What Is Meant by Kaffarah for Violations of Ramadan Fasts?
Are there penalties for violating Ramadan fasting days?
The Short Answer
Yes. Islam obliges atonement for willful violations of the hallowed Third of its Five Pillars, the Fast of Ramadan, in the form of a penalty called kaffarah, “atonement” or “expiation.”
The Quran establishes that an adult believer of sound mind who knowingly breaks a Ramadan fast by prohibited actions without sanctioned cause has committed a grave sin (kabirah) and exposed him- or herself to divine displeasure and torment, in this life and in the Hereafter.
According to the renowned seventh Islamic century scholar Al-Dhahabi, deliberately violating a Ramadan fasting day ranks sixth worst in the list of the 70 major sins in Islam.
The Prophet, on him be peace, said he was shown of the Hereafter:
“People hung [upside down] by their Achilles tendons, the corners of their mouths rent and dripping blood. I asked: Who are they? It was said: ‘Such are the ones who used to break the fast before its permissible time.’” (Nasa’i)
Commentators note that so gruesome a divine chastisement for habitual breakers of Ramadan fasts before the proper time bodes frighteningly more dire consequences in the Afterlife for the able and knowing who do not fast Ramadan’s days at all, or who deliberately violate them.
Yet Allah has given Himself the beautiful names of the Forgiver of Sin and the Acceptor of Repentance (Surat Al-Ghafir, 40:3), and He will grant both to those believers who sincerely seek it of Him, duly atone for their violation, and, according to the majority of scholars, quickly make up the days of their breached Ramadan fasts.
Shawwal is the best month to make up missed Ramadan fasts in, since the days, in this opinion, must be made up with haste as a debt owed to Allah. So strong is this position (the requirement to make up missed Ramadan fasts) some scholars have deemed it to be a Consensus opinion (ijma‘)
There are other scholars, however, who hold that one who has knowingly and deliberately missed an obligatory, time-bound act of worship can never make it up because Allah will not accept it.
In any case, sincere repentance comes by way of completing a mandatory schedule of kaffarah penalties set by Allah and His Messenger, on him be peace, for each Ramadan fasting day one violates.
The kaffarah penance is weighty.
How does the kaffarah penalty differ from fidyah?
An expiation (kaffarah) is a penalty that makes up for a violation.
The Shari‘ah difference between the redemption payment (fidyah) and the atonement or expiation penalty (kaffarah) is this: fidyah is a fee paid by someone who has a valid excuse not to fast in place of a day of fasting (see What Is Meant by Fidyah for Making Up Missed Ramadan Fasts?).
Kaffarah is a penalty, or penance, instituted to remedy each unauthorized or illegitimate violation of a fasting day in Ramadan.
What violations of the Ramadan fast require kaffarah?
There is no dispute that sexual intercourse violates the fast and requires kaffarah, atonement. It matters not whether ejaculation occurs or the event is licit or prohibited by the criteria of legal sexual access or fornication, so long as there is vaginal penetration.
Shafi‘i and Hanbali scholars, however, hold that expiation (kaffarah) only applies to one who has violated his or her Ramadan fast by engaging in willful sexual intercourse, knowing that this is a violation.
These scholars base their view on an explicit text of the Prophet, on him be peace, specifying the violation and the kaffarah for a man who transgressed his Ramadan fast by sexual intercourse. They contend that no analogy can be drawn between this act, on which the Prophet, on him be peace, explicitly ruled, and any other violation of one’s Ramadan fast.
The Hanafi and Maliki Muslim jurists, however, consider the expiation (kaffarah) as necessary for any intentional violation of the Ramadan fast. At issue in the Prophet’s ruling, on him be peace, they say is violating the sanctity of a Ramadan fast by any knowing and deliberate means, including eating and drinking.
What is the atonement penalty for violating a Ramadan fasting day?
The prescribed expiation (kaffarah) for violating a day of Ramadan fasting comes in three forms in a descending, obligatory hierarchy. One cannot choose between the three prescribed penalties of kaffarah. One must perform the first mandated form of expiation, unless this is an impossibility, either for lack of means or unavailability.
If it is impossible for one to perform the first prescribed act of kaffarah, only then does one move to the second prescribed form. Likewise, if one cannot perform the second form either, one moves to the third and final form. A person must comply with one of the three forms to fulfill his or her kaffarah for violating a Ramadan fast.
What are the three forms of kaffarah for Ramadan fasting day violations?
the first kaffarah: Freeing an enslaved Muslim.
For those who believe slavery and human trafficking no longer exist, know that it is on the rise in the world.
the second kaffarah: Fasting two consecutive lunar months.
If one does not have the financial capability to free an enslaved person, or one cannot find anyone enslaved to free – again, only if this is an impossibility – 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 consecutive fasting months of atonement (kaffarah), one must start the expiating fast of two months over again.
What about menstruating women fasting two consecutive months?
For a menstruating woman, the consecutive days exclude the days of her menses. Her fast counts as consecutive from the last day prior to its onset to the first day after her menses completion, whereupon her fast resumes until she reaches the 58 to 60 “consecutive” fasting days (depending on the length of the lunar months) in this manner, no matter how many times she menstruates during her kaffarah consecutive fasting atonement.
If a wife claims that her husband compelled her against her will to sexual intercourse during a fasting day of Ramadan, and she did not take part willingly, she is not obliged to perform kaffarah.
But if a woman is fasting Ramadan, has sexual intercourse, and then gets her menstrual period afterward, she must still pay the kaffarah, for the violation happened during her fast.
What if a day of Eid falls during one’s kaffarah fast?
There is no fasting on Eid days. One resumes his or her kaffarah fast after Eid Day.
the third kaffarah: Feeding 60 indigent.
One who could not free a slave nor capable of fasting two consecutive months for a genuine reason (not out of unwillingness), he or she must feed 60 people in need for each fasting day intentionally violated.
One may accomplish this through different combinations of feeding meals, as long as the total equals 60 meals for each fasting day of Ramadan missed. The penitent may feed one needy person 60 meals, for example, or provide meals to 10 people six times each, or any other combination in which 60 meals are given for each day of Ramadan intentionally violated.
It is permissible to transfer one’s kaffarah obligation to another party. So a person can pay the kaffarah to a charitable organization that accepts kaffarah payments and that will feed 60 people on his or her behalf. Do this here.
Alternatively, one can give in payment to the hungry 60 sa‘ of food, each sa‘ being a volume measure equaling 4 double handfuls of grain. In the time of the Prophet, on him be peace, the people of Madinah had a volume measure for 60 sa‘ called a wasq, which weighed 287.8 pounds or 130.56 kg in modern measures.
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.
It is permissible to transfer the kaffarah payment to another location.
What legal Text does kaffarah rely on?
The evidence for the kaffarah 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 engaged 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.
At that time an ‘araq [about 72 pounds] 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.”
This report shows the mercy and lenience of the Prophet, on him be peace, and of Islam.
And not to get lost in the legal details of kaffarah expiation, one should remember that fasting Ramadan is for Allah alone, as He alone sees it. If somehow we fail in this, our regret should be great, our repentance swift and sincere, our resolve strong to never do it again, our make-up fast quick, and our asking Allah for forgiveness copious, while doing as many other good deeds as we can to make real and raise our iman, our faith.
The ‘araq consists of 15 sa‘. Each sa‘ equals four mudd, and a mudd is what fills two average size hands with the fingers extended. Again, a sa‘ is about 4 lb 12.75 oz. So a mudd is about 1.2 lb. See How Is Zakat Calculated on Wealth for a detailed explanation on measurement equivalents between now and as established by the Prophet, on him be peace, based on measures at his time.