About Fasting in Islam

According to Five Islamic Schools of Law

(Part I)

By: ‘Allamah Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah
Translated from the Arabic by Mujahid Husayn

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the ‘pillars’ of the Islamic faith. No proof is required to establish its being obligatory (wajib) and one denying it goes out of the fold of Islam, because it is obvious like salat, and in respect of anything so evidently established both the learned and the unlettered, the elderly and the young, all stand
on an equal footing.

It was declared an obligatory duty (fard ) in the second year of the Hijrah upon each and every mukallaf (one capable of carrying out religious duties, i.e. a sane adult) and breaking it (iftar) is not permissible except for any of the following reasons:

  1. Hayd and nifas: The schools concur that fasting is not valid for women during menstruation and puerperal bleeding.
  2. Illness: The schools differ here. The Imamis observe: Fasting is not valid if it would cause illness or aggravate it, or intensify the pain, or delay recovery, because illness entails harm (darar) and causing harm is prohibited (muharram). Moreover, a prohibition concerning an ‘ibadah (a rite of worship) invalidates it. Hence if a person fasts in
    such a condition, his fast is not valid (sahih). A predominant likelihood of its resulting in illness or its aggravation is sufficient for refraining from fasting. As to excessive weakness, it is not a justification for iftar as long as it is generally bearable. Hence the extenuating cause is illness, not weakness, emaciation or strain, because every duty involves hard- ship and discomfort.

    The four Sunni schools state: If one who is fasting (sa’im) falls ill, or fears the aggravation of his illness, or delay in recovery, he has the option to fast or refrain. Iftar is not incumbent upon him; it is a relaxation and not an obligation in this situation. But where there is likelihood of death or loss of any of the senses, iftar is obligatory for him and his fasting is not valid.

  3. A woman in the final stage of pregnancy and nursing mothers.

    The four schools say: If a pregnant or nursing woman fears harm for her own health or that of her child, her fasting is valid though it is permissible for her to refrain from fasting. If she opts for iftar, the schools concur that she is bound to perform its qada’ later. They differ regarding its substitute (fidyah) and atonement (kaffarah). In this regard
    the Hanafis observe: It is not at all wajib. The Malikis are of the opinion that it is wajib for a nursing woman, not for a pregnant one. The Hanbalis and the Shafi’is say: Fidyah is wajib upon a pregnant and a nursing woman only if they fear danger for the child; but if they fear harm for their own health as well as that of the child, they are bound to perform the qada’ only without being required to give fidyah. the fidyah for each day is one mudd, which amounts to feeding one needy person (miskeen).1

    The Imamis state: If a pregnant woman nearing childbirth or the child of a nursing mother may suffer harm, both of them ought to break their fast and it is not valid for them to continue fasting due to the impermissibility of harm. They concur that both are to perform the qada’ as well as give fidyah, equaling one mudd, if the harm is feared for the
    child. But if the harm is feared only for her own person, some among them observe: She is bound to perform qada’ but not to give fidyah, others say: She is bound to perform qada’ and give fidyah as well.

  4. Travel, provided the conditions necessary for salat al-qasr, as mentioned earlier, are fulfilled as per the opinion of each school. The four Sunni schools add a further condition to these, which is that the journey should commence before dawn and the traveler should have reached the point from where salat becomes qasr before dawn. Hence if he commences the journey after the setting in of dawn, it is haram for him to break the
    fast, and if he breaks it, its qada’ will be wajib upon him without a kaffarah. The Shafi’is add another condition, which is that the traveler should not be one who generally travels continuously, such as a driver.
    Thus if he travels habitually, he is not entitled to break the fast. In the opinion of the four Sunni schools, breaking the fast is optional and not compulsory. Therefore, a traveler who fulfills all the conditions has the option of fasting or iftar. This is despite the observation of the Hanafis that performing salat as qasr during journey is compulsory and not

    The Imamis say: If the conditions required for praying qasr are fulfilled for a traveler, his fast is not acceptable. Therefore, if he fasts, he will have to perform the qada’ without being liable to kaffarah. This is if he starts his journey before midday, but if he starts it at midday or later, he will keep his fast and in the event of his breaking it
    will be liable to the kaffarah of one who deliberately breaks his fast. And if a traveler reaches his hometown, or a place where he intends to stay for at least ten days, before midday without performing any act that breaks the fast, it is wajib upon him to continue fasting, and in the event of his breaking it he will be like one who deliberately breaks his

  5. There is consensus among all the schools that one suffering from a malady of acute thirst can break his fast, and if he can carry out its qada’ later, it will be wajib upon him without any kaffarah, in the opinion of the four schools. In the opinion of the Imamis, he should give a mudd by way of kaffarah. The schools differ in regard to acute hunger,
    as to whether it is one of the causes permitting iftar, like thirst. The four schools say: Hunger and thirst are similar and both make iftar permissible. The Imamis state: Hunger is not a cause permitting iftar except where it is expected to cause illness.
  6. Old people, men and women, in late years of life for whom fasting is harmful and difficult, can break their fast, but are required to give fidyah by feeding a miskeen for each fast day omitted: similarly a sick person who does not hope to recover during the whole year. The schools concur upon this rule except the Hanbalis, who say: Fidyah is
    mustahabb and not wajib.
  7. The Imamis state: Fasting is not wajib upon one in a swoon, even if it occurs only for a part of the day, unless where he has formed the niyyah of fasting before it and recovers subsequently, whereat he will continue his fast.

Disappearance of the Excuse:

If the excuse permitting iftar ceases such as on recovery of a sick person, maturing of a child, homecoming of a traveler, or termination of the menses –it is mustahabb in the view of the Imamis and the Shafi’is to refrain (imsak) from things that break the fast (muftirat) as a token of respect. The Hanbalis and the Hanafis consider imsak as wajib, but Malikis consider it neither wajib nor mustahabb.

Conditions (Shurut) of Fasting:

As mentioned earlier, fasting in the month of Ramadan is wajib for each and every mukallaf. Every sane adult (al-baligh al-‘aqil) is considered mukallaf. Hence fasting is neither wajib upon an insane person in the state of insanity nor is it valid if he observes it. As to a child, it is not wajib upon him, though valid if observed by a mumayyiz. Also essential for the validity of the fast are Islam and niyyah (intention). Therefore, as per consensus, neither the fast of a non-Muslim nor the imsak of one who has not formed the niyyah is acceptable. This is apart from the afore-mentioned conditions of freedom from menses, puerperal bleeding, illness and travel.

As to a person in an intoxicated or unconscious state, the Shafi’is observe: His fast is not valid if he is not in his senses for the whole period of the fast. But if he is in his senses for a part of this period, his fast is valid, although the unconscious person is liable to its qada’, whatever the circumstances, irrespective of whether his unconsciousness is self-induced or forced upon him. But the qada’ is not wajib upon an intoxicated person unless he is personally responsible for his state. The Malikis state: The fast is not valid if the state of unconsciousness or intoxication persists for the whole or most of the day from dawn to sunset. But if it covers a half of the day or less and he was
in possession of his senses at the time of making niyyah and did make it, becoming unconscious or intoxicated later, qada’ is not wajib upon him. The time of making niyyah for the fast in their opinion extends from
sunset to dawn.

According to the Hanafis, an unconscious person is exactly like an insane one in this respect, and their opinion regarding the latter is that if the insanity lasts through the whole month of Ramadan, qada’ is not wajib upon him, and if it coves half of the month, he will fast for the remaining half and perform the qada’ of the fasts missed due to insanity. The Hanbalis observe: Qada’ is wajib upon a person in a state of unconsciousness as well as one in a state of intoxication, irrespective of whether these states are self-induced or forced upon them. In the opinion of the Imamis, qada’ is only wajib upon a person in an intoxicated state, irrespective of its being self-induced or otherwise; it is not wajib upon an unconscious person even if his loss of consciousness is brief.


The muftirat are those things from which it is obligatory to refrain during the fast, from dawn to sunset. They are:

  • Eating and drinking (shurb) deliberately. Both invalidate the fast and necessitate qada’ in the opinion of all the schools, though they differ as to whether kaffarah is also wajib. The Hanafis and the Imamis require it, but not the Shafi’is and the Hanbalis. A person who eats and drinks by an oversight is neither liable to qada’ nor kaffarah, except in the opinion of the Malikis, who only require its qada’. Included in shurb [ drinking] is inhaling tobacco (smoking)
  • Sexual intercourse, when deliberate, invalidates the fast and makes one liable to qada’ and kaffarah, in the opinion of all the schools. The kaffarah is the manumission of a slave, and if that is not possible, fasting for two consecutive months; if even that is not possible, feeding sixty poor persons. The Imamis and the Malikis allow an option between any one of these; i.e. a mukallaf may choose between freeing a slave, fasting or feeding the poor. The Shafi’is, Hanbalis and Hanafis impose kaffarah in the above-mentioned order; i.e. releasing a slave is specifically wajib, and in the event of incapacity fasting becomes wajib. If that too is not possible, giving food to the poor becomes wajib.

    The lmamis state: All the three kaffarahs become wajib together if the act breaking the fast (muftir) is itself haram, such as eating any-thing usurped (maghsub), drinking wine, or fornicating. As to sexual intercourse by oversight, it does not invalidate the fast in the opinion of the Hanafis, Shafi’s and Imamis, but it does according to the Hanbalis and the Malikis.

  • Seminal emission (masturbation; al-‘istimna’): There is consensus that it invalidates the fast if caused deliberately. The Hanbalis say: If madhy is discharged due to repeated sensual glances and the like the fast will become invalid. The four schools say: Seminal emission will necessitate qada’ without kaffarah. The Imamis observe: It requires both qada ‘ and kaffarah.
  • Vomiting: It invalidates the fast if deliberate, and in the opinion of the Imamis, Shafi’is and Malikis, also necessitates qada’. The Hanafis state: Deliberate vomiting does not break the fast unless the quantity vomited fills the mouth. Two views have been narrated from Imam Ahmad. The schools concur that involuntary vomiting does not invalidate the fast.
  • Cupping (hijamah) is muftir only in the opinion of the Hanbalis, who observe: The cupper and his patient both break the fast.
  • Injection (of vitamines or other nutritions) invalidates the fast and requires qada’ in the opinion of all the schools. Imami legists observe: It also requires kaffarah if taken without an emergency.
  • Inhaling a dense cloud of suspended dust invalidates the fast only in the opinion of the Imamis. They say: If a dense suspended dust, such as flour or something of the kind, enters the body the fast is rendered invalid, because it is something more substantial than an injection or tobacco smoke which are also invalidating.
  • Application of kohl invalidates the fast only in the opinion of the Malikis, provided it is applied during the day and its taste is felt in the throat.
  • The intention to discontinue the fast: If a person intends to discontinue his fast and then refrains from doing so, his fast is considered invalid in the opinion of the lmamis and Hanbalis; not so in the opinion of the other schools.
  • Most Imamis state: Fully submerging the head, alone or together with other parts of the body, under water invalidates the fast and necessitates both qada’ and kaffarah. The other schools consider it inconsequential.
  • The Imamis observe: A person who deliberately remains in the state of janabah after the dawn during the month of Ramadan, his fast will be invalid and its qada’ as well as kaffarah will be wajib upon him. The remaining schools state- His fast remains valid and he is not liable to anything.
  • The Imamis observe: A person who deliberately ascribes some- thing falsely to God or the Messenger (S) (i.e. if he speaks or writes that God or the Messenger said so and so or ordered such and such a thing while he is aware that it is not true), his fast will be invalid and he will be liable to its qada’ as well as a kaffarah. A group of Imami
    legists go further by requiring of such a fabricator the kaffarah of freeing a slave, fasting for two months, and feeding sixty poor persons. This shows the ignorance or malice of those who say that the Imamis consider it permissible to forge lies against God and His Messenger (S).