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Ramadhan, Fasting and Zakat Al-Fitr

By: Sheikh Mohammad bin Saleh Al-Othaimeen
This treatise deals briefly with the practice,
rules and benefits of fasting.

In Islam, fasting is a religious ritual that involves abstaining from all food, drink, sexual activity, and certain other activities from dawn until sunset.

Fasting the Month of Ramadan

This communal religious obligation is one of the five pillars of Islam. It derives its important from the saying of the Prophet Muhammad that "Islam stands on five (pillars): To witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet, to perform the required prayers, to pay the Zakat(poor-due), to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform the pilgrimage to Makkah.

Who Must Fast?

  • Fasting is obligatory upon every adult Muslim who is sane, is able to perform it, and is not travelling. If he cannot meet any one of these conditions, he is excused from the fast without any penalty.
  • Those who convert to Islam are not required to make up the fasts that they missed while they were still non-Muslims.
  • Children are not required to fast until they reach a certain age. However, they should be encouraged as much as possible while they are still young to practice fasting by gradually expanding the time that they can observe it.
  • Those who are insane, retarded, or somehow mentally impaired so that they do not (or cannot) function like normal people do not have to fast. They are not penalized in any way. The same is true for those who are very elderly and feel that they are unable to fast.
  • Invalids such as very elderly persons or persons suffering from incurable illnesses are not required to fast. However they must compensate for this by feeding one needy person for every day of fasting that they miss.
  • Those who fall ill unexpectedly and feel that their condition would worsen if they observed the fast are excused. After they recover, they must make up the fast by fasting the number of days that they missed.
  • Pregnant and nursing mothers do not have to fast if they believe that it would cause them undue and unnecessary hardship or that it might harm the unborn child or the nursing infant. After this period of danger has passed, they must fast the number of days that they missed.
  • Women who are having their menstrual period or experiencing bleeding due to recent child birth are not required to fast. They must make up the days that they have missed when their period or bleeding has finished.
  • People who need to break the fast in order to save the life of someone else (i.e. being caught in a fire or drowning) are allowed to break their fast and to make it up at a later date.
  • Those who are travelling are given the option of fasting or not. Those who choose not to fast during their journey must make it up after reaching their destination. This applies to all types of travel; for business, for personal reasons, or due to one's job (i.e. long distance haulers).

  • Actions That Affect One's Fast

  • In Islam, there are specific guidelines that must be followed for the fast to be valid. Sometimes, however, these guidelines may be violated unknowingly. Examples of these are given below:

  • Actions That Do Not Nullify One's Fast

    • Eating or drinking something by mistake, without one's knowledge (i.e. he is asleep or unconscious), or being forced to do so. In the words of Allah:
    • O our Lord, account us not if we forget or commit mistake. (2:286)

      ...except he who was forced (to commit against what Allah has ordained) and he is satisfied of the belief in his heart. (16:106)

      But there is no blame on you, if ye made a mistake there in. (What counts is) intention of your hearts.(33:5)

  • As seen in the above verses, one's intention is critical. Thus, if a person forgets momentarily that he is fasting and eats or drinks something, his fast will no be broken, provided he did not do so intentionally. This is also true for one who believes that the sun has set or that the sun has not yet risen and so begins to eat. His mistake is not held against him if he believed sincerely that the fast was already over or had not yet begun. An unintentional swallowing of water while gargling or discharge of semen while sleeping are also viewed as not violating one's fast.

  • Actions That Nullify One's Fast

  • There are several actions that nullify immediately one's fast. Among these are the following:

    • Engaging in sexual intercourse during the daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. If a person is guilt of this, he or she has to compensate for it by fasting in addition to freeing a slave. If he cannot do this, he must fast for sixty consecutive days. If this also not possible, he must feed sixty poor people who are hungry.
    • Engaging in any activity that excites one to the point of causing a discharge of semen, such as self-gratification, caressing, hugging, kissing, and so on.
    • Eating or drinking anything. This also includes smoking and the consumption of other items that are not really considered food items. (i.e. chewing gum or tobacco).
    • Taking injections or dietary drugs used as food or drink substitutes. These are held to be just as good as the items they are meant to replace and are treated accordingly. Injections that have no food value are permitted, regardless of whether they are intramuscular or intravenous and whether or not they can be tasted.
    • Post-childbirth menses and bleeding.
    • The forced emission of blood through cupping or similar means. If one bleeds due to a normal event (i.e. a nose bleed or having a tooth extracted), his fast is considered as unaffected, for the blood that is emitted is done so naturally. This is also true of vomiting.

  • Rules Of The Fast

    • A person can state his intention to fast while he is ritually impure. After he has performed the necessary aboutions, he may begin his fast for the day. This must all be done before daybreak, when the daily fast starts.
    • A woman coming out of her menses or child-birth bleeding before dawn must fast, even if she washes herself after dawn.
    • It is permissible for a fasting person to apply ornaments, lotions, perfumes, and similar items to his head or body while he is fasting. However, he should avoid inhaling the smoke given off by burning incense. The use of ointments or medicine for medical reasons (i.e. tooth extraction, eye-drops, ear-drops) is also allowed, even if they can be tasted.
    • Brushing one's teeth a siwak ( this is a twig from a certain kind of tree found in the Middle East and widely available in Muslim communities). The prophet said that it is desirable to use a siwak while fasting.
    • A fasting person can cool himself with water, an air conditioner, or similar methods.
    • It is permissible to use sprays designed to relive the pressure of asthma or similar afflications that cause difficulty in breathing.
    • It is allowed to wet one's lips or rinse the inside of one's mouth with water without gargling.
    • It is desirable to delay slightly the pre-dawn meal and to hasten to break the fast at sunset. This is in accordance with the practice of the Prophet, whose actions serve as models for the pious Muslims to imitate. The fast is usually ended by eating several dates or, if dates are not available, by drinking some water. If no permitted food or drinks is available, the individual should simply make intention to break the fast and then actually do so as soon as he finds something that is permissible to eat or drink. For example, he cannot break his fast by eating pork or drinking alcohol, as these foods are prohibited in all circumstances, with the exception of those that are life-threatening.
    • While he is fasting, he should make a greater effort to draw closer to Allah by increasing his level of adherence to what Allah has asked of him.
    • One who is fasting should also perform his obligations and abstain from that which is prohibited. He should offer his daily prayers on time and in congregation (if it is obligatory upon him) and avoid lying, backbiting, deceiving someone, dealing in interest(usury), or indulging, either mentally or physically, in that which is prohibited. The prophet said:"One who does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink."

  • Zakat Al-Fiter

  • Zakat al-Fiter, which is part of the fast of Ramadan, is characterized by the following elements:

    • It consists of approximately 2.5 kilograms (slightly more than one pound) of rice, wheat, dates, or similar food or items.
    • It is not proper to give the Zakat al-Fiter in the form of money, clothes, or any other non-food items. However, one school of Islamic law-the Hanafites-say that one is allowed to give the Zakat al-Fiter in monetary form if he wishes to do so.
    • It must be given on the day of Eid, which is known as Eid al-Fiter, and signifies the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. It can also be paid one or two days before Eid al-Fiter.
    • It cannot be given after the Eid prayer, unless one has a valid reason for such a delay.
    • It should be given on behalf of every Muslim whether male or female, adult or minor.

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