By Omar and Amer Haleem
All Muslims should be aware of the legal rulings (ahkam) about missing days of fasting in Ramadan. This is something most of us must manage at one time or another. There are two categories of people with valid excuses for not fasting a day of Ramadan.
THE FIRST CATEGORY
One group of fasting-exempt people consists of those who miss fasting days in Ramadan for valid temporary reasons, most commonly sickness, travel, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. These are people who must fast days after Ramadan in place of the ones they missed during Ramadan. They are considered a category because they are not obligated to pay a redemption fee, known as a fidyah, which is an amount of wealth offered in place of each day of Ramadan missed.
The proof for this is this verse of the Quran: “Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey [such a person shall then fast] the same number of other days” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:185). The verse before this one (2:184) also specifies this.
As for pregnancy and breastfeeding, the evidence is that the condition of a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, in terms of hardship, is analogous to that of one who is ill. Also, it is reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said to his wife who was either pregnant or breastfeeding: “You are one of those who cannot endure the fast,” referring to this verse of 2:185.
THE SECOND CATEGORY
The second group of fasting-exempt people consists of those who miss fasting days in Ramadan for valid permanent reasons, most commonly infirmity due to old age or chronic illness that prevents one from fasting. These people are obligated to pay a redemption fee (fidyah) but do NOT have to make up the fast. The proof for this is this verse of the Quran: “Yet for those who are hardly able to endure it [and do not fast], the redemption [for each day] is feeding an indigent person [instead]” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:184).
THE REDEMPTION FEE (FIDYA) AMOUNT
The redemption fee (fidyah) is based on a volume measurement known as a sa‘. It is half a sa‘ of food per missed day that is common to and normally eaten by the people who live in the same locality as the non-fasting person. A sa‘ volume measurement differs for liquids and grains. One sa‘ of water is 2.75 liters, or just under three quarts. One sa‘ of grain is 2.176 kg, or just under 5 lbs. The recipients of the fidyah redemption fee are those in need.
Again, one feeds one needy person with half a sa‘ per fasting day in Ramadan missed. So if Ramadan is 30 days, one provides 15 sa‘s of food for 30 needy people, or roughly 75 lbs., for example, of rice.
A WORD ON THE ETHIC OF EASE IN ISLAM
This allowance for people who have difficulty fasting to provide sufficient food for those in need is a sign of Islam’s toleration and ease. It does not burden those who are ill or traveling with fasting.
It is important to keep in mind that this provision of ease in Islam takes into consideration the different circumstances of people and does not burden them with unnecessary or overwhelming hardship. It is not, however, acceptable for anyone to use the phrase “Islam is a religion of ease” as a cover for neglecting obligations.
IF ONE INTENTIONALLY VIOLATES THE RAMADAN FAST
Intentionally breaking the fast on any day in Ramadan is a major sin in Islam and requires repentance and an “atonement” or “expiation” called kaffarah. An expiation (kaffarah) is a penalty that makes up for a violation. The Shari‘ah difference between the redemption fee (fidyah) and the atonement or expiation (kaffarah) is that the fidyah is an amount paid by someone who has a valid excuse in place of a day of fasting, whereas the kaffarah is a penalty instituted to remedy a violation of a day of Ramadan fasting.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the expiation (kaffarah) is only applicable when one has violated one’s fast by intercourse. Others see the expiation (kaffarah) as necessary for any intentional violation of the fast.
If one does not have the financial capability, then one must fast two consecutive lunar months without break for each fasting day of Ramadan intentionally violated. To be precise, this means that if one deliberately breaks one’s expiating fast at any time during the two fasting months of atonement, one must start their expiating fast of two months over again.
If one is not capable of fasting two consecutive months, then one must feed 60 of those in need for each fasting day intentionally violated. Or, one may feed one needy person 60 meals, or 10 people six times each, or any other combination in which 60 meals are given for each day of Ramadan intentionally violated.
Alternatively, one can give in payment to the hungry 30 sa‘ of food (about 144 lbs.). This food should be what is generally considered by the people of the time and place to be a staple that can be stored without a refrigerator, such as rice, wheat, dried fruit, and the like.
The evidence for this penalty is the following well-known hadith report:
A man came to the Prophet, on him be peace, and said: “I have been destroyed.” The Prophet, on him be peace, asked: “What has destroyed you?” The man said: “I approached my wife [in sexual intercourse] during the daytime in Ramadan.”
The Prophet, on him be peace, said: “Do you have what [wealth] you need to free a slave?”
The man answered: “No.”
The Prophet, on him be peace, then asked: “Are you able to fast two consecutive months?”
The man said: “No.”
The Prophet, on him be peace, asked: “Do you have enough [wealth] to feed 60 of those in need?”
The man said: “No.” Then he sat down. Then an ‘araq [about 72 lbs.] filled with dates was brought to the Prophet, on him be peace, and he said to the man: “Give this [‘araq] away in charity.”
The man said: “There is not a household between the two lava tracts [of Madinah] more in need than us.”
Then the Prophet, on him be peace, laughed until his incisor teeth showed, and he said to the man: “Go and feed this to your family.”
[The ‘araq consists of 15 sa‘. Each sa‘ equals four madd, and a madd is what fills two average size hands with the fingers extended. Again, a sa‘ is about 4.8 lbs. So a madd is about 1.2 lbs.]
WHEN ONE SHOULD MAKE UP MISSED FASTING DAYS
The majority of scholars are of the opinion that if one delays making up the days of fasting until after the following Ramadan, then along with fasting a day in place of the one missed, one must also pay the redemption fee (fidyah) for each fasting day that one has delayed past the following Ramadan. If one delays until he passes the next two Ramadans, then he has to pay two times the redemption fee (two fidyahs) for every day delayed, and so on.
The evidence for this is the report that Abu Hurayrah and other Companions (may God be pleased with them all) held this opinion.
The legal authority Imam Abu Hanifah held the opinion that no matter how long one waits to make up his or her fast, they do not have to pay the redemption fee (fidyah). His evidence is the verse of the Quran (2:185) previously cited. This verse states clearly that there is no remedy for missing a day of fasting (with a valid excuse) other than fasting a day in its place.
The fact of the matter is that there is no reliable Text from Revelation (the Quran or reports from the Prophet, on him be peace) supporting the claim that one must pay a redemption fee (fidyah) if the make-up fast is delayed more than a year. Moreover, it is not obligatory to make up a missed fast immediately.
Aisha (the wife of the Prophet, on him be peace, and may God be pleased with her), as reported in the authentic hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, indicated that she would have some days to make up from the previous Ramadan in the following Sha‘ban (that is, the month before Ramadan – meaning, she would sometimes make up her missed days 11 lunar months later). This does show a conscious desire to make up her validly missed fasting days from one Ramadan before the coming of the next year’s Ramadan.
The fact that the majority of scholars hold an opinion does not necessarily mean that it is the preferable one. Even so, it is recommended that one hasten to make up one’s missed fasts because no one knows when death shall come.
THE MISSED FASTS OF THE DECEASED
Fasting is not a form of worship that one can perform on another’s behalf. So if a loved one passed away and he or she had days of Ramadan to make up, the family members should pay the redemption fee (fidyah) for the days missed on behalf of their deceased.