Opinion Editorials, November 2004, To see today's opinion articles, click here: www.aljazeerah.info
Exemption From Fasting
Arab News, 11/9/04
Fasting in Ramadan is an incumbent duty on every adult Muslim of sound mind and health and who is resident, not traveling. A woman must also be in her period of cleanliness from menses or postnatal discharge. Thus, those who are not required to fast are non-Muslims, the mad, the young, the ill, the travelers, women who are in their menstruation or postnatal periods, the elderly, and pregnant and breast-feeding women. Some of these groups are not required to fast at all, such as the non-Muslims and the mad. Others, such as the young, should be encouraged by their guardians to fast. Some cannot fast but are required to compensate by fasting at a later date. Others are exempt but required to compensate for not fasting. Here is a detailed explanation.
Fasting is an Islamic act of worship, hence those who are not Muslims are not required to fast. Since sanity is a prerequisite for imposing any duty, the insane are exempt from the duty of fasting. Ali quotes the Prophet as saying: “Responsibility is waived from three types of person: An insane person until he recovers, a sleeping person until he wakes up, and a young boy or girl until they attain puberty.” (Related by Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi). Although the young are not required to fast, their parents or guardians are directed to encourage them to fast so that they are used to it from childhood, as long as they can bear its hardship. Al-Rubayi’ bint Mu’awwadh said that the Prophet sent callers to the districts of the Ansar in the morning of Muharram 10 (the day which was recommended for fasting in the early stages of Islam) to announce: “He who is fasting let him continue his fast to the end of the day, and he who has not fasted, let him fast the rest of his day.” We observed the fasting for that day ever since, and made our young boys fast as well. We used to go to the mosque and take with us soft toys for them. If a boy cried, we gave him his toy to play with until fast-breaking time.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Exemptions Requiring Compensation
Elderly men and women, and those who are ill with no expectation of recovery, and those engaged in very hard occupations and cannot earn their living by other means are exempt from fasting if fasting causes them undue hardship all the year round. They are required, however, to feed a needy person for each day on which they do not fast. Ibn Abbas says: “The elderly man is exempt from fasting provided that he feeds a needy person for each day. He is not required to fast at a later date.” (Related by Al-Daraqutni and Al-Hakim).
Al-Bukhari relates on the authority of Ata’ that he heard Ibn Abbas reciting the Qur’anic verse: “Those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear may compensate for it by feeding a needy person.” (2: 184).
Ibn Abbas said that this verse has not been revoked. It is valid for an elderly man or an elderly woman who cannot fast. They feed for each day a needy person.
An ill person with a chronic disease who is not expected to recover and finds fasting too much of a strain is treated in the same way as an elderly person. The same applies to workers engaged in very hard jobs. Shaikh Muhammad Abdou says that the phrase, “those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear,” in the Qur’anic verse, refers to the elderly, the ill and people in similar circumstances such as those whose livelihood requires them to do very hard jobs such as miners.
The same ruling applies to criminals sentenced for life imprisonment with hard labor, if they actually find fasting too much of a burden and if they have enough money to cover the required compensation.
Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding may not fast if they fear for themselves or for their children on the basis of past experience or on the advice of a competent doctor or if it seems highly likely that their fears are well founded.
They are required to offer compensation without the need to fast later on, according to Ibn Umar and Ibn Abbas. Abu Dawood relates on the authority of Ikrimah that Ibn Abbas commented on the Qur’anic verse that includes the phrase, “those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear,” saying: “It is a concession to elderly men and women who can hardly fast.
“They may exempt themselves from fasting and feed a needy person for every day they do not fast. Similarly, pregnant and breast-feeding women may not fast if they have fears (meaning for their children). They are required to compensate by feeding needy people.” Ibn Abbas used to say to a pregnant wife of his: “You are in the same position as a person who finds fasting too much of a strain. You may compensate for it without having to fast later on.”
The Prophet is quoted as saying: “God has relieved a traveling person from fasting and from half of his prayers, and He has relieved pregnant and breast-feeding women from fasting.” The Hanafi school of Fiqh requires such women to fast later on in compensation for not fasting in Ramadan , and they are not required to feed needy persons. The Hanafi and Shafie schools of Fiqh are of the view that if such women fear for their children only, they have to fast later on and feed needy persons, while if they fear for themselves or for both themselves and their children, they have only to fast later on.
Exemption Requiring Later Fasting
Those who are ill and hope to recover and those who are traveling may not fast, but they have to compensate by fasting later on. God says in the Qur’an: “But he who is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on.” (2: 185).
The sort of illness which qualifies for exemption from fasting is the severe illness which is likely to get worse or to be prolonged by fasting. According to Ibn Qudamah, a leading scholar of the Hanbali school of Fiqh: “It is reported that some of the early scholars have extended this exemption to cover all sorts of illness, including pain in a finger or toothache, on the basis that the Qur’anic statement expressing the exemption is of general import, and also in view of the fact that a person on a journey is exempt from fasting even if he does not need such an exemption. Hence, the same applies to any ill person.” Al-Bukhari, Ata’ and the Zahiri school of Fiqh subscribe to this view.
A healthy person who fears to get ill by fasting is treated as an ill person; he is exempt from fasting.
The same applies to anyone who suffers greatly from hunger or thirst to the extent that he fears for his life. Such a person must break his fast even though he may be healthy and not traveling. He has to fast later on.
God says in the Qur’an: “Do not kill yourselves. God is compassionate to you.” (4: 29). If someone who is ill fasts in spite of his illness and bears the burden of fasting patiently, his fasting is valid although his action is not commendable because he has turned his back on a concession God has granted him. Moreover, he may injure himself by his action.
As for those who are traveling, the question arises: Which is preferable, fasting or not fasting. The Hanafi, Shafie and Maliki schools of Fiqh prefer fasting for anyone who finds it easy. Not fasting is preferable for those who find fasting too much of a strain. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal prefers the exercise of the exemption, i.e. not fasting. Umar ibn Abd Al-Aziz prefers what is easier to the person concerned. Hence, if a person finds fasting in Ramadan easier despite traveling and finds fasting later on more of a burden, it is preferable for him to fast.
If a traveling person makes up his mind during the night to fast, and starts his day fasting, he may break his fast during the day. On the other hand, if a person who is not traveling intends to fast, then starts traveling during the day, most scholars are of the opinion that he is not allowed to break his fast for traveling.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others think that it is permissible for him to discontinue fasting. According to the Prophet’s traditions, when a person is ready to travel he may break his fast before he actually sets off on his journey.
The distance which qualifies a traveler to make use of the exemption is the same which qualifies for shortening prayers. Again, the duration of stay at his destination during which a traveler is allowed not to fast is the same as the duration during which he is allowed to shorten his prayers.
Scholars differ on this point with some of them making that duration as short as four days and others extending it to twenty days. It is generally more acceptable to say that unless a traveling person makes up his mind to stay as a resident at the place to which he has traveled, he continues to be a traveler.
Obligatory Exemption and Later Fasting
All scholars agree that women are not allowed to fast in their menstruation or postnatal periods. If they fast, their fasting is invalid.
They are still required to compensate by fasting later on. Aishah said: “When we had our periods at the time of the Prophet, we were ordered to compensate for fasting but not for prayers.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
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