One of the practices in Ramadan – and probably the most widely known – is fasting. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity. The fast during daylight hours serves to enhance our spirituality and morality. It’s a way to submit oneself to piety and Allah, while cultivating discipline through refraining from the very basic pleasures like eating.
Furthermore, fasting encourages a sense of social consciousness, where we’re reminded of those less fortunate who aren’t able to eat or drink. Taqwa can be obtained through fasting, which is the strengthening of one’s piety, gaining righteousness and protection from evil, and the purification of heart and mind.
However, there are some factors that prohibit fasting during the Holy Month for certain individuals. Here are some of those groups to which the rules of fasting throughout Ramadan don’t apply.
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Children are exempt from fasting before the age of maturity. This is usually marked by puberty, indicating that the child is ready to fast. Young children rely on regular and sufficient food and drink for their growth, physical, and mental development. When a child desires to fast with their family, he or she can try to fast to get used to it depending on their physical development – typically between the ages of seven and 10 years old.
Menstruating women are not only excused from fasting but should not fast during those days. When someone is losing blood and in pain, not eating and drinking can have serious health implications. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding women’s cycles – and this stigma is in no way restricted to Islam. Women everywhere often place a lot of effort into hiding their periods.
During Ramadan women might even pretend to break their fast for Iftar and wake up to have Sohour, to hide the fact they’re menstruating. Though menstruation is as much a part of new life as pregnancy, as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated as well. Women’s cycles are beautiful and should not be a reason to be ashamed. Want to know more about when it’s okay for women to break their fast? Check out our episode of QTips here!
Pregnant and breastfeeding women might also try to fast to appear pious and dedicated – though fasting during this time might have adverse effects on mother and baby. Both will need all the nutrition and strength they can get from water and food. If your own health or your baby’s health would be compromised, then you should break your fast.
If you have a permanent or temporary illness, diabetes, or take medication, then you should break your fast. The type of sickness is not specified. Any suffering from a health issue is regarded as a reason to be exempt from fasting.
You might assume that immediate injuries are the same as health issues and illness. But if you cut yourself, vomit, or suffer a short-term illness you don’t have to fast, until you’ve recovered. Once you regain health and strength, you can continue your fast.
Senior citizens may also struggle to fast for long hours during Ramadan and can break the fast in case they feel too weak. If one’s suffering due to old age is enhanced by the practice of fasting, then the fast must be broken.
Children and adults who lack mental capacity and insight to comprehend the practice of fasting are not required to fast. It may be difficult for them to understand why they’re they must refrain from eating and drinking.
Although there’s some debate about who is exempt from fasting when traveling, generally travel is considered a valid reason to break one’s fast. If the journey is long or particularly hard, the traveller should not fast. If the person plans to stay or reside in the place they are traveling to, then fasting is continued. So only when your travel requires strength and effort, you can break your fast.
This is another condition scholars debate about. The feeling of intense hunger and thirst should give you permission to break your fast. This feeling has to be more intense than usual. Then it might indicate illness or weakness allowing you to eat and drink the required amounts.
The final condition, under which you can break your fast, is far less common but needs to be considered. If you’re threatened and coerced into breaking your fast, you may do so. You cannot be held accountable for breaking your fast when you have been threatened.
So, now we know who is excused from fasting – but what do these individuals do when they no longer apply to any of the conditions mentioned above? When Muslims regain their health and strength, they can compensate for the days missed. There are two ways of compensating; one is by fasting for the amount of days missed after Ramadan. The person then has until the next Ramadan to complete their fast. The second way of compensating is by giving a meal to someone for every day they have missed.
All of the conditions are there to ensure that Ramadan is about spirituality, piety, generosity, seeking knowledge, and self-restraint – and not about risking your health. When you fast right, it can be a healthy practice, with all its spiritual and moral rewards. Fasting should not be a dangerous chore, but an activity we feel blessed to be able to do.
Have we missed someone or a condition from this list? Let us know what you think and if this has helped clear up some misconceptions, or helped fill in the blanks! And don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!
Written by Sarah Schroeder
All images for illustrative purposes only
Photo credits: iStock by Getty Images
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