Looking at the life of the companions of the prophet, it is obvious that children used to fast. For example, ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said to one who was intoxicated during Ramadan:
“Woe to you! Even our children are fasting!” And he hit him. [Narrated by al-Bukhari in a mu’allaq report, Bab Sawm al-Subyaan (Chapter on the fast of children)]
Regarding the age when children should start fasting, from the ahadith and scholars’ interpretation of Islamic law, there doesn’t seem to be a specific age when fasting in Ramadan becomes compulsory for children. Many scholars are of the view that the age when children should start fasting is when they are between 10 and 12 years old. However, care should be taken to ensure that it is not harmful for the children. For children who have never fasted, many people usually start the process early and gradually to ensure that they get used to staying hungry and thirsty for extended periods of time and that it doesn’t harm them.
The following sheds light on the guidance provided by various scholars on this topic.
Al-Awzaa’i said: “If he is able to fast for three consecutive days without interruption and without becoming weak, then he should be made to fast Ramadan. Ishaaq said: When (a child) reaches the age of twelve I think he should be made to fast so that he gets used to it. The age of ten is more likely, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) enjoined (light punishment) to children for not praying at this age, and as fasting is also an important pillar of Islam, so that age seems likely. But fasting is harder, so attention should be paid to when the child becomes able to physically handle it, because some who are able to pray may not be able to fast.” [Al-Mughni, 4/412]
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said: “If he is young and has not yet reached puberty, he is not obliged to fast, but if he is able to do it without hardship, then he should be told to do so. The Sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them) used to make their children fast, and if the younger ones cried they would give them toys to distract them. But if it is proven that it is harmful to him, then he should be stopped from fasting. If Allah has forbidden us to give youngsters their wealth if there is the fear that they may abuse it, then it is more appropriate that they be stopped from doing something if there is the fear of physical harm. But that should not be done by force, because that is not appropriate in raising children. [Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, 19/83]
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