Fiqh of Ramadan in Detail

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يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

“O who believe, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you; perchance you will guard yourselves. (2:183)

Prescribed Fasting: Details of the Fiqh

from al-Fiqh `alal-madhahib al-Arba`ah

by the Azhari scholar Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman al-Jaziri (1882-1941)

1. Introduction

Prescribed fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. No proof is required to establish its being obligatory and one denying it goes out of the fold of Islam, because it is obvious like the prescribed prayer, and in respect of anything so evidently established both the learned and the unlettered, the elderly and the young, all stand on an equal footing. It was declared an obligatory duty (fard) in the second year of the Hijrah upon each and every one capable of carrying out religious duties, i.e. a sane adult (mukallaf) and breaking it is not permissible except for any of the following reasons:

1.1. Menstruation and bleeding following childbirth

The schools concur that fasting is not valid for women during menstruation and bleeding following childbirth.

1.2. Illness

The Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools state that if one who is fasting (saim) falls ill, or fears the aggravation of his illness, or delay in recovery, he or she has the option to fast or refrain. Fasting is not incumbent upon that person. It is a relaxation and not an obligation in this situation. But where there is likelihood of death or loss of any of the senses, it is obligatory for the person not to fast and his fasting is not valid.

1. A Woman in the Final Stage of Pregnancy and Nursing Mothers

The Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools say that if a pregnant or nursing woman fears harm for her own health or that of her child, her fasting is valid though it is permissible for her to refrain from fasting. If she opts for not fasting, the schools concur that she is bound to perform its missed days later. They differ regarding its substitute (fidyah) and atonement (kaffarah). In this regard the Hanafis observe that it is not at all obligatory. The Malikis are of the opinion that it is obligatory for a nursing woman, not for a pregnant one. The Hanbalis and the Shafi`is say that giving the substitute is obligatory upon a pregnant and a nursing woman only if they fear danger for the child, but if they fear harm for their own health as well as that of the child, they are bound to perform the fasts missed only without being required to give a substitute. The substitute for each day is the feeding of one needy person (one mudd), which amounts to feeding one destitute person (miskin).1

1.4. Travel

All four: the Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools add a further condition to these, which is that the journey should commence before dawn and the traveler should have reached the point from where the prescribed prayer becomes overdue before dawn. Hence if he or she commences the journey after the setting in of dawn, it is unlawful for him or her to break the fast, and if he or she breaks it, its making up for will be obligatory upon him or her without an atonement (kaffarah). The Shafi`is add another condition, which is that the traveler should not be one who generally travels continuously, such as a driver. Thus if he travels habitually, he is not entitled to break the fast. In the opinion of all four of the schools, breaking the fast is optional and not compulsory. Therefore, a traveler who fulfills all the conditions has the option of fasting or not fasting. This is despite the observation of the Hanafis that performing the prescribed prayer as the shortened form during journey is compulsory and not optional.

1.5. Acute Thirst

There is consensus among all the schools that one suffering from a malady of acute thirst can break his fast, and if that person can carry out the missed fasts later, it will be obligatory upon him or her without any atonement, in the opinion of the Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools. The schools differ in regard to acute hunger, as to whether it is one of the causes permitting breaking the fast, like thirst. The Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools say that hunger and thirst are similar and both make breaking the fast permissible.

1.6. Elderly

Old people, men and women, in late years of life for whom fasting is harmful and difficult, can break the prescribed fast, but are required to give a substitute by feeding a needy person for each prescribed fast day omitted. The same is true of a sick person who does not hope to recover during the whole year. The schools concur upon this rule excepting the Hanbalis, who say that giving a substitute is recommended and not obligatory.

1.7. Excuse Not to Fast No Longer Present

If the reason permitting not fasting no longer exists such as the recovery of a sick person, maturing of a child, homecoming of a traveler, or termination of the menses, it is recommended in the view of the Shafi`is, to refrain (imsak) from things that break the fast (muftirat) as a token of respect. The Hanbalis and the Hanafis consider refraining as obligatory, but Malikis consider it neither obligatory nor recommended.

2. Conditions of Prescribed Fasting

As mentioned earlier, fasting in the month of Ramadan is obligatory for each and every sane adult. Hence, fasting is neither obligatory upon an insane person in the state of insanity nor is it valid if he or she observes it. As to a child, it is not obligatory upon him or her, although valid if observed by a person at the age of discretion (mumayyiz). Also essential for the validity of the fast are Islam and intention. Therefore, as per consensus, neither the fast of a non-Muslim nor the fast of one who has not formed the intention is acceptable. This is apart from the aforementioned conditions of freedom from menses, bleeding following childbirth, illness and travel. As to a person in an intoxicated or unconscious state, the Shafi`is observe that his or her prescribed fast is not valid if he or she is not in his or her senses for the whole period of the prescribed fast. But if that person is in his or her senses for a part of this period, the prescribed fast is valid, although the unconscious person is liable for the missed fasts, whatever the circumstances, irrespective of whether his or her unconsciousness is self-induced or forced upon him or her. But the missed fasts is not obligatory upon an intoxicated person unless he or she is personally responsible for his or her state. The Malikis state that the fast is not valid if the state of unconsciousness or intoxication persists for the whole or most of the day from dawn to sunset. But if it covers a half of the day or less and he or she was in possession of his or her senses at the time of making the intention and did make it, becoming unconscious or intoxicated later, making up for the prescribed fasts is not obligatory upon him or her. The time of making the intention known for the fast in their opinion extends from sunset to dawn. According to the Hanafis, an unconscious person is exactly like an insane one in this respect, and their opinion regarding the latter is that if the insanity lasts through the whole month of Ramadan, it is not obligatory to make up for the missed fasts. If it covers half of the month, he or she will fast for the remaining half and make up for the prescribed fasts missed due to insanity. The Hanbalis observe that it is obligatory for a person in a state of intoxication, irrespective of whether these states are self-induced or forced upon the person, to make up for missed prescribed fasts.

Things Obligatory to Refrain From During the Prescribed Fast

Those things from which it is obligatory to refrain during the fast (muftirat), from dawn to sunset, are:

1. Eating and drinking deliberately

Both eating and drinking (shurb) deliberately invalidate the prescribed fast and necessitate making up for the fasts missed in the opinion of all the schools, although they differ as to whether atonement is also obligatory. The Hanafis require it, but not the Shafi`is and the Hanbalis. A person who eats and drinks by an oversight is neither liable to make up for missed fasts nor atonement, except in the opinion of the Malikis, who only require its being made up. Included in drinking is inhaling tobacco smoke.

2. Sexual intercourse

Sexual intercourse when deliberate, invalidates the prescribed fast and makes one liable to make up for missed fasts and atonement, in the opinion of all the schools. The atonement is the freeing of a slave, and if that is not possible, fasting for two consecutive months; if even that is not possible, feeding sixty poor persons. The Malikis allow an option between any one of these. That is, a sane adult may choose between freeing a slave, fasting or feeding the poor. The Shafi`is, Hanbalis and Hanafis impose atonement in the abovementioned order. That is, releasing a slave is specifically obligatory, and in the event of incapacity fasting, becomes obligatory. If that, too, is not possible, giving food to the poor becomes obligatory. . As to sexual intercourse by oversight, it does not invalidate the prescribed fast in the opinion of the Hanafis and Shafi`is but does according to the Hanbalis and the Malikis.

3.Seminal emission

There is consensus that it invalidates the prescribed fast if caused deliberately. The Hanbalis say that if the thin genital discharge emitted while caressing (madhy) is discharged due to repeated sensual glances and the like, the prescribed fast will become invalid. The four schools say that seminal emission will necessitate making up for the prescribed fast without atonement.

4. Vomiting

It invalidates the fast if deliberate, and in the opinion of the Shafi`is and Malikis, also necessitates making up for the fast. The Hanafis state that deliberate vomiting does not break the prescribed fast unless the quantity vomited fills the mouth. Two views have been narrated from Imam Ahmad Hanbal. The schools concur that involuntary vomiting does not invalidate the prescribed fast.

5. Cupping

Cupping breaks the fast only in the opinion of the Hanbalis, who observe that the cupper and the patient both break the fast.

6. Injection

Injection invalidates the prescribed fast and requires the fast to be made up in the opinion of all the schools.

7. Application of Collyrium

Application of collyrium (kohl) invalidates the fast only in the opinion of the Malikis, provided it is applied during the day and its taste is felt in the throat.

9. The intention to discontinue the prescribed fast

If a person intends to discontinue his or her fast and then refrains from doing so, his or her prescribed fast is considered invalid in the opinion of the Hanbalis; not so in the opinion of the other schools.

10. Submerging Head or Body Under Water

The four schools consider it inconsequential.

11. State of Impurity Following Sexual Emission

The four schools state that the person’s fast remains valid and he or she is not liable to anything.

4. The Various Kinds of Fasts

The jurisprudents of various schools classify fasts into four categories: obligatory, supererogatory, unlawful and disapproved.

4.1. Prescribed Fast

All the schools concur that the obligatory prescribed fasts are those of the month of Ramadan, their being made up, the expiatory fasts performed as atonement, and those performed for fulfilling a vow.

We have already dealt in some detail with the fast of Ramadan, its conditions and the things that invalidate it. Here we intend to discuss its making up for and the atonement to which one who breaks it becomes liable. Other types of obligatory fasts have been discussed under the related chapters.

4.1.1. Making Up for the Prescribed Fasts

The schools concur that a person liable for the missed prescribed fasts of Ramadan fasts is bound to perform it during the same year in which the fasts were missed by that person, that is, the period between the past and the forthcoming Ramadan. The person is free to choose the days he or she intends to fast, excepting those days on which fasting is prohibited (their discussion will soon follow). However it is obligatory upon him or her to immediately begin making up for them if the days remaining for the next Ramadan are equal to the number of fasts missed in the earlier Ramadan. If one capable of performing the fasts missed during the year neglects it until the next Ramadan, he or she should fast during the current Ramadan and then perform the missed fasts of the past year and also give an atonement of feeding a needy person for each day in the opinion of all the schools except the Hanafi which requires the person to perform only the missed fasts without any atonement. And if the person is unable to perform the missed fasts such as when his or her illness continues throughout the period between the first and the second Ramadan, he or she is neither required to make up for them nor required to give atonement in the opinion of all four: the Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi`i and Maliki schools. If one is capable of performing the missed fasts during the year but delays it with the intention of performing it just before the second Ramadan so that the missed fasts are immediately followed by the next Ramadan, and then a legitimate excuse prevents him or her from performing the missed prescribed fasts before the arrival of Ramadan, in such a situation he or she will be liable only to make up for the missed fasts not for atonement. The Hanafis, Shafi`is and Hanbalis state that charity (sadaqah) of feeding one need person for each prescribed fast missed will be given on his or her behalf. According to the Malikis, the legal guardian (wali) will give to charity (sadaqah) on the person’s behalf if he or she has so provided in the will. In the absence of a will it is not obligatory. In the opinion of the four schools, a person performing the prescribed fasts of Ramadan that were missed can change his or her intention and break the fast both before and after midday without being liable to any atonement provided there is time for him or her to perform the missed fasts later.

4.1.2. Fasts of Atonement

The fasts of atonement are of various kinds. Among them are atonement fasts for involuntary homicide, fasts for atonement of a broken oath or vow, and atonement fasts for saying to one’s wife, “You are as my mother’s back,” (zihar). These atonement fasts have their own rules which are discussed in the related chapters. Here we shall discuss the rules applicable to a person fasting by way of atonement for not having observed the prescribed fast of Ramadan. The Shafi`is, Malikis and Hanafis say that it is not permissible for a person, upon whom fasting for two consecutive months has become obligatory consequent to deliberately breaking a prescribed fast, to miss even a single fast during these two months, because that would break their continuity. Hence, on the missing of a fast, with or without an excuse, the person should fast anew for two months. The Hanbalis observe that if a person misses a fast due to a legitimate excuse, the continuity is not broken. The Shafi`is, Malikis and Hanafis state that if a person is unable to offer any form of atonement, he or she will remain liable for it until he or she comes to possess the capacity to offer it, and this is what the rules of the Shariah require. The Hanbalis are of the opinion that if he or she is unable to give atonement, his or her liability for the same disappears, and even in the event of that person’s becoming capable of it later, he or she will not be liable to anything. The schools concur that the number of atonements will be equal to the number of causes entailing it. Hence a person who breaks two fasts will have to give two atonements. But if he or she eats, drinks or has sexual intercourse several times in a single day, the Hanafis, Malikis and Shafi`is observe that the number of atonements will not increase if the fast has been broken several times, irrespective of its manner. The Hanbalis state that if in a single day there occur several violations entailing atonement, if the person gives atonement for the first violation of the fast before the perpetration of the second, he or she should offer an atonement for the latter violation as well, but if he or she has not given atonement for the first violation before committing the second, a single atonement suffices.

4.2. Prohibited Fasts

All the schools except the Hanafi concur that fasting on the days of the day marking the end of the month of Ramadan (id al-fitr) and the 10th of Dhil Hijjah (`id al-adha) is forbidden. The Hanafis observe that fasting on these two days is disapproved to the extent of being forbidden. The Shafi`is are of the opinion that fasting is not valid on these days both for those performing the pilgrimage to Makkah as well as others. According to the Hanbalis, it is forbidden to fast on these days for those not performing the pilgrimage to Makkah, not for those performing it. The Hanafis observe that fasting on these days is disapproved to the extent of being forbidden. The Malikis state that it is forbidden to fast on the eleventh and the twelfth of Dhil Hijjah for those not performing the pilgrimage to Makkah, not for those performing it. All the schools except the Hanafi concur that it is not valid for a woman to observe a supererogatory fast without her husband’s consent if her fast interferes with the fulfillment of any of his rights. The Hanafis observe that a woman’s fasting without the permission of her husband is disapproved not forbidden. There is consensus among the schools that refraining (imsak) is obligatory upon one who does not fast on a “doubtful day” (yawm al-shakk) that later turns out to be a day of Ramadan, and he or she is liable to make up for it later. Where one fasts on a doubtful day that is later known to have been a day of Ramadan, they differ as to whether it suffices without requiring that it be made up. The Shafi`i, Maliki and Hanbali schools observe that this fast will not suffice and it is not obligatory to be made up. In the opinion of the Hanafis, it suffices and does not require to be made up.

4.3 Supererogatory Fasts

Fasting is considered recommended on all the days of the year except those on which it has been prohibited. But there are days whose fast has been specifically stressed and they include three days of each month, preferably the “moonlit” days (al-ayyam al-baid), which are the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth of each lunar month. Among them is the day of Arafah (9th of Dhil Hijjah). Also emphasized are the fasts of the months of Rajab and Shaban. Fasting on Mondays and Thursdays has also been emphasized. There are other days as well which have been mentioned in elaborate works. There is consensus among all the schools that fasting on these days is recommended.

4.4. Disapproved Fasts

It is mentioned in al-Fiqh alal-madhahib al-arbaah that it is disapproved to single out Fridays and Saturdays for fasting. So is fasting on the day of Now Ruz (Persian New Year – 21st March) in the opinion of all the schools except the Shafi`i, and fasting on the day or the two days just before the month of Ramadan.

5. Evidence of the New Moon

There is a general consensus among Muslims that a person who has seen the new moon is himself or herself bound to act in accordance with this knowledge, whether it is the new moon of Ramadan or Shawwal. Hence it is obligatory upon one who has seen the former to fast even if all other people do not, 2 and to refrain from fasting on seeing the latter even if everyone else on the earth is fasting, irrespective of whether the observer is just (adil) or not, man or woman. The schools differ regarding the following issues:

5.1. Sighting of the New Moon

The Hanbalis, Malikis and Hanafis state that if the sighting (ru’yah) of the new moon has been confirmed in a particular region, the people of all other regions are bound by it, regardless of the distance between them. The difference of the horizon of the new moon is of no consequence. The Shafi`is observe that if the people of a particular place see the new moon while those at another place do not, in the event of these two places being close by with respect to the horizon, the latter’s duty will be the same; but not if their horizons differ.

5.2. Day New Moon Observed

If the new moon is seen the during day, either before or after midday, on the 30th of Shaban, will it be reckoned the last day of Shaban (in which case, fasting that day will not be obligatory) or the first of Ramadan (in which case fasting is obligatory)? Similarly, if the new moon is seen during the day on the 30th of Ramadan, will it be reckoned a day of Ramadan or that of Shawwal? In other words, will the day on which the new moon is observed be reckoned as belonging to the past or to the forthcoming month? The Shafi`is, Malikis and Hanafis observe the at it belongs to the past month and not to the forthcoming one. Accordingly, it is obligatory to fast on the next day if the new moon is seen at the end of Shaban, and to refrain from fasting the next day if it is seen at the end of Ramadan.

5. New Moon of Ramadan

The schools concur that the new moon is confirmed if sighted, as observed in this Tradition of the Prophet (s), “Fast on seeing the new moon and stop fasting on seeing it.” They differ regarding the other methods of confirming it. The Hanafis differentiate between the new moons of Ramadan and Shawwal. They state that the new moon of Ramadan is confirmed by the testimony of a single man and a single woman, provided they are Muslim, sane and just (`adil). The Shawwal new moon is not confirmed except by the testimony of two men or a man and two women. This is when the sky is not clear. But if the sky is clear–and there is no difference in this respect between the new moon of Ramadan and Shawwal–it is not confirmed except by the testimony of a considerable number of persons whose reports result in certainty. In the opinion of the Shafi`is, the new moon of Ramadan and Shawwal is confirmed by the testimony of a single witness, provided he is Muslim, sane and just. The sky’s being clear or cloudy makes no difference in this regard. According to the Malikis, the new moon of Ramadan and Shawwal are not confirmed except by the testimony of two just men, irrespective of the sky’s being cloudy or cloudless. The Hanbalis say that the new moon of Ramadan is confirmed by the testimony of a just man or woman, while that of Shawwal is only confirmed by the testimony of two just men. There is consensus among the schools, excepting the Hanafi, that if no one claims to have seen the new moon of Ramadan, fasting will be obligatory after the thirtieth day, allowing thirty days for Shaban. According to the Hanafis, fasting becomes obligatory after the 29th day of Shaban. This was with respect to the new moon of Ramadan. As to the new moon of Shawwal, the Hanafis and the Malikis observe that if the sky is cloudy, thirty days of Ramadan will be completed and breaking the fast will be obligatory on the following day. But if the sky is clear, it is obligatory to fast on the day following the 30th day by rejecting the earlier testimony of witnesses confirming the first of Ramadan regardless of their number. The Shafi`is consider ending the fast obligatory after thirty days even if the setting in of Ramadan was confirmed by the evidence of a single witness, irrespective of the sky’s having been cloudy or clear. According to the Hanbalis, if the setting in of Ramadan was confirmed by the testimony of two just men, breaking the prescribed fast (iftar) following the thirtieth day is obligatory, and if it was confirmed by the evidence of a single just witness, it is obligatory to fast on the thirty-first day as well.

6. The New Moon and Astronomy

This year (1960) the governments of Pakistan and Tunisia have decided to rely upon the opinion of astronomers for the confirmation of the new moon with a view of putting an end to confusion and the general inconvenience resulting from not knowing in advance the day of the festival (`Id al-Fitr), which at times comes as a surprise, and at other times is delayed despite all the preparations. This decision of the two governments has become an issue of heated controversy in religious circles. The protagonists of the move observe that there is nothing in the religion that disapproves of reliance on the opinion of astronomers; rather it is supported by this verse, “…And waymarks; and by the stars they are guided” (16:16). The opponents state that the decision contradicts the above-mentioned prophetic Tradition, “Fast on seeing the new moon and stop fasting on seeing it.” This is because the word sighting (ruyah) implies sighting the moon with the eyes, which was common among the people during the time of the Prophet. As to using a telescope or relying on astronomical calculations, they are inconsistent with the literal import of the Tradition, they point out. In fact, none of the sides has advanced sound reasons, because “guidance by the stars” implies determination of land and sea routes with the help of the stars, and not determination of days of months and new moons. As to the Tradition, it does not contradict sound scientific knowledge, because “seeing” is a means for acquiring knowledge and not an end in itself, as is the case with any means that helps confirm facts. However, some scholars believe that the judgments of astronomers do not lead to certain knowledge, nor do they remove all doubts as removed by vision, because their judgments are based on probability not on certainty. This is evident from their divergent judgments about the night of the new moon as well as the time of its occurrence and the period that it remains (above the horizon). If a time comes when the astronomers attain accurate and sufficient knowledge, so that there is consensus among them and they continue prove to be right to the extent that their forecasts become a certainty like the days of the week, then it will be possible to rely upon them. Rather, then it will be obligatory to follow their judgments and to reject everything that goes against them.4


Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions


© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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