The holy month of Ramadan is well underway; meaning many Muslims around the world will start observing the obligatory 30 days fast. From sunrise to sunset many Muslims will not eat or drink anything – including water – neither would they engage in marital relations. All these are done in an effort to bring themselves closer to Allah.
Fasting in the holy month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and it is compulsory for Muslims except for those who are unable to observe it. All adult Muslims of sound mind are required to fast in Ramadan. From the Islamic perspective, an adult is defined as follows:
(1) Male child becomes an adult when he experiences a wet dream or ejaculation.
(2) A female child becomes an adult when she experiences a wet dream or her first menstruation.
(3) If none of these has occurred for either the male or female by the age of 15 lunar years, they would automatically be considered adults and be obliged to fast.
Below are 10 sets of people whose conditions might make them leave fast during Ramadan.
A SICK PERSON
Someone who is ill to the extent that it will seriously affect their health if they fast. This is determined by clear manifest signs, the judgement of a practising Muslim doctor or by previous experience. Sickness includes mental illness, physical illness and those on medication. The exemption exists over fears that fasting could make the person’s illness worse or slow down their recovery. “It’s not always as clear cut as it always appears to be. For example, if you’re suffering from acute or bad mental health, a lot of scholars and religious teachers say you’re exempt from fasting.”
CHILDREN BELOW THE AGE OF PUBERTY
Prepubescent children do not have to fast, however, some do choose to while others fast for half a day to train ahead of time. If puberty is delayed, fasting is obligatory after a certain age.
When a child is being exclusively breastfed, the mother is exempt from fasting. Otherwise, the mother would be encouraged to fast as much as possible as long as it doesn’t affect the milk she will be feeding her child. For example, she would fast a day and then may have to miss a day if she feels that her milk is going to dry up. Once again, this judgment on whether to fast or not would be determined by manifest signs and previous experience.
The default ruling on pregnant women is that they are obliged to fast in Ramadan. However, if there is a danger to the health of the mother or unborn child, then of course they are exempted from fasting. The danger of fasting can be determined by a practising Muslim doctor, manifest signs or by previous experience. When you’re pregnant you get really tired, really thirsty, and really hungry. The baby needs nourishment and so you don’t have to fast if you feel you can’t manage while you’re pregnant.
A hadith says that menstruating women are forbidden from observing the fast. Therefore, it is forbidden to fast while menstruating. If a woman’s period starts in Ramadan during the night (i.e. any time from the start of the Maghrib prayer to the start of the Fajr prayer), then she is forbidden from fasting the following day. She must continue to not fast for as long as she is menstruating. If a woman starts her period during the day, then her fast on that day would be nullified. She must make up that fast on a later date. Again, she must continue to not fast for as long as she is menstruating. If a woman’s period ends at night time (i.e. from the start of Maghrib up to the start of Fajr), she must make ghusl (a ritual bath), and she is obligated to fast the next day. If a woman’s period ends during the day, she must make ghusl (a ritual bath) and, for the rest of the day, she should act like a fasting person until Maghrib (i.e. not eat or drink out of absolute etiquette for the magnificent month of Ramadan). However, this doesn’t count as a normal fast for her. She would still have to make up the fast for that day, as well as the rest of the days on which she was menstruating.
We should also note that the same rulings apply to women who have given birth and are experiencing post-natal bleeding. This post-natal bleeding can last up to 40 days and the woman is forbidden to fast during this time. If it went beyond the forty days, this would mean that something unusual has taken place and she would be obliged to fast, unless it can be proven as being detrimental to her health. In that case, she would be exempt from fasting, because she would be a sick person.
A FRAIL ELDERLY PERSON
This is someone who can’t fast due to it resulting in illness or an adverse effect on one’s health. A sick person would ordinarily be able to make up the missed fasts at a later date, whereas an elderly person often wouldn’t be able to due to the weakness that can come as we advance in age. They would thus have to give Fidyah for any fasts that were missed; meaning the elderly person who does not fast is expected to feed a poor person for every day that they broke the fast.
A traveller is defined as someone who intends to travel to a place that is longer than 48 miles away. He must also intend to stay there for less than 15 days, otherwise, he would be considered a resident. It must be noted that a traveller is only excused from fasting in Ramadan if he begins his journey before the time of Fajr enters. If a person begins fasting a day in Ramadan and then travels, he is obliged to complete his fast. A lot of people think Ramadan is a punishment. It’s not, it’s a choice that we all make and if you’re not able to fast then it’s not pushed on you.
This is not to say that fasting is a monopoly held by Muslims exclusively. It’s absolutely not. Any person is free to fast and to even take part in Ramadan if they wish to do so. But for non-Muslims who do want to fast alongside Muslims during this time, it’s important to acknowledge its religious significance and to understand that it isn’t just about fasting. And I hope that those who do want to fast with the Muslims will take the time to learn about the meaning behind Ramadan so as to better understand and value their own experience of the holy month.
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