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Tuesday, 12 March 2024

The Fiqh of Fasting

Muslim Hands
The Fiqh of Fasting

The blessed month of Ramadan is here, alhamdulillah! With that in mind, we’ve put together an article presenting the basic rules of fasting. This includes: the definition of fasting, who needs to fast in Ramadan, who is exempt from fasting, what breaks our fast and what doesn’t break our fast!

What is the definition of fasting in Islam?

Fasting is ‘to abstain from food, drink and marital relations from daybreak to sunset, with the intention of drawing near to Allah (swt)’, according to Shaykh Haroon Hanif.

The above definition refers to an ‘intention of drawing near to Allah’, which makes a religious fast distinct from merely dieting or practicing intermittent fasting. But what, precisely, does it mean to intend something?

An intention is: the determination you feel in your heart to do something. Your intention doesn’t have to be verbally stated, although this is certainly preferable.

Practically speaking, it would be almost impossible to not have the intention to fast. A good way of understanding what makes ‘an intention’ is this: if a person asks you ‘What are you doing?’ and your reply is ‘Fasting’ - then you have clearly intended to fast and are now carrying out that intention!

The intention to fast must be made separately for each day of Ramadan. You can make the intention at any time from the Maghrib prayer of the previous night up to before the ‘Islamic midday’. The Islamic midday is the midpoint between the start of the Fajr prayer and the start of the Maghrib prayer. For example, if Fajr starts at 5am and Maghrib starts at 5pm, then the Islamic midday would be 11am.

Who has to fast in Ramadan?

All adult Muslims of sound mind are required to fast in Ramadan. From the Islamic perspective, an adult is defined as follows:

  • Islam is the way of the Fitrah (the natural, primordial way) and thus someone becomes an adult once they enter puberty.
  • A male child becomes an adult when he experiences a wet dream or ejaculation.
  • A female child becomes an adult when she experiences a wet dream or her first menstruation.
  • If none of these have 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.

Who is exempt from fasting in Ramadan?

The following Muslims are exempt from fasting in Ramadan.

A sick person:

Someone who is ill to the extent that it will seriously affect their health if they fasted. This is determined by clear manifest signs, the judgement of a practicing Muslim doctor or by previous experience.

A traveler:

A traveler is defined as someone who intends to travel to a place which is approximately longer than 80km according to the view of the majority of scholars. 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 traveler 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 frail elderly person:

This is someone who can’t fast due to it resulting in illness or an adverse effect on one’s health, as mentioned above (see the section on a sick person). 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. According to the local judiciary body, this would roughly amount to R28 per missed fast.

A pregnant or breastfeeding woman: 

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 practicing Muslim doctor, manifest signs or by previous experience.

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 judgement on whether to fast or not would be determined by manifest signs and previous experience.

A woman experiencing menstruation or post-natal bleeding:

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.

Finally, 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 in 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.

What breaks your fast and what should we do if our fast breaks?

There are two types of broken fasts and two ways of ‘making up’ for these fasts:

One: Qada (making up the missed fast) and Kaffarah (expiation)

Both a Qada and Kaffarah would be required in the following situations:

  • One of the fasts of Ramadan is broken.
  • The person has begun the fast and has broken it for no reason at all.

The Kaffarah required would be to fast for sixty consecutive days and, if that is too difficult, to feed sixty poor people.

Two: Qada (making up the missed fast) alone

This would be required if you:

  • Accidentally broke the fast: this would occur if you knew you were fasting but accidentally broke it
  • Ate the pre-dawn meal (sahur) not knowing that Fajr had already begun, or ate the evening meal (iftar) not knowing the sun hadn’t set yet
  • Consumed anything that is not food i.e. you accidentally swallowed something inedible
  • Inhaled something through the nose, unless this occurred unavoidably
  • Used eardrops

What doesn’t break your fast in Ramadan?

  • Breaking the fast forgetfully
  • Eating anything between the teeth less than the size of a chick pea
  • Involuntary vomiting or induced vomiting less than a mouthful
  • Having a wet dream
  • Delaying performing ritual bath
  • Inhaling unavoidable particles in the air
  • Bleeding
  • Injecting into the body

What is disliked (makruh) for a fasting person?

  • Tasting or chewing something, including toothpaste
  • Kissing or having sexual contact with their spouse if there is a fear of desire

What is recommended to do when fasting?

  • Eat the pre-dawn meal (sahur) as it gives you strength for the fast
  • Breaking the fast immediately with an odd number of dates, something sweet or water

What is fine to do when fasting?

  • Using the toothstick (miswak) at any time during the day
  • Rinsing the mouth and nose
  • Taking a shower
  • Applying scent


Muslim Hands, established in 1993 aim to help those needing emergency relief and tackling the root causes of poverty. This Ramadan, we can help you calculate your Zakat, send iftar across the world, sponsor an orphan and even build your own water well. For more ways to serve the Ummah, visit our Appeals page or call 021 633 6413.

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