Fasting can be physically demanding for a person, especially in the month of Ramadan. Islam, therefore, provides a person the flexibility to either postpone fasting for when he or she is healthy or in cases when the physical condition is permanent, to compensate using other ways. This section covers those scenarios.
1. Compensating for missed fasts when a person can’t fast
Sometimes there are valid medical or other reasons that can make it almost impossible for a person to fast. For those special cases, Islamic teachings allow a person to not fast but at the same time prescribe compensation for missing fasts. The Quran stipulates the compensation as follows:
“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:184] (See Surah Al-Baqarah Blessings)
Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: This applies to the old man and old woman who cannot fast; they should feed one poor person for each day. [Al-Bukhari (4505)]
2. Applicability of Concessions for the Sick
This section provides fatawahs of some scholars about fasting issues when a person is sick.
“If the doctors who advised him (the sick person) not to fast at all were Muslim doctors who were trustworthy and had knowledge of this kind of disease, and they told him that there was no hope of recovery, then he does not have to make it up, and his feeding the poor is sufficient, but he has to fast in the future. End quote. [Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baz, 15/355]
The Quran states:
“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days” [Surah – al-Baqarah 2:185]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The Pen has been lifted from three: from the sleeping person until he wakes up, from the minor until he grows up, and from the insane person until he comes to his senses.” [Narrated by Abu Dawood (4403), al-Tirmidhi (1423), al-Nasaa’i (3432) and Ibn Majaah (2041).]
“The Pen has been lifted” means that those people are not held accountable for their actions, as long as they are in those states.
Abu Dawood said: It was narrated by Ibn Jurayj from al-Qaasim ibn Yazeed from ‘Ali from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and he added (to the above): “and the old man who is feeble-minded.” [This hadeeth was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.]
It says in ‘Awn al-Ma’bood: “the old man who is feeble-minded”; this refers to when the mind becomes weak in old age. Al-Subki said: This implies that it is additional to the three (mentioned in the hadeeth), and this is correct. What is meant is the old man who has lost his mind due to old age, because an old man may become confused which prevents him from distinguishing things, and means that he is no longer accountable, but it is not called insanity and it does not say in the hadeeth “until he comes to his senses,” because in most cases he will not recover from this before he dies, and if he recovers for some of the time and comes back to his senses, then he is accountable for that time… “See: al-Ashbaah wa’l-Nazaa’ir by al-Suyooti, p. 212]
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: Fasting is not obligatory unless certain conditions are met:
- Being of sound mind
- Being an adult
- Being a Muslim
- Being able to do it
- Being a resident (i.e., not travelling)
- Being free of menses and nifaas in the case of women
Being of sound mind, the opposite of which is losing one’s mind or reason, whether that is due to senile dementia i.e., old age, or an accident which has caused a person to lose his mind and awareness. This person does not have to do anything, because of his loss of reason. Like the one who has reached old age and reached the point of senility, he does not have to fast or feed the poor, because he has lost his mind. The same applies to one who is unconscious as the result of an accident or other cause; he does not have to fast or feed the poor, because he is not aware.” from Liqa’ al-Baab il-Maftooh (4/220).
He also said: The one who has lost his mind as the result of old age or an accident and there is no hope of recovery, is not obliged to fast, like the one who has reached a great age and become senile and can no longer speak properly. He is like a child and is not obliged to fast. The same applies to one who has had an accident and lost his mind in a way from which there is no hope of recovery. But if there is the hope of recovery, such as if he is merely unconscious, then he has to make up the fasts when he wakes up, but if he has lost his mind completely then he does not have to fast, i.e., if he does not have to fast then he does not have to offer the fidyah either.” [From Sharh al-Kaafi.]
And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Allah likes you to avail yourselves of His concessions as He hates you to disobey Him.” [Narrated by Imam Ahmad (5839) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel (564)]
Allah also says in the Quran:
“and do not throw yourselves into destruction” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:195]
And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.” [Narrated by Ibn Majaah (2341) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Sunan Ibn Majaah.]
In answering a question when does a sick person have to make up for the missed fast and when such fasts don’t have to be made up, Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
If specialist doctors determine that this sickness of yours is one for which there is no hope of a cure, then you must feed one poor person for every day of Ramadan, and you do not have to fast. The measure of that (food to be given) is half a saa’ of the local staple food, whether it is dates, rice or something else. If you invite a poor person for a meal, lunch or dinner, that is sufficient. But if the doctor determines that there is hope for recovery from your sickness, then you do not have to feed a poor person, rather you have to make up the missed fasts when Allah grants you healing from that disease, because Allah says:
“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:185]
Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked about a person who was affected by a chronic disease and the doctors advised him never to fast, but he consulted doctors in another country and was healed by Allah’s leave. Five Ramadans have passed and he did not fast. What should he do after Allah has healed him? Should he make them up or not?
He replied: If the doctors who advised him never to fast were Muslims, trustworthy and familiar with this sickness, and they told him that there was no hope of recovery for him, then he does not have to make it up, and it is sufficient for him to feed poor persons (one for every day missed), but he has to fast in the future. [Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz (15/355).]
3. Criteria for “sickness” that allows a fasting person to break his fast
There has been extensive discussion amongst the scholars on the criteria for “sickness”. A minor headache for example with no other conditions may not in many instances constitute a situation where a person can use the flexibility of skipping Ramadan fast. Most scholars agree that sickness that doesn’t cause any hardship cannot be used as an excuse for not fasting.
Some of the criteria that the scholars have mentioned as criteria for being sick are the following:
- Intense sickness that will further make a person sick if he or she were to fast,
- Recovery will be delayed because of fasting
- Sickness that will cause him great difficulty in fasting and that he hopes will go away
- Sickness that is difficult to bear by the person
The following fatawas of some of the famous scholars highlight this subject in further detail.
“The kind of sickness in which it is permitted to break the fast is intense sickness which will be made worse by fasting or it is feared that recovery will be delayed. It was said to Ahmad: When can the sick person break his fast? He said, When he is unable to fast. It was said, such as a fever? He said, when he is unable to fast. It was said, such as a fever? He said, What sickness is worse than fever?” —– [Ibn Qudaamah in al-Mughni (4/403)]
“The person who is unable to fast because of a sickness which he hopes will go away is not obliged to fast. This applies if he encounters obvious difficulty in fasting and is not subject to the condition that he reaches a point when he is unable to fast. Rather our companions said: The permission not to fast is subject to the condition that fasting causes him difficulties that it is hard for him to bear.” —– [Al-Nawawi said in al-Majmoo’, 6/261]
“With regard to the person who is slightly sick and who does not suffer any obvious hardship, it is not permissible for him to break his fast, and there is no difference of opinion among us concerning that. —– [Al-Nawawi – Al-Majmoo’, 6/261]
“The sick person who is not affected by fasting, such as one who has a slight cold or headache, or a slight toothache and the like, is not permitted to break his fast. Even though some of the scholars allow that because of the verse:
“…and whoever is ill …” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:185],
we say that the ruling mentioned in this verse is connected to a condition, which is when breaking the fast will relieve him of hardship, but if fasting does not affect him, then it is not permissible for him to break the fast, and he has to fast.” —– [Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said – Al-Sharh al-Mumti’, 6/352]
4.Scholarly opinions on fasting for a person who is “sick”
It is not uncommon to observe instances when sick people want to fast thinking that it will grant them more reward. Most scholars however hold a different viewpoint stating that concession by Allah should be taken seriously. The following provides some details on this subject.
Ibn ‘Umar said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah loves His concessions to be accepted just as He hates for acts of disobedience to be committed.” —– [Ahmad (5832) – Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel, 564.]
‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was never given the choice between two things but he would choose the easier of them, unless it was a sin. If it was a sin he would be the furthest away from it. —– [al-Bukhari (6786) and Muslim (2327)]
“This shows that it is mustahabb to choose the easier and gentler option, so long as it is not haraam or makrooh.” —– [Al-Nawawi]
Al-Qurtubi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: (2/276): “In the case of one who is sick, two scenarios may apply:
1 – He is not able to fast at all, so he has to break his fast and it is obligatory for him not to fast.
2 – If he is able to fast but that will cause him harm and be difficult for him. In this case it is mustahabb for him to break his fast and not to fast; in this case only an ignorant person would fast.”
Ibn Qudaamah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: If a sick person is able to put up with fasting and does so, then he has done something which is makrooh, because of the harm that results from that and because he has neglected the concession granted by Allah. —– [al-Mughni, 4/404]
5. Concessions for those who can’t fast
Islam provides concessions to old people or people who neither can fast nor can make up for the missed fasts later. In most such cases, the person is to make up for the missed fasts by feeding to a need person. The Quran states:
“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” —– [Surah al-Baqarah 2:184]
Ibn ‘Abbaas said: This is a concession allowed to old men and women, who can only fast with difficulty; they are allowed to break the fast and to feed one poor person for each day of fasting missed. This also applies to pregnant and nursing women, if they are afraid.” Abu Dawood said: “i.e., if they are afraid for their children, they may break the fast.” [(Narrated by Abu Dawood, 1947; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Irwa’, 4/18, 25). —– [See al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 16/272)]
Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: This refers to old men and old women who cannot fast, so they should feed one poor person for each day. —– Narrated by al-Bukhari, 4505.
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