Fasting in Ramadan is prescribed by Allah and supported by many prophetic sayings. Allah says in the Quran:
O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (the pious)” [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:183]
Allah also says in the Quran:
The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Saum (fasts) that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number (of days which one did not observe Saum (fasts) must be made up) from other days. Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allah (i.e. to say Takbeer (Allahu-Akbar; Allah is the Most Great) on seeing the crescent of the months of Ramadan and Shawwal) for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him. [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:185]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Islam is built on five (pillars): the testimony that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; establishing prayer; paying zakaah; fasting Ramadan; and Hajj to the House (the Ka’bah).” [Bukhari, Muslim]
Many Muslims, sometimes, get mistaken that the scope of fasting is limited to abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations with one’s spouse. However, a review of the prophetic sayings along with scholars’ interpretation will reveal that when a fasting person engages in any behavior that is disliked by Allah, then fasting simply deprives him of food and drink while not gaining anything in return. Regarding this matter, the prophet said:
“The one who fasts may get nothing from his fast but hunger, and the one who prays qiyaam may get nothing from his qiyaam but a sleepless night.” Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 1690; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah. Al-Subki said in his Fataawa, 1/221-226
Al-Nawawi said in al-Majmoo’ (6/398), “The fasting person should protect his fast from backbiting and slander. What this means is that it is more important for the fasting person to avoid these sins than others, although those who are not fasting should avoid these sins too, as that is enjoined in all situations. If a person backbites while fasting, he has committed a sin but that does not invalidate his fast in our view. This is the view of Maalik, Abu Haneefah, Ahmad and all the scholars except al-Awzaa’i who said that the fast is invalidated by backbiting, and must be made up.”
Other sayings on this are the following:
“Whoever does not stop speaking falsehood and acting in accordance with it, Allah has no need of him giving up his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhaari, al-Fat’h, no. 1903)
Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibaan and al-Haakim narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Fasting does not just mean giving up food and drink, rather fasting also means giving up idle and obscene talk.” al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, 1082.
Fasting does not just mean giving up food and drink; it also means giving up lies, falsehood and idle talk. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab and ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allah be pleased with them)
Most scholars are of the view that skipping fasting without valid reasons constitutes as a major sin. Consider the following scholarly opinions on this matter.
“The believers are unanimously agreed that whoever forsakes the Ramadan fast when he is not sick and has no other excuse for that is worse than an adulterer or one who is addicted to alcohol. They doubt whether he is a Muslim and they think of him as a heretic and deviant.” —– [Al-Dhahabi (may Allah have mercy on him) said in al-Kabaa’ir (p. 64)]
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked about the ruling on breaking the fast during the day in Ramadan for no legitimate reason. He replied: Breaking the fast during the day in Ramadan for no legitimate reason is one of the worst of major sins, because of which a person may be regarded as a faasiq (disobedient, rebellious) who has to repent to Allah and make up the day when he broke the fast. I.e., if he fasted then during the day he broke his fast with no excuse, he has committed a sin, and he has to make up that day because when he started that fast, it became binding on him to complete it, so he has to make it up, like a vow. But if he did not fast at all, deliberately and with no excuse, then the correct view is that he does not have to make it up, because that will not benefit him at all, as it will never be accepted from him. The basic principle with regard to acts of worship that are connected to specific times is that if a person delays them beyond that specific time with no excuse, they will not be accepted from him, because the Prophet said: “Whoever does a deed that is not in accordance with this matter of ours, will have it rejected.” And because it is a transgression of the sacred limits of Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, and transgressing the sacred limits of Allah is zulm (wrongdoing), and no deeds are accepted from the zaalim (wrongdoer).
Allah says in the Quran:
“And whoever transgresses the limits ordained by Allah, then such are the Zaalimoon (wrongdoers)” —– [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:229]
Putting Off Fasting for Valid Reasons
There are valid reasons for which fasting in Ramadan can be put off until later. Quran states sickness and traveling as valid reasons for which fasting can be put off until a later time. 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]
Scholars have clearly stated that skipping fasting without valid reasons is completely prohibited. For example, in answering one of the questions, Shaykh Ibn Baaz stated:
“It is not permissible for an adult of sound mind to break the fast during Ramadan because of exams, because that is not one of the excuses permitted in Islam. Rather he has to fast and do his studying at night if it is hard for him to do it during the day. Those who are in charge of exams should be kind to the students and arrange the exams at a time other than Ramadan, so as to serve two purposes: the purpose of fasting and that of giving students time to prepare for the exams. It is narrated in a saheeh report that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “O Allah, whoever is appointed over any of my ummah’s affairs and treats them kindly, treat him kindly, and whoever is appointed over any of my ummah’s affairs and treats them harshly, treat him harshly.” (Narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh.) So my advice to those who are in charge of exams is to be kind to the students and not organize the exams in Ramadan, rather to do them before or after that. We ask Allah to guide us all.” —– [Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz, 4/223.]
Obviously some of this guidance applies only for Muslim countries where Muslim teachers and administration may have more flexibility in organizing examinations during different times. Specific fatawah should be sought from the local scholars about situations pertaining to non-Muslim countries.
Not Fasting Due To Mind Not Being Sound
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).]
This essentially means that people with those conditions or in those states will not be held accountable for their actions.
“Anyone who is not of sound mind is not accountable, and he does not have to do any of the duties enjoined by Islam, such as praying, fasting, feeding the poor etc, i.e., he does not have to do anything at all. Based on this the one who is feeble-minded does not have to fast or feed the poor, because he has lost the thing that qualified him to do that, namely his reason.” [Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen: al-Sharh al-Mumti’ (6/202)]
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