Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Who Must Fast?

Tajuddin Ibn Shu’aib

The obligation of fasting is mandatory on a person who has fulfilled these requirements: He or she must be a Muslim, sane, must have reached puberty must be healthy, and not in a state of travel; and for women, they must be in a state of purity - clean from menstruation and postnatal bleeding.

If a person fulfills those prerequisites, fasting becomes valid and mandatory. Inferring from this definition, if one of these conditions is missing, the fast will be invalid. Indeed, it may be better to analyze each category of the definition.

A Muslim.

Fasting is not obligatory on a non-Muslim because he is not commanded to fast and even if he decides to fast and follows all the regulations, it will not be accepted by Allah SWT. If he or she wants to fast the Islamic fast, he has to declare the Kalimah first and only then will the fast be accepted. Similarly, the non-Muslim (Kafir) is not obligated to perform any Islamic duties. If he converts to Islam during the month of Ramadhan, for instance, in the middle of the month, it becomes incumbent upon him to fast the remaining days. There will be no making up the days he missed before becoming Muslim.

Allah SWT states: "Say to the unbelievers, if they desist from unbelief, their past would be forgiven of them..." (Al-Qur'an 8:38).

If one converts to Islam during the daytime in Ramadhan, say 10:00 a.m. in the morning, he or she should observe the rest of the day in fasting. That is, from 10:00 a.m. until sunset, he should not break his fast.


The insane or retarded person is not obligated to keep his fast because he is deprived of sanity, a key component on which religious duties depend. In a hadith related by Ali Bin Abi Talib RA, the Messenger of Allah SAW said: "The Pen that records the deeds has been lifted from three people; the insane person, until he recovers; the sleeping person, until he wakes up; and the minor, until he dreams (i.e., has wet dreams.)" (Ahmed).

This hadith indicates the fast of the insane person, for instance, is not valid because he cannot comprehend the worship, and he cannot meaningfully declare intention (niyyah), without which the acts are invalid. If he has mental relapses whereby he is healthy, and then on occasion is sick, the fast is mandatory upon him during the days and times he is healthy but not when he is unhealthy.

If he intends to fast in the morning, and he falls ill during this time, his fast is good as if he fainted as a result of illness, because he knows that he may experience an attack at certain times. If he gets well during the daytime in Ramadhan, he should observe the fast the rest of the day because he is obligated to fast. However, he does not have to make up the day because his case is like that of unbeliever who becomes Muslim time or a minor he reached puberty during the day.


Similarly, the minor person is not obligated to observe fast (Sawm), because of the previous hadith related by Ali bin Abi Talib, "... And the minor until he dreams." However, it is imperative that the parents or the guardians of the juveniles or adolescents encourage and urge them to fast so they will get used to it. It will be vital training for them in their worship, because they will not have any chance for training as soon as they reach puberty.

In a Hadith reported by Rubayyiah Binti Mau'awwidh RA, the Prophet SAW sent a messenger to the village of Ansar on the morning of Ashura to inform them: "Whoever wakes in fasting should continue his fasting, whoever wakes up without fasting should complete his day in fasting. So we used to fast, let our young children fast, and go to the Masjid with them. When one of the children cried for food, we would make toys from wool and give them to the children until it was time to break the fast." (Bukhari and Muslim).

This hadith indicates that training minor boys and girls is highly recommended early in life, from about seven years of age for the spiritual, educational, and cultural upbringing of Muslim youth. It is the most powerful symbol of our religion.

Puberty: Boys.

Puberty is known in Islamic law as al-baligh, or Tamyiz, (coming of age as a man and woman). There are three signs of puberty (baligh):

1. Discharging semen as a result of wet dreams, known as inzaalul-manyyi. Allah SWT states: "But when the children among you come of age, let them also ask for permission, as do those senior to them in age..." (Al-Qur'an, 24-59).

In a Hadith, the Messenger of Allah SAW said: "Friday bath (ghus lul-Jum'ah) is mandatory upon anyone who has experienced a wet dream." (Bukhari & Muslim) The point in this hadith is that Islamic obligations are not incumbent on anyone until they reach the age of baligh.

2. Appearance of hair around the pubic area is another sign of puberty. If a person sees that even without wet dreams, he or she has attained puberty. This may happen at the age of thirteen or fourteen and parents should inform girls and boys about these signs.

3. Reaching 15 years of age: When the person reaches 15, he or she is a man or a woman, and anything that is obligatory on a man or woman is obligatory on him or her from that time on.In a hadith reported by Abdullah Bin Umar RA he said: "My parents brought me to the Messenger of Allah SAW on the eve of the Uhud Campaign and I was fourteen years old, so the Prophet SAW did not enlist me in fighting." But a year later in the Campaign of Al-Khandaq, I was fifteen, so this time the Prophet SAW enlisted me in combat." (Muslim).

This Hadith indicates the age of 15 is the legal age for a Muslim boy or girl to be responsible for his or her religion as well as worldly responsibilities. Some of us, who reside in the western world, seem to think adulthood depends on State laws. In some states it is 18, while in others it is 19, or 21, and so on. This is a very serious mistake, as the juvenile will reach puberty (baligh) and adulthood, but go on without observing his or her Islamic duties, such as Solat, fasting, or being restrained from that which is prohibited.

Puberty: Girls.

Girls reach puberty and adulthood when they experience the above three signs. However, they have a fourth sign, that is, menstruation (haid). Whenever a girl experiences it, she is a woman even if she is 12 years old. At that time, the Qalam, the pen of responsibilities, begins to flow and to record the deeds of the servant, good or bad. It is interesting that in the western world the case is the reverse. When a juvenile reaches the age of puberty in Al-Islam he or she should be careful about anything he or she does or says. On the contrary, in the West when the person comes of age, he or she is allowed to do things which are detrimental to his or her well being. They are licensed to read, watch, and listen to so- called adult material, as if when one is an adult it is time to be irresponsible.

Indeed, if puberty is attained during the days of Ramadhan, say at midday, and the young person is fasting, he or she should continue his or her fasting and there will be no obligation on him or her to make up the fast. If he was not fasting, it is incumbent upon him to observe the rest of the day in fasting, because he has become an adult upon whom Islamic rites are obligatory. Girls in menstruation can't observe half day, nor should they make that half day up.


Sickness could be a temporary sickness from which a person expects to be cured soon. Such a person is allowed not to fast during the days of his or her sickness, but he or she must fast later after Ramadhan to complete the missed days. Those who are sick with incurable illness and expect no better health are also allowed not to fast but they must pay the fidyah, which is giving a day’s meals for each fast missed to a needy person. One can also give instead the money for meals to a needy person. Women in their menses and post-natal bleeding are not allowed to fast, but they must make up later after Ramadhan. If pregnant women and mothers who are nursing babies find it difficult to fast, they can also postpone their fasting to a later time when they are in a better condition.

Taking A Journey.

A journey according to the Syari’ah is any journey that takes you away from your city of residence, a minimum of 48 miles or 80 kilometers. The journey must be for a good cause. It is a sin to travel in Ramadhan in order to avoid fasting. A Muslim should try to change his or her plans during Ramadhan to be able to fast and should not travel unless it is necessary. The traveler who misses the fasts of Ramadhan must make up those missed days later as soon as possible after Ramadhan.


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