Fasting in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is considered as the Muslim’s third practical duty to Allah. It was made obligatory in the second year of Hijrah (Migration of the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him’) to Madinah). It is a universe institution in as much as all the religions of the world and all the great religious personalities adopted fasting as the principal method of controlling and killing passions. Fasting is a commandment and a clear order from Allah upon us and we have no other choice but to obey our Lord Allah and please Him out of Love and Fear at the same time. It is a means by which the true extent of the servant’s love for his Lord is revealed and by which the servant can truly exalt him. Fasting is a compulsory act of worship for all Muslims, though there are exceptional circumstances, which exempt people from fasting. The evidence of observing fast as a part of Faith is indicated in Allah’s words:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it w prescribed for those before you, that you may Muttaqoon (the pious)”. (Al-Baqarah, Verse: 183). He also said:

“The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Saum (fasts)” [Surat Al-Baqarah: Verse 185].

Fasting in Ramadan has also been ordained by the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) and the whole Ummah (Muslim nations). According to the Sunnah, Allah’s Messenger (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) said:

“Islam is built upon five pillars: To witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet; to perform Prayers; to pay Zakah; to fast Ramadan and to perform Pilgrimage to Makkah”. (Bukhari and Muslim)

The whole Ummah has agreed that it is obligatory to fast in Ramadan, as it is one of the pillars of Islam and that whoever denies it is a kafir (i.e. a disbeliever), having turned away from Islam.

Upon whom is Fasting Obligatory?

Fasting is obligatory upon every person who has fulfilled these prerequisites. He or she must be:

1. A Muslim

The person who observes fast should be a Muslim who witnesses that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah Alone and witnesses that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger.

2. Baligh (Puberty or Adulthood)

According to Islam puberty or adulthood is defined when a child reaches the stage of al-bulugh (adulthood), or Tamyeez (discretion), which can be designated by three signs:

  • Discharging semen as a result of wet dreams.
  • Appearance of hair around the pubic area.
  • Reaching the age of fifteen.

It has been narrated by Abdullah Bin Umar (may Allah pleased with him) that: “My parents brought me to Allah’s Messenger (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) in the campaign of Uhud and I was fourteen years old, so the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) did not enlist me in fighting.” But a year later in the campaign of Al-Khandaqq, I was fifteen, so this time the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) enlisted me in the battle” (Muslim).

This indicates that the age of 15 is the legal age for a Muslim boy or a girl to be accountable for his or her religious duties as well as worldly affairs.

Girls reach puberty when they experience the above three signs. However, they have a fourth one, that is, menstruation. Whenever a girl experiences it, she reaches the age of bulugh and she becomes Mukalaf (i.e. must practice all religious duties) even if she is 12 years old.

3. Aqil and At-Tamyeez (Sane and Discretion)

A person who observes fast should be mentally fit, which means to be sane and having a sense of discretion.

4. Qadir (Physical fitness)

A person who observes fast should be fairly certain that fasting is unlikely to cause him/her any harm, physical or mental, other than the normal reactions to hunger, thirst, etc.

5. Muqim (Resident: not in a state of traveling)

A person who observes fast should be present at his/her permanent settlement, for instance home town, ones farm, and ones business premises, etc. This means not to be on a journey. (A traveler may fast if he/she wants to).

Upon whom is Fasting inapplicable?

People of the following categories are exempted from the duty of fasting, and no compensation or any other substitute is enjoined on them.

1. A non-Muslim

Fasting is not obligatory on a non-Muslim even if he/she decides to fast and follows all the regulations, it will not be accepted by Allah the Most High until he/she declares the Shahada (becomes a Muslim), and only then will the fast be accepted. If he/she converts to Islam it becomes incumbent upon him/her to fast.

2. A mad person (the insane)

Insane people who are unaccountable for their deeds are exempted from fasting because they are divested of Aqil (sanity), which is a key element on which religious obligations depend. This is indicated in the Hadeeth narrated by Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) said: “The pen is raised from three: from the madman until he regains consciousness, on the sleeper until he wakes up, and on the child until he has a wet dream.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi).

3. Children who are not adolescent yet

Children under the age of puberty and discretion are exempted from fasting until he/she dreams (i.e. reaches the age of puberty or discretion), but training children to observe fast is highly recommended.

Children should be encouraged to fast part of the day for practice, until they are old enough to fast the whole day like the grownups. Narrated Rubayyiah Bint Mau’awwidh (may Allah pleased with her), the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) 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)

4. Women during the period of menstruation or of post childbirth state

Appearance of menstruation (hayd), or post-childbirth blood (nifaas) invalidates the fast even if such bleeding begins just before sunset (i.e. Iftar) time. Fasting for women during these periods is forbidden and should be made up later, a day for a day. In this context, it has been reported that the Prophet (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) said: “when a woman experiences her monthly period, she will not pray or fast, but she shall redeem the fast after Ramadan, but not Salaat.”

Compiled by Imam Shafi N Abdul Aziz

The Obligation of Fasting