In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 184
In the previous ayah, we learned about the obligation of fasting. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala encouraged us to fast by telling us that this was obligatory on the previous nations as well. So, the Muslims should not consider it as a burden upon themselves.
In the present ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala encourages us to fast, by another mean. He tells us that fasting is only for a few numbered days. You can easily count them on your finger tips. Along with this assurance, He gives us conditions in which it is acceptable to not fast.
The word ma’doodat [مَّعْدُودَات] is from the root ayn-dal-dal and it means “counted or fixed”. The word fidyah [فِدْيَ] is from the root fa-dal-ya and it means “compensation or ransom”. The word tatawwa’a [تَطَوَّعَ] is from the root Ta-wau-ayn, and it means “volunteering or doing something with pleasure”. The word tasumu [تَصُومُوا] is another form of siyyam meaning fasting.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells us that the days of fasting are numbered. You are not required to fast the entire year, several months in a year or several weeks. It is only a month which ends as soon as it begins. This was said so that it does not become hard on the hearts of the believers to fast. It was to strengthen their resolve and build endurance.
The word yutiqonahu [يُطِيقُونَهُ] is from the root Ta-wau-qaf and it means “to be able to do something or be in a position to do something”. Tawq is an iron-collar placed around a captive’s neck when he is tied with chains. This restricts his movement. In the ayah, the word implies doing something with intense hardship. An elderly, the sick, a pregnant and nursing woman are exempted from fasting. If a person’s own condition is frail they are not burdened with anything more. Fasting in old age, in sickness, during pregnancy and nursing has been given the similitude of wearing a tawq [an iron-collar].
Fasting of the Sick
The sick have a concession in fasting. Sick is someone who cannot fast without an unbearable hardship or has strong apprehension that his illness will be aggravated. A sick is not someone who has flu, stomach ache, headache or any other temporary pain. Muslims needs to build up their stamina to fast and teach their children the same. It is not okay to leave fasting because you have a fever, have an exam the next day, or are getting married after Ramadan.
Then what kind of sickness is this? It could be the days following an operation and the doctor recommends you not to fast (the doctor, however, should be a God-fearing person himself) or it could be certain diseases such as heart problems and diabetes. For a woman, it means the days of pregnancy and nursing.
Fasting of the Traveler
This is a person who is on a journey; a person who leaves his house to go to work or school is not a traveler. According to Imam Abu Hanifah and other jurists the distance that can qualify one as a traveler is a distance that can be covered in three days by walking in three daily stages. The later-day jurists have put it as 48 miles.
The other ruling is that a traveler who leaves his home shall be entitled to having been exempted from fasting only up to the time his travel continues. Should he stop at a place for a considerable period of time then he must fast. This period of time (stopping at a place) has been set at fifteen days following a statement of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “Anyone who intends to stay at a given place for fifteen days shall not come under the umbrella of ‘ala safari [on a journey], therefore, he shall not be deserving of the leave granted to one on a journey.”
Anyone who intends to stay out for fifteen days, not at one place but at different places and towns, he shall continue to remain in the status of a traveler. Thereby, he shall continue to enjoy the concession of being on a journey.
Here, it is important to mention that the just being on a journey does not exempt one from fasting. If someone is traveling to Lahore from Karachi by air, then it is only a 45 minutes flight with no hardship at all. On the contrary, if one is traveling from Karachi to Washington D.C. then it can be an 18 hours journey with hardship. On the latter journey, the traveler has an exemption from fasting.
Making Qada of the Missed Fast
The statement “…the same number (should be made up) from other days…” means that those who missed fasting due to sickness or travel must make up for the missed fasts in other days of the year when they are not sick or traveling.
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes in his Tafseer: Rather than using a simple statement to the effect that ‘their replacement is on them’, the Qur’anic text has said: the same number (should be made up) from other days which suggests that a sick person or a traveler will have to make qada only when the sick person becomes healthy and the traveler returns home and gets to live on for the number of days he is required to replace the fasts he missed. So, one who dies before this happens, qada of fasts will not remain obligatory on him, nor will he be required to make a will for the payment of ransom [Fidyah].
When making up for the missed fasts, a person has a choice. He can keep all the missed fasts in one go (i.e. every day till he makes up for all the missed fasts) or random (such as fasting only on Mondays and Thursdays or whenever it is convenient for him).
We notice the relaxation that the Qur’an gives when it comes to worship. If someone has a genuine reason or an inconvenience regarding fasting then they are exempted to do so. It is all about one’s religious commitment. As long as you are not looking for an excuse to leave fasting, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala provides relaxation to those who are truly in need.
It is recommended that one makes up for the missed fasts as soon as he recovers and does not delay them because no one knows when their time will be up. The missed fasts should ideally be made up for, before the new Ramadan arrives. Note that the qada is only for the obligatory fasts and not the voluntary ones.
The Fidyah [Ransom] for a Missed Fast
Those who have the strength to fast and are not restricted by sickness or travel, but do not wish to do it for some reason, they have the option of paying, in lieu of a fast, ransom in the form of charity. However, along with this leave, it was added: “And that you fast, it is better for you.”
This command was valid in the early days of Islam when the purpose was to familiarize people to fasting. In the ayah 185, this command was abrogated for healthy people. If it is a temporary sickness or a temporary condition (such as pregnancy and nursing) then the person must fast as soon as they are out of this condition. Only those of very old age and those who suffer from a permanent illness (such as diabetes) with no hope of recovery are exempted from making up and their fidyah should be given for every day missed. This is the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu and several others among the Salaf.
Mu’adh commented, “In the beginning, those who wished, fasted and those who wished, did not fast and fed a poor person for each day.”
Al-Bukhari recorded Salamah bin Al-Akwa’ said that when the ayah:
وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ
‘…those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g., an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen [poor person] (for every day),’ was revealed, those who did not wish to fast, used to pay the Fidyah [feeding a poor person for each day they did not fast] until the following ayah (2:185) was revealed abrogating the previous ayah.
A long hadeeth from the blessed Companion, Mu’adh ibn Jabal radhiAllahu ‘anhu reported in the Musnad of Ahmad describes three changes that came in Salah [prayer] during the early period of Islam, as well as, three changes in Sawm [fasting]. The three changes brought in the commands of fasting are as follows:
- When the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam came to Madinah, he used to fast for three days in a month, and on the tenth of Muharram. Then the command to observe fasts in the month of Ramadan was revealed.
- Under the ayah 183 (fasting is prescribed for you), there was an option either to fast or to pay ransom, with a preference given to fasting. Then, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed the other ayah 185 (so whoever of you sights the month, he must observe fasts that month), which took away the option given to those who had the strength, and ordained fasting as the only alternative. However, the command remained valid for the very old who could pay ransom for fasts they missed.
- After these two changes, there was a third change. In the beginning, the permission to eat, drink and have marital intimacy after iftaar [evening meal] was valid only if one did not sleep after breaking his fast. Sleeping was taken to be an indicator of the beginning of the next fast in which, naturally, eating and drinking and marital intimacy are prohibited. Then, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed the ayah 187 (it is made lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives on the night of fasting), which made it permissible to eat, drink and have sex during the night until the break of dawn. The eating of sahoor [pre-dawn meal] soon after getting up in the early hours of dawn was declared to be the Sunnah. This is corroborated by ahadeeth in Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Daw’oud. (Ibn Katheer)
The Amount of Ransom [Fidyah]
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes in his Tafseer, the ransom of one missed fast is half sa’ of wheat, or its cost. Half sa’ is equivalent to approximately 1.632 kilograms. After finding out the correct market price of wheat, the amount should be given to a poor person which will be the ransom of one missed fast. It should be borne in mind that this amount should not be given as part of wages given to those engaged in the service of a mosque or madrasah.
Ruling 1: The amount of ransom for one fast should not be distributed between two recipients. Similarly, it is not correct to give the ransom amount for several fasts to one person on a single date. Although, some scholars permit this, yet, as a matter of precaution, it is better not to give the ransom amount of several fasts to one person on one single date. However, if someone does not observe this precaution, the ransom may be treated as valid.
Ruling 2: Should someone be in a position that he cannot even pay the due ransom, he should simply seek forgiveness from Allah through istighfar and have an intention in his heart that he would pay it when he can. (Bayan al-Qur’an)
In the end of ayah 184, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
“…if only you know.”
It highlights an importance principle. We can excel to the highest standards only if we have ilm [knowledge]. Knowledge of what? Knowledge of what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala expects from us. Therefore, there are some people that might be slacking earlier, but when they learn something they forego their past attitude and race to up their game. Similarly, many people blindly follow the societal traditions because they don’t know the truth. If we begin studying our religion and the practices of Prophet Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, we will know what is culture and what is religion. We will learn that in order for a deed to be accepted, it must conform to the Sunnah of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. We cannot worship Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala as it pleases our hearts – the deed HAS to be according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Learn your religion. If at present, Satan whispers to you that you have no time to read and understand the Qur’an, worship Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala better and perform voluntary prayers, then gain knowledge. Learn what rewards Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has promised the people of the Qur’an and students of knowledge. Learn what He promises to those who wake up in the middle of the night, while everyone else is comfortably sleeping, and yet he performs ablution and prays. Talk to the learned people who have tasted the pleasure of worshiping Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala because of the knowledge that they gained.
Remember there are two types of people when it comes to gaining knowledge. There are those who only open the Qur’an for academic arguments and those who read it to get guidance and lessons for themselves. The latter group is not interested in fasad or arguments, but rather guidance and mercy from Allah. May He make us from the latter group, aameen.
He who has gained knowledge will not be able to abandon the good habits. On the other hand, he who lacks knowledge will keep saying, “It is too difficult to study the Qur’an. I can’t do it. I am leaving.” Ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for steadfastness and do not fall in for Shaytan’s traps. Also, if you are a person who has emotional outbreaks and lacks commitment do not express your views publicly. It could be that due to you others lose their confidence as well. Seek help but do not be a mean of discouraging others.
Similarly, there might be many aspects of religion that when you are informed of them you say, “I can never do this.” But when you gain knowledge and learn why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ordained them, you humbly submit.
Now, you see how important it is to gain knowledge? We have spent twenty years in earning degrees that do not benefit us always/all the time (many people have changed careers, many married women do not work, many doctors are now holding government offices) but we do not study that which is free and will benefit us in both the worlds. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala show us our errors and allow us to fix them, aameen.
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