Fasting — An Accessible Conspectus

A translation of Imām Abū Shujāʿ al-Aṣfahānī’s ‘Matn al-Ghāyat wa al-Taqrīb’

Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam mentioned in the well-known hadith narrated by ʿUmar bin al-Khaṭṭāb (may Allah be pleased with him):

The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Islam is based on five pillars: testifying that there is no deity except for Allah and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم ,establishing prayer, offering zakat, performing Hajj, and fasting Ramadan.” . [Bukhārī (8); Muslim (16)]

The Arabic word for “fasting” is “sawm.” Its basic linguistic meaning is abstention. Its technical meaning in the books of fiqh is to restrain oneself from things that invalidate the fast, while having a specific intention for doing so, for the entire duration of the daylight hours of a day on which it is valid to fast, by a Muslim who is of sound mind and free from menstrual and postnatal bleeding. This chapter will flesh out the details of what was mentioned in this technical definition. The obligation to fast Ramadan comes from the Quran, Sunnah, and consensus. The Quran initially mentioned a general obligation to fast without restricting it to a particular time. Allah Most High says,

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting, as it was decreed upon those before you, that you might become righteous,” [Q2:183].

Later, another verse clarified that the obligation is specific to Ramadan. Allah Most High says,

“The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it…,” [Q2:185].

The evidence from the Sunnah includes the hadith mentioned above.

The integrals of fasting are: the intention, abstention from things that invalidate the fast, and the fasting person.

Conditions Obligating the Fast

Fasting the month of Ramadan is obligatory when four conditions are met. They are that the person be a Muslim; mature; of sound mind; and able to fast. An individual who meets these conditions is required to fast. He is not required to fast if a single condition is absent. So an individual is not required to fast if he is a non-Muslim; immature; insane, in a coma, or unconscious for the entire day; or unable to fast.

The reasons for someone being unable to fast include old age, pregnancy, and sickness. An individual who meets all of these conditions on a day of Ramadan has a personal obligation to fast that day. While this usually means that they must perform a fast that same day, there are situations that require them to perform it later on or which allow them to perform it at a later date. For example, a short-term intense illness and menstruation each require deferring the fast to a later date; and while journeying one has the option to defer.

In addition to the conditions related to a fast being a personal obligation, there are also conditions related to the validity of its performance. The conditions for a fast being valid are that the person performing it should be a Muslim, have discernment, be free from menstruation and post-natal bleeding, and that the day of performance is one wherein fasting itself is valid.

We notice several important things when we look at these two lists of conditions together. The first is that non-Muslims are not required to fast Ramadan. Someone who enters Islam is not required to compensate for the Ramadans before they entered Islam. (This ruling does not apply to an apostate who returned to Islam, as they must make up any days of fasting that occurred during their apostasy. They must also make up the days even if they abstained from food and drink during them since being Muslim is a condition for the fasts to be valid.)

A second thing we notice is that young children are not required to fast though it is valid for them to do so once they reach the age of discernment. Indicators that a child has reached this age include him being able to clean, dress, and feed himself. Before this age, a child is not required to fast, and their fast would not be considered valid or praiseworthy. A child who can do these things is still not obligated to fast. But if he does, its performance is considered valid and praiseworthy.

A third thing we notice is that there may be days when fasting is both unlawful and invalid. And it turns out that this is indeed the case. The days of Eid al-Fiṭr, Eid al-Aḍḥā, and the three days after Eid al-Aḍḥā are days of celebration and feasting. It is unlawful and invalid to fast these days. This will be covered in more detail later in this chapter.

A fourth thing we notice is that a fast can be obligatory and valid even if the individual needs to take the purificatory shower.

Obligatory Actions

There are four obligatory actions of fasting.

The first obligatory action is intention. When the fast is obligatory, an individual needs to make their intention sometime during the night before the time for the Dawn Prayer arrives. When making the intention, one must also have in mind that they will be carrying out an obligatory fast. During Ramadan, one can formulate his intention with something like “Tomorrow, I will carry out an obligatory fast of this year’s Ramadan for the sake of Allah Most High.” If it is a makeup fast, he can formulate it with something like “Tomorrow, I will carry out an obligatory fast of a missed day of Ramadan for the sake of Allah Most High.

Each day of Ramadan requires a separate intention. It is not sufficient to make a single intention at the beginning of Ramadan.

Fasts that are not obligatory are a bit different. When the fast is not obligatory, the individual can declare an intention at any time before the onset of the Noon Prayer provided that he has not done anything that invalidates the fast. Suppose someone woke up at 10 o’clock in the morning without consuming anything since before the Dawn Prayer, and he decides that he wants to fast that day as a voluntary fast. Since it is a non-obligatory fast and it is before noon, he can make an intention to fast and then fast the rest of the day. But this only works with non-obligatory fasts.

The other three obligatory actions are abstaining from eating and drinking, intercourse, and inducing vomit.

Things that Invalidate the Fast

The fast is invalidated if any of the following ten things occur. The first three are anything intentionally reaching a body cavity; insertion of something into the anus, urethra or vagina. The fast is invalidated whenever a substance is introduced into the body through one of its openings and then reaches a body cavity. The natural openings are the mouth, the nostrils, the ears, the urethra, the vagina, and the anus. The body cavities are the chest, abdomen, and head.

Introducing something into the body through another opening does not invalidate the fast.

The fast is not broken if the substance is introduced through the eyes or absorbed through the skin. It is also not broken if someone takes an injection or draws blood, and the location of the insertion is in the arm or the leg. But it would break the fast if the location of the insertion was the abdomen or the chest. (Yes: gynecological exams and pap smears do break the fast.)

The fourth through sixth invalidators of the fast are intentional vomiting; intentional intercourse; and ejaculation resulting from skin contact.

The seventh and eighth invalidators are menstruation; and postnatal bleeding.

If a woman’s period starts while she is fasting, she must make up that entire day because her fast has been invalidated.

If her period or post-natal bleeding ends sometime before dawn, she must fast that day. Her fast is valid even if she had not yet made a purificatory shower. It is obligatory and valid for her to fast since the condition here for the fast to be valid is the absence of menstruation and post-natal bleeding — not that she has made the purificatory shower. If her period or postnatal bleeding ends after dawn, it is recommended (though not obligatory) for her to refrain from things that invalidate the fast.

The ninth is insanity. The tenth is apostasy (may Allah protect us!), which was discussed earlier.

cσηtίηυєd in sнα Allααн

Author — Imām Abū Shujāʿ al-Aṣfahānī, translation and commentary by Shaykh Musā Furber

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