If fasting causes any harm to the person or he or she is unable to observe it, this can be a legal excuse that allows him or her to break the fast. There are a lot of excuses; however, this article will discuss the most common issues, i.e. illness, old age, pregnancy and breast-feeding.
Illnesses are temporary or chronic. Temporary illnesses may cause a person to break their fast. In this case, they must make up the missed days after they recuperate. As for chronic illnesses, there will be no chance to make up the missed days. This raises the following questions:
What is the legal ruling regarding an old man or woman who cannot fast or make up the missed days?
What if the person suffers from a chronic disease such as diabetes or kidney failure?
To answer these questions, let us first look at the interpretations of the following ʾaya (verse of the Qurʾan): Allah says:
“It is for a specified number of days. But one among you who is sick or is on a journey shall then fast the same number of other days. Yet for those who are (yuṭīqūnahu) (hardly) able to endure it, and do not fast, the redemption for each day, is feeding an indigent person “instead”.” (Quran 2:184)
Ibn ʿAbbas’s opinion
Ibn ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) holds the opinion that the word yuṭiqunahu means that if a person finds it very difficult to fast or cannot fast, they should break their fast and feed an indigent person instead.
The majority of the Companions’ Opinion
However, the majority of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) say that the above mentioned ʾaya is abrogated.
In fact, the obligation of fasting was gradual. At first, it was optional for a person to fast or to feed an indigent person. Then, fasting became obligatory and the option of feeding was abrogated.
Thus, in the majority’s opinion, the word yuṭīqūnahu means if a person who can fast but chooses not to fast, they must feed an indigent person.
In short, Ibn ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) disagrees with the other Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) in the following two points:
1. Ibn ʿAbbās interprets the word (yuṭīqūnahu) ‘those who are able to endure it’ as ‘those who are hardly able to endure it.
2. He uses the verse as a proof while it is abrogated.
The Majority of scholars hold the opinion that the abrogating verse is the following:
“So whoever among you bears witness to the month shall then fast it. Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey (such a person shall then fast,) the same number of other days.” (Qurʾan 2:185)
Another proof that supports Ibn ʿAbbās’s opinion:
Some scholars also hold the opinion that old age and sickness are legal excuses for breaking one’s fast but the person must feed in indigent person instead.
This is the proof for that:
In a Mu’allaq Hadith (Suspended Hadith) related in Saḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, Al-Bukhārī said,
“After growing old, Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) (was not able to fast and he) used to feed an indigent person bread and meat every day”
In short, there are two opinions regarding the answer to the two questions mentioned above:
1. Feeding an indigent person is a substitute for fasting in case of long-lasting inability. This opinion is more popular as it is better to avoid disagreement.
2. There is no substitute for fasting in case of inability. Feeding is only recommended if a person wants to emulate Anas (may Allah be pleased with him).
Breast-feeding and pregnant women
If pregnant women and those who breast-feed fear that fasting may cause harm to them or to the fetus or baby, they should break their fast.
What should breast-feeding and pregnant women do if they break their fast?
There are here a number of opinions:
First, Some scholars treat pregnancy as illness. Allah says,
“One’s mother bore one in feebleness upon feebleness” (Qurʾan 31:14)
In this case, they are treated as sick people who break their fast and make up the missed days later.
Second, scholars who adopt the opinion of Ibn ʿAbbās mentioned above say that they should break their fast and feed an indigent person for every day.
Third, other scholars like Ibn Ḥazm al-Ẓahirī say that they should break their fast without making up the missed days later or feeding an indigent person for every day.
Ibn Ḥazm used the following Hadith as a legal proof to support his opinion:
Narrated Anas ibn Malik:
A man from Banū ʿAbdullahh ibn Kaʿb brethren of Banū Qushayr (not Anas ibn Malik, the well-known Companion), said:
A contingent from the cavalry of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) raided us. I reached (for he said went) to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who was taking his meals.
He said: Sit down, and take some from this meal of ours. I said: I am fasting, he said: Sit down, I shall tell you about prayer and fasting.
Allah has remitted half the prayer to a traveller, and fasting to the traveller, the woman who is suckling an infant and the woman who is pregnant, I swear by Allah, he mentioned both (i.e. suckling and pregnant women) or one of them. I was grieved for not taking the food of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).
(Related by Al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd and Ibn Mājah)
Other scholars say that this hadith allows the pregnant and breast-feeding women to break their fast. However, it did not disallow them to make up the missed days. Thus, it is a weak opinion.
The preferred opinion is the first one as it is in agreement with the explicit meaning of the verses related to fasting.