What Are the Valid Exemptions for Not Fasting?

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Are there conditions that exempt one from obligatory fasting?

Yes. Valid exemptions for not fulfilling the obligatory Ramadan fall under five major categories. (This is aside from menstrual and postnatal bleeding. See What Acts Invalidate Fasting?).

How does one exempt from fasting Ramadan make up the days missed?

When one breaks one’s Ramadan fast with a valid exemption, one should simply make up the missed day before the following Ramadan (or offer appropriate redemption if fasting is not possible (see Fidyah and Fasting Make Ups). Note that breaking the fast without a valid exemption entails a heavy penalty of atonement, kaffarah: freeing a believing bondservant, fasting consecutively for two months, if one is able, or feeding 60 indigent people meals of a specified amount.

What are the five major categories of valid exemption from fasting?

I. Illness
II. Travel
III. Age
IV. Hazardous Thirst or Hunger
V. Coercion

What does each category mean and what are each one’s limits?

I. The First Category of Valid Exemption from Fasting: Illness

Illness is that which takes a person outside the bounds of health as the result of some indisposition. Ibn Qudama said: “There is consensus among the scholars on the permissibility of breaking the fast due to illness in general, as stated in the verse of the Quran: “Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey [then such a person shall then fast] the same number of other days” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:185).

Salamah ibn Al-Akwa‘, may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “When the verse ‘wa ‘ala’l-ladhina yuthiqunahu’ [Yet for those who are hardly able to endure it, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:184] was revealed, whoever wanted to break their fast was allowed to break their fast and pay the redemption (fidyah), until the verse ‘Shahru Ramadan alladhi’ [It was the month of Ramadan, in which, Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:185] was revealed and abrogated the one before it.”

So, the prescription to fast went through stages. First, Allah permitted the believers to break their fast. Then, Allah obligated the fast unless one had a validjustification for not doing so.

Illness remained a valid reason for not fasting, though not any illness or pain legitimately excuses one from fasting. If one fears fasting will worsen the sickness,delay its cure or cause damage to anything in the body, then one has a valid excuse forbreaking his or her fast. In fact, one “should” break one’s fast under these circumstances, for the higher obligation is to keep oneself from perishing.

If one is well but feels the difficulty of fasting, this does not rise to the level ofsufficient cause for breaking the fast. The exception here is the Hanafi legal school’s position that if one who is well believes it quite likely the fast will cause him or her to fall ill, one can break the fast. If, however, the fear of illness is anxiety or apprehension of illness, more delusion or obsession than actuality, then it is not permissible to break fast.

The Malikis disagree with the Hanafis in this, holding that if the healthy person has no illness to begin with but merely harbors a fear that fasting will cause illness, then he or she is barred from breaking the fast because the fear of illness neither proves the likelihood of such an outcome, nor does it meet the standard of a sufficient legal proof authorizing action. If, however, one knows with great certainty that fasting will definitely cause real harm, he or she can break the fast. The distinction, then, is diagnosing the likely onset of real harm as a result of fasting as opposed to a difficultycaused by fasting, as difficulty in fasting is a wholly invalid justification.

Now, even though one who is ill ought to break the fast, it does not render his or her fast invalid if one chooses to complete the fast.

Some scholars divide the sick into four classes regarding the obligation to fast:

  • A.​THE UNABLE: One who cannot fast because of a valid fear of an illness or debilitating weakness that fasting will likely cause. In this case, one must break one’s fast. It is an obligation to do so.

  • B.​THE ABLE WITH HARDSHIP: Fasting imposes a great hardship on this person. Such a one must fast, unless it is legitimately determined that the fast is very likely to result in physical harm.

  • C.​THE ABLE WITH HARDSHIP AND FEAR OF ILLNESS: One who is able to fast, but with great hardship, who fears fasting will exacerbate his or her sickness. Such a person is justified in breaking fast. According to one opinion, this person “must” break the fast. According to another, he or she “should” break the fast.

  • D.​THE ABLE WITH DIFFICULTY: One for whom fasting creates great difficulty but to whom it does not present any genuine physical danger. This individualis obligated to complete his or her fast.

II. The Second Category of Valid Exemption from Fasting: Travel

    The kind of travel that allows one to break one’s fast must fulfill at least threeconditions, and a fourth according to all but the Hanafi juristic school:

    • i.​ DISTANCE: Enough for one to shorten their prayers (about 50 miles,according to some scholars who specify a distance, but more pertinently what is considered by people of the time and area a journey)

    • ii.​ EXCEEDANCE: One must go beyond the limits of the city or town one is staying in. This means if one were to travel 50 miles but still be within his city or town area, it would not count as travel. The question of whether one’s metropolitan area remains as one’s town should be considered seriously, such as greater Chicago, for instance.

    • iii.​ DURATION: The person in the state of travel or far from home does not have the intention of staying at that destination for more than three days. In this latter case, the person may be permitted to not fast during the travel (if they fulfill the other three requirements, i,ii and ivA), but the person must resume the fast when they arrive at a destination where they know they will stay for more than three days.

    • ivA.​ INTENTIONALITY: According to the majority of scholars, the person undertaking the journey must not be traveling for unlawful reasons or to unlawful destinations, like a gambling trip to Las Vegas. This is because the allowance to break one’s fast is to make travel easy. If someone is undertaking an unlawful action, he or she is not included in the principle of creating ease for the traveler.

    • ivB.​ INTENTIONALITY: The Hanafis allow for one who is traveling for something unlawful to break fast because there is no Text of Revelation that specifies that the justification for fast-breaking is restricted to one traveling for lawful purposes. Further, they specify that the act of traveling itself is not unlawful. So, the fasting exemption, according to the Hanafis, is connected to travel itself, not what occurs thereafter or as a result of it.

The majority of the Companions of the Prophet, on him be peace, agreed that one who begins the Ramadan fast while settled, or in residence, who then travels after the start of Ramadan is still permitted to break fast. This is because (1) the Texts that impose the obligation of fasting Ramadan are of a general nature and do not specify any restriction as to mobility or the rules they set. (2) The Prophet, on him be peace, departed on the campaign to emancipate Makkah during Ramadan and broke his fast, even though he began his travel after Ramadan had commenced (Bukhari).

There is record of two legal opinions on fasting Ramadan that are spurious. The first is that once Ramadan begins, one is not allowed to travel. This opinion is regarded as weak. The second holds that if one does travel, one must fast. This opinion is rejected.

    The time of day when one commences one’s travel affects the permissibility of not fasting or breaking the fast during a Ramadan day. Jurists identify threetime-oriented situationsand append to this discussion a fourth occurrence regarding thebreastfeeding or pregnant woman:

    • i.​ THE PRE-DAWN TRAVELER: A traveler who begins his or her travel in Ramadan before fajr (dawn), who has intended to travel at that time and to break his or her fast in so doing, has the consensus of jurists that he or shecan break fast. The rationale is that such a one is already in a state of travel when the cause for the obligation of fasting — namely, the onset of dawn —begins.

    • ii.​ THE POST-DAWN TRAVELER: A traveler who begins his or her travel after fajr (dawn) — according to the majority of jurists — is disallowed frombreaking fast, since such a one has already begun an obligatory fast in a state of being settled, or resident. Ahmad ibn Hanbal dissents from this position and holds that once travel begins one is permitted to break fast, as travel, unrestricted by time, is itself the cause for the allowance of fast-breaking.

Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s position seems the more accurate one due to the hadithreported by Muslim that the Prophet, on him be peace, headed for Makkah in the year of its emancipation in the month of Ramadan. He traveled while fasting until he reached a certain place called Kira’ Al-Ghamim. The Companions fasted with him. At this point, it was said to him: “The fasting, indeed, has become a hardship for the people, and they are looking to see what you do.” So the Prophet, on him be peace, called for a vessel of water after ‘Asr and drank in front of the people, and some of them broke their fast, while others continued fasting. When the news reached the Prophet, on him be peace, that some of them continued their fast, he commented: “Those are the disobedient ones.”

Similarly, Imam Ahmad reported, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, that the Prophet, on him be peace, left for Makkah in the Year of the Emancipation during the month of Ramadan and fasted until he reached a certain point on the road. This was around midday. At that point, he reached a water source, and he saw the people with him looking longingly at the water. So the Prophet, on him be peace, asked for a vessel of water, and he waited until all the people were looking at him, and he drank. So the people drank after him.

The scholars that hold it permissible to break your obligatory fast after the commencement of the fast use this account as a proof for their opinion. They claim also as proof that the status of the traveler has precedence over the status of the settled person.

Still, most scholars, including the Hanbalis, hold that one who intends to fast a day in Ramadan and then embarks on a journey should preferably NOT break fast.

iii.​ The majority of scholars believe breaking one’s fast immediately before embarking on a journey — for example, breaking fast in one’s home before leaving on a trip — is impermissible because the circumstance that allows for the permissibility of breaking one’s fast is the traveling journey itself. So, one would have to wait until one is in a state of travel before breaking one’s fast.Obviously, this means the fasting day has already begun before embarking on travel, unlike the case of the pre-dawn traveler.

iv.​ The jurists agree that a breastfeeding or pregnant woman is allowed to break fast if she believes fasting will cause harm to her or her baby. The Hanbalis actually hold the position that it is makruh (reprehensible) for her to fast in this state. Their proof for this is the hadith that Tirmidhi reported: “Indeed Allah, Transcendent and Resplendent, has relieved the traveler of the obligation of fasting and relieved him of half the Salah [obligation]; and He has likewise relieved the pregnant and breastfeeding woman of fasting.”

III. The Third Category: Age

  • A.​FASTING FOR THE ELDERLY: There is consensus that it is permissible for the elderly not to fast. There is no specific definition for old age. It pertains to what people recognize and agree to be an age that is advanced and disabling.

  • B.​FASTING FOR THE YOUNG: Children have no obligation to fast until they reach their youth. The Prophet, on him be peace, said:

“The pen has been lifted for three: the sleeper till he wakes, the boy till he becomes a youth, the insane till he recovers his rationality.”

This includes girls.

Again, such age descriptions are inherently fluid and vary, but we can gain perspective from certain boundary markers. When children reach 7, we have been instructed to begin training them to pray the obligatory Salah-prayer. At 10, this becomes consequential. The onset signs of puberty set these obligations firmly in place.

We also have the example of the Companions of the Prophet, on him be peace, and on them Allah’s pleasure.

Said Al-Rubayyi‘ bint Mu’awwadh, Allah be pleased with her:

“We would make our young boys fast [‘ashura, the 10th of Muharram, when it was mandatory before Allah obligated Muslims to fast Ramadan]. We would make for them a toy of wool. If one cried for food, we gave it to him [as a diversion] until the time for breaking fast came” (Bukhari).

IV. The Fourth Category: Hazardous Thirst or Hunger

If thirst and hunger reach health-threatening levels, they become valid reasons not to fast. So, this is not any kind of thirst or hunger. If one really believes the continuation of their fast will physically harm them because they are suffering from dangerousdepletion, then it is permissible for them to break fast. Also, if a soldier anticipatesengagement in battle and breaks the fast because of this likelihood, but battle does not ensue, there is no penalty for having broken the fast.

V. The Fifth Category: Coercion

If someone with coercive power, legitimate or not, threatens a faster’s well-being, such as saying to a faster: “If you do not break your fast, you will be physically harmed or imprisoned,” there is no penalty if one breaks the fast under such duress. Yet one remains obligated to make up this missed fast.