The Fiqh of Fasting (Lesson 1 & 2)

As I finalized my move to Mediterranean warmth and out of the indolent savannah, I wondered what service I could provide without my library in transit.

I confess that I panicked and even felt like hiding away from indiscreet and fiercely scrutinizing eyes. I did not want to draw Ustādh Bradiperr into the umpteenth rescue operation.

He then spontaneously came up with a wonderful suggestion: ‘I will help you by sending some impromptu notes, and although I myself could avail myself of thousands of titles, I will pretend as if I have temporarily lost access to my library. I will limit myself to consulting a few texts, as if I had landed in a small island where I could only carry along a survival kit.’

The idea of a deliberate skeletal presentation attracted me. We virtually created a kind of reality show compression, and the fruit is this set of notes on the fiqh of fasting Ramadān.

One day, hopefully, we will upgrade and extend them.


Introduction and foundational conditions


The linguistic and terminological meanings of sawm (fasting)

As our students already know, savants provide a pair of definitional tools of any new subject-manner:

· The linguistic signification (lughatan);

· The technical or conventional signification (istilāhan), which in this case would be the meaning assigned to the term sawm in the vocabulary of the Law.

Mastering such two-layer definitional foundation is like the root on which you build all the branches of the scientific discourse, on this or any other subject. You can revert to that root anytime you get lost as you analyse this or that branch.

If you, however, do not know what sawm mean, what fruitful knowledge on fasting you might possibly build on an absent root? Each one of us must be hārith, a ploughman, even if the Last Day dawns upon us, as it is one of the two best names endorsed by the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam.

Let us therefore plant the first fecundating seeds:

Linguistically, sawm (fasting) denotes “abstention from something”, whether that something is an action or a speech

We encounter this linguistic meaning of sawm in one āyah of the Book:

«I have made a vow of abstinence (sawman) to the All-Merciful, and today I will not speak to any human being» (Sūrah Maryam: 26).

Silence is in fact an abstinence from speech.

The great Arab poet an-Nābighah adh-Dhubyānī declaimed in one poetical verse (As we know, an āyah or Sign of the Noble Qur’ān cannot possibly be translated by the word verse):

{Khaylun siyāmun wa-khaylun ghuyru sā’imatin * tahta’l-‘ajāji wa-ukhrā ta’lukul-lujamā} = {Horses abstainingfrom grazing and others which are not freely grazing beneath a vortex of dust * while a further group of them are champing the bits}, i.e. the bridles reining them in.

The one who fasts is called sā’im, and there are many plurals: Suwwam, suyyam, suwwām, suyyām, and siyām, probably the most common one which Nābighah adh-Dhubyānī used in the verse quoted above.

Technically, sawm (fasting) denotes “abstention from the appetites of the stomach and the private parts, and whatever is analogically equated to them, throughout the daytime from dawn to dusk, with the intention of drawing near Allah thereby, which intention is formulated prior to the breaking of dawn or together with dawn setting in, other than on days of menstrual blood, post-childbirth blood or the Festivities of ‘Īd”

Memorize the basic definition and always keep it in mind.

It is thus clear, merely from the definition itself, that, contrary to a current vogue of “explaining Allah’s Dīn to those who are foreign to it” in a comfortably modern way, fasting is not engaged in during Ramadān to cleanse one’s body of accumulated toxins; nor can it take the form of a hunger strike as the deviant Muslims caught into the anti-Apartheid rhetoric used to suggest in the 80’s: It is valid only if nearness (qurbah) to Allah is its sole purposive trigger.


Types of fasting: Correct classification of the fast of Ramadān

There are different varieties of sawm (fasting): obligatory, recommended, neutrally permissible, disliked and prohibited.

There is more than one obligatory fast. Our exclusive focus here is however on the obligatory fast of Ramadān.


What kind of obligation is the fast of Ramadān classified under?

There are two broad categories of obligations in the Law:

· Individual (fard ‘ayn), which is therefore incumbent on every mukallaf to discharge;

· Collective (fard kifā’ī), which, being incumbent on the collective polity of Muslims as a whole, is discharged by a group of them carrying it out on everyone’s behalf.

The obligatory fast of Ramadān falls within the former category, so every mukallaf is enjoined to fulfil it.

There is another issue which naturally ramifies from this, i.e.:


Can a person fast for someone else as his deputy?

The answer is in the negative, since the fast of Ramadān is individually incumbent on each and every mukallaf.

The evidences negating the legitimacy of fasting as a proxy are as follows:

· The statement of Allah, Exalted is He: «That no burden-bearer can bear another’s burden; that man will have nothing but what he strives for» (Sūrah an-Najm: 37-8);

· The hadith transmitted on the authority of Abū Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, which is to the effect that the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, said: “When the son of Ādam dies, all his actions are interrupted apart from three: An ongoing sadaqah, knowledge from which benefit is obtained, or a virtuous child who supplicates on his behalf” (Reported by Muslim);

· The hadith transmitted on the authority of ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, which is to the effect that when he was asked, ‘Can anyone fast or pray on somebody else’s behalf’, he would reply: ‘No one fasts for someone else, and no one prays for someone else’ (Reported by Mālik);

· The normative practice of the Madinan People, which refuted the legitimacy of such a deputizing.

There is a contrary indication found in a saying of the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, narrated by ‘Ā’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, but both ‘Ā’ishah (its very narrator) and Ibn ‘Abbās used to issue fatāwā negating the permissibility of fasting for another person. The contrary indication is thus subject to an alternative interpretation, or was specific to one Companion, or had been abrogated at some point in time.


When was the obligatory fast of Ramadān legislated?

In the month of Sha’bān of the second year after the Hijrah (2 AH). By then, the community was ready to plunge into such a ceaseless act of worship without any hesitation.


What are the evidences (adillah) which corroborate the obligatory nature of the fast of Ramadān?

There are many, and they reinforce one another.

In the Qur’ān, we have:

«You who have īmān! Fasting is prescribed for you» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 183, till 185).

Among the authentic texts of the Sunnah, we have the very famous hadith narrated by ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar listing the 5 pillars of Islam, as well as the hadith transmitted in the sahīh literature on the authority of the Companion Talhah b. ‘Ubaydillāh: A Bedouin from Nejd came to the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, inquired from him about the obligations Allah had placed on him in the Dīn, and was foretold entry in the Garden if he did so.

In the course of his dialogue with the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, he said: ‘Tell me what Allah has enjoined upon me when it comes to fasting’, whereupon he, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, explained: “The month of Ramadān (Shahr Ramadān), unless you have voluntarily bound yourself to keep a fast.”

Note that the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, annexed here the noun “month” to the noun “Ramadān”. It is otherwise appropriate to simply refer to it as Ramadān, since there is no textual proof that Ramadān is one of Allah’s Names, and when it comes to ascribing Names to Allah we take as proof the texts of the Law (= His Names are tawqīfiyyah).

There are other ahādīth as well, and the informed consensus of the Prophetic nation (ijmā’) likewise confirms the obligatory nature of fasting Ramadān.


Conditions of obligatoriness and conditions of validity


The conditions which render the fast of Ramadān obligatory

Attainment of puberty (Bulūgh)

The child or youngster who is yet to attain puberty is not obliged to fast Ramadān. If he does fast, the fast is not invalidated by the fact he is under the age of puberty.

The reason for the lack of obligatoriness is that he is not mukallaf, and the fast of Ramadān is part of taklīf.

According to Mālik, it is disliked (makrūh) to ask him to fast, because the fast, unlike the prayer he is ordered to perform at 7 and disciplined for omitting it at 10 (even though as yet not legally obligatory on him), entails an element of hardship, and Allah’s Dīn is one of ease.

Capacity to fast (Qudrah)

It is not obligatory to fast if one is incapacitated from doing so, although the fast of such a person is valid if he or she fasts nevertheless.

The said requirement excludes the sick person (marīd). His is a literal disablement, not a metaphorical one. He is literally incapacitated from fasting.

It further excludes the suckling woman and the pregnant woman. Though personally capable of fasting, both of them are analogically equated to the sick person who is actually incapacitated, because of the fear that the sucking child or the foetus in the womb might become severely injured or die as a result of their fast. Theirs is accordingly a metaphorical rather than an actual disablement.

The person who fasts under duress, i.e. is coerced to fast by an external force (mukrah), is under no obligation to fast, without that invalidating his fast. Again, his incapacitation is not physical, but is analogically treated as if it was.

This judgment of the Law is evinced by His statement, may He be Exalted: «But any one of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 184).

Being resident (sedentary) and not in a state of travel

Only the resident person who is above puberty and capable of fasting, is mentally sane and in his senses, and is free from the impediments of menstruation or post-delivery blood if a female, is obliged to fast. The travelling person, though recommended to fast, is not obliged to do so on condition that:

  1. His travel exceeds the distance which triggers off the concession of shortening the prayer;

  2. His travel is for a legitimate reason.

The evidence (dalīl) of the lack of obligatoriness as regards a legitimate traveller’s fast of Ramadān is His statement, Exalted is He: «But any one of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 184).

Let us look at His other statement, may He be Exalted: «Any one of you who are resident (shahida) for the month should fast it» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 184).

Here, the verb shahida does not mean “to see”, which is expressed in Arabic by the augmented verbal form shāhada, but to be present, to attend, to reside, to participate, as when one says regarding a Companion, “shahida Badran” (= he attended the battle of Badr). The meaning of the Divine injunction in the āyah is thus: Whoever among you is present / is resident in the month (the verb is in fact not transitive in this sense) should fast the whole of it (The alternative interpretation is that the verb means “to be aware of the month having set in”).

There is then concordance between such rendering of shahida and Allah’s subsequent statement: «But any one of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 184), which excludes the categories of sick people and legitimate travellers from the compass of obligation to fast the month, wholly or partly depending on the length of the illness or the travel.


The conditions which render the fast of Ramadān valid


A kāfir, according to the correct (and majority) view of Ahl as-Sunnah, is not only obliged to bring īmān (in Allah and the other truths of the Unseen), but also to comply with the derivative judgments of the Law = he is addressed by all the commands and prohibitions of the Sharī’ah, including the command to fast Ramadān, just as much as the Muslim. However, although under an obligation to fast it, his fast is invalid if engaged in whenever unaccompanied by Islam. For instance, during the Africa Nations Cup Rudy Krol, the then Dutch coach of the Egyptian national team of football, fasted one day of Ramadān to feel what his players felt. He met the obligation resting on him that day, but in an invalid manner.

Doing it at a time which allows one to fast

That is of relevance to other than the fast of Ramadān (= another obligatory fast cannot be valid if kept on such as the day of ‘Īd).


The conditions which render the fast of Ramadān at the same time obligatory and valid

Being of sane mind and in a conscious state

It follows from it that a lunatic or a person who has lost his senses is not obliged to fast, and that his fast is invalidated if he does in fact fast.

If a person becomes insane or falls unconscious when dawns set in, he has to recover such missed fast, since it lacked validity at the time of formulating intention for it and beginning the act of worship. It does not matter that he has abstained from all the appetites of stomach and private parts, and from comparable appetites.

By contrast, if the insanity or loss of consciousness precedes the break of dawn and the person recovers sanity or senses, as the case may be, before dawn, his fast is valid and does not have to be made up.

If one of those two disqualifications occurs after dawn, and the person remains in such a state for the rest of the daytime or most of it, he has to make up the fast which was neither obligatory nor valid, regardless of his abstention from violators of the fast. It is different if the disqualification subsists for only half day or less: the fast is then valid and need not be recovered.

The evidence (dalīl) of this first condition is His statement, Exalted is He: «But any one of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days» (Sūrah al-Baqarah: 184), inasmuch as the lunatic (and the unconscious person) is sick.

Being pure from the blood of menstruation or post-delivery

Neither the menstruating nor the post-partum woman is obliged to fast, and the fast of neither of them is valid.

If a woman becomes pure from menstrual blood (due to dryness or a pad being inserted in her vagina and showing no trace of it upon removal) while dawn is breaking, she is obligated to fast, even if her restored purity accompanies the breaking of dawn itself.

If she entertains doubts as to whether she regained purity before or after dawn set in, she must intend to fast as it is possible that she turned pure prior to dawn, and after the month is over she recovers the fast as it is possible that she turned pure after dawn, given the hesitancy of her unsettled intention. In the event that she does not cautiously recover the fast, she is not required to expiate for that (kaffārah), inasmuch as her discarding of that precaution was based on other than an improbable interpretation of the Law, and Allah knows best.

Entry of the time for fasting Ramadān

There cannot be any obligation to fast Ramadān, and no validity in a fast before establishing the entry of the month. People who fasted this year on Saturday 28 June 2014 based on mere astronomical calculations accordingly engaged in an invalid fast they were not obliged to engage in.

This is the perfect point to stop at and allude to the topic of the forthcoming lesson, namely: