Please provide some
guidelines on the requirements of women fasting during Ramadan.
Thank you for your
thoughtful inquiry. This lengthy reply includes brief points of Islamic Law that
apply to women.
It should be understood that
Islam is intended to bring ease to all aspects of our daily life. Allah grants
special mercy for women, and requirements of worship are less stringent for them
than for men. Women and men are exempt from fasting during extended travel away
from home (beyond fifty miles and a duration of more than one day), and during
illness which is too severe to continue the fast, and if they are very old
and/or weak. Women, however, are further exempt from the fast if they are
pregnant or are breast-feeding, unless fasting does not interrupt feeding
schedules nor creates a serious imbalance in the natural supply and quality of
milk so as to disturb the baby. This exemption is again to the favor of women,
as Allah intends the mother should not have to undergo undue hardship.
A nursing mother cannot fast
without the permission of the infant’s father, as she may be emotionally moved
to observe fast when doing so may impare her health, or that of the baby.
As the protector of the mother and child, the father is expected to be objective
when taking his decision, not overly strict and not overly soft.
Women are also exempt from
the fast of Ramadan during their monthly periods, a time when they are also
given leave from performing the five daily prayers. While some Muslims believe
this state renders a woman unfit to pray or fast because she is “unclean”,
the reality of the matter is that Allah subhana wa ta’ala in His Infinite
Mercy has relieved women of their religious responsibilities during this period
so that they may relax. During Ramadan and all other times throughout the year,
part of the woman’s biological monthly cleansing process is that she not
obstruct or collect the flow of unclean matter which issues from her womb, such
as with the use of tampons, which is categorically haram (forbidden) and can
cause severe toxic reactions in the body. A woman’s duty to fast in Ramadan
resumes at the time when prayer becomes binding.
Women and men are each
responsible for days of obligatory fasting which were not fulfilled. However, in
the case of women who are aged and extremely weak or who suffer from long-term
illness, Allah has allowed that their children may fast on their behalf to make
up unfulfilled days of obligatory fasting. Under these circumstances the adult
children make their intention to fast on behalf of the exempted parent, and each
day of fasting must be observed independent from any other fasts.
For each day of obligatory
fasting (in Ramadan) missed due to travel or temporary illness, both men and
women must fast one day sometime before
the next Ramadan. However, a pregnant woman or nursing mother who did not fast
the entire month of Ramadan has been given the option to make up one day of
fasting for one day missed (which is best), or she may feed two poor individuals
for thirty days (sixty meals), or give sadaqah to the equivalent of sixty meals.
Again, this option is intended to help women who are unable to make up an entire
month of fasting, either due to illness, weakness, or because they are again
pregnant or still nursing their baby, but who nevertheless need to make up
missed days of fasting, which are a debt we are all held accountable for.
Women and men are not exempt
from fasting simply because they work outside the home or because their jobs
require long or irregular hours, or a long commute. As these days many Muslim
women are working outside the home, some are finding it much easier to request
flexible work hours during Ramadan, reporting to work earlier and leaving
earlier in the day, to alleviate the burden of fasting and to allow them be at
home with their families in time to prepare for and break fast at sunset.