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The Fiqh of Fasting: Definition and Prerequisites – Part 1

Definition of the Sawm or Siyam

Sawm or Siyam (fasting) means in language to abstain from something.

Maryam (Mary) (peace be upon her) said,

“Indeed, I have vowed a fast to the All-Merciful. Thus, I shall not speak today to any human being.” (Qurʾan 19:26)

In the legal usage of the term, fasting means to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset.

Fasting

In the legal usage of the term, fasting means to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset.

This must be accompanied by the niyyah, intention.1he great commentator Al-Qurṭubī, the author of Al-jamiʿ lī Aḥkam Al-Qurʾan, adds to this definition that the perfect and complete Fasting is that in which acts of disobedience are avoided and acts of worship are maintained.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If one does not eschew lies and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from his food and his drink.” [Al-Bukharī].

Observing the niyyah here means that you observe fasting as an act of worship only for the sake of Allah and out of obedience to Allah.

The legal ruling regarding fasting the month of Ramaḍan:

It is obligatory to fast the month of Ramadan according to the Qurʾan, the Sunnah and the Consensus.

Allah says:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those (who have believed) before you, so that you may be (ever) God-fearing. … So whoever among you bears witness to the month shall then fast it.” (Qurʾan 2: 183-185)

On the authority of ʿAbdullahh, the son of ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭab (ra), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) says, “Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the Salah (prayer), paying the zakat (obligatory charity), making the hajj (pilgrimage) to the House, and fasting in Ramaḍan.” [Al-Bukharī and Muslim]

There is a consensus among all Muslim scholars that fasting Ramadan is obligatory.

The prerequisites for the obligation of fasting:

There are four prerequisites:

1- Islam

If non-Muslims fast or do any act of worship, it will not be accepted. Allah says,

“Yet truly it has been revealed to you, O Prophet, and to those of the prophets before you: If ever you were to associate any gods with God, then utterly futile would be all your good works. And, most surely, you yourself would have become among the losers, of an everlasting Paradise.” (Qurʾan 39:65)

ʿAʾisha reported: I said: Messenger of Allah, the son of Judʿan established ties of relationship, fed the poor. Would that be of any avail to him? He said: It would be of no avail to him as he did not ever say: O my Lord, pardon my sins on the Day of Resurrection. (Saḥīḥ Muslim)

2- Reaching puberty:

This is the second prerequisite. In Islam, there are three signs that denote a certain person has reached puberty.

  1. The first wet dream and menstruation

There is an agreement among scholars on only one of these signs which is having the first wet dream for boys and the first menstruation for girls. This is the most authentic sign.

  1. being 15 years old (only lunar years are used here)

Some scholars hold the opinion that if a person is 15 lunar years old, he or she is an adult who is obliged to fast and do other acts of worship.

However, the first sign is the most famous among the scholars.

What is the legal ruling regarding the child who fasts? 

If the child fasts, his or her fast is valid and acceptable. In addition, he and his or her parents will be rewarded. So, it is recommended for the children to train and learn to fast before they reach the age of puberty but it is not obligatory.

Narrated Al-Rubayiʿ bint Muʿawadh: “The Prophet (ﷺ) sent a messenger to the village of the AnSar in the morning of the day of ʿAshuraʾ (10th of Muḥarram) to announce: ‘Whoever has eaten something should not eat but complete the fast, and whoever is observing the fast should complete it.’ “She further said, “Since then we used to fast on that day regularly and also make our boys fast. We used to make toys of wool for the boys and if anyone of them cried for, he was given those toys till it was the time of the breaking of the fast.” (Saḥīḥ  al-Bukharī)

3- Sanity

An insane person cannot be asked to perform any act of worship because they cannot understand the Shariʿa address. Narrated Alī ibn Abū Ṭalib: The Prophet (ﷺ) said: There are three (persons) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper till he awakes, a boy till he reaches puberty, and a lunatic till he comes to reason. (Related by Al-Nasaʾī, Abū Dawūd and Ibn Majah)

4- Ability

In addition to the three prerequisites mentioned above, fasting is only obligatory if the person has the ability to observe it. Allah says:

“God does not task a soul beyond its capacity.” (Qurʾan 2:286)

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Read also:

The Best 10 Virtues of Fasting in Islam: What Are They?
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