books of fiqh is to restrain oneself from things that invalidate the fast while having a specific intention for doing so, for the entire duration of the daylight hours of a day that can be fasted, by a Muslim who is of sound mind and free from menstrual and post-natal bleeding. This chapter will go into the details of what was mentioned in this technical definition.

The obligation to fast Ramaḍān is established from the Quran, Sunnah, and consensus. The Quran initially mentioned a general obligation to fast but without restricting it to a particular time. Allah Most High says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you might become righteous,” [Q2:183]. Later, another verse clarified that the obligation is specific to Ramaḍān. Allah Most High says, “The month of Ramaḍān [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it…,” [Q2:185]. The evidence from the Sunnah includes the hadith mentioned above.

5.1 Conditions Obligating the Fast

Fasting the month of Ramadan is obligatory when four conditions are met. They are that the person be a Muslim; mature; of sound mind; and able to fast.

An individual who meets these conditions is required to fast. He is not required to fast when a single one of them is absent. So an individual is not required to fast if he is not a Muslim; immature; insane, in a coma, or unconscious for the entire day; or unable to fast.

The reason for someone being unable to fast include old age, pregnancy, and sickness.

An individual who meets all of these conditions on a day of Ramaḍān has a personal obligation to fast that day. While this usually means that they must perform a fast that same day, there are situations that require them to perform it later or which allow them perform it at a later date. For example, short-term illness and menstruation require deferring the fast to a later date; and while journeying one has the option to defer.

In addition to the conditions related to a fast being a personal obligation, there are also conditions related to the performance of a fast being valid. The conditions for a fast being valid are that the person performing it should be a Muslim, have discernment, be free from menstruation and post-natal bleeding, and that the day of performance is one wherein fasting itself is not invalid.

We notice several important things when we look at these two lists of conditions together. The first is that non-Muslims are not required to fast Ramaḍān. Someone who enters Islam is not required to do anything for the Ramaḍāns before they entered Islam. (This ruling does not apply to an apostate who left Islam [may Allah forgive us!] and returned, as they must make up any days of fasting that occurred during their apostasy. They must also make up these days even if they abstained from food and drink during those days since being Muslim is a condition for the fasts to be valid.)

A second thing we notice is that young children are not required to fast though it is valid for them to do so once they reach the age of discernment. Indicators that a child has reached this age include him being able to clean, dress, and feed himself. Before this age, a child is not required to fast, and their fast would not be considered valid or praiseworthy. A child who can do these things is still not obligated to fast. But if they do fast, its performance is considered valid and praiseworthy.

A third thing we notice is that there may be days when fasting is both unlawful and invalid. And it turns out that this is indeed the case. ʿEid al-Fiṭr, ʿEid al-Aḍḥā, and the three days after ʿEid al-Aḍḥā are days of celebration and feasting. It is unlawful and invalid to fast these days. This will be covered in more detail later in this chapter.

A fourth thing we notice is that a fast can be obligatory and valid even if the individual needs to take the purificatory bath.

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