Al-Baqarah · Juz 2 · Qur'an Tafseer

The Obligation of Fasting


In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 185 (Part 2)


Part 1

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “…whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan), he must observe fasts that month.” The word shahida [شَهِدَ] is derived from shuhood which means presence.

It means that is obligatory on people to see the moon of Ramadan before starting to fast. It should not be predicted from before that the month of Ramadan will begin on such-and-such date. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: Don’t fast before the month of Ramadan. Fast when you see the crescent and stop fasting when you see the crescent (of Shawaal). If you are not able to see the crescent then complete the month and make it thirty (days).

We are not allowed to keep a fast of doubt i.e. we are not sure whether the month has started or not and we fast in order to not miss a day of Ramadan. Fast of doubt is unacceptable. See the moon – if you cannot sight it complete the month up to thirty days. It is mandatory on everyone to see the moon; if the government or masjid announces it then it is acceptable. We should not get into debates regarding moon sighting. Follow the leader.

[Kitab As-Saum: the Issues of Moon Sighting]

The ayah also means that it is obligatory for the one who is present (alive) in the month of Ramadan that he fasts throughout that month. The general choice of paying ransom for not fasting, mentioned in the previous ayah, was cancelled by this sentence and fasting is now the only alternative in force. If you are healthy and able, you do not have an option to leave out Ramadan fasting.

For Ramadan fasting to be obligatory a person should be a Muslim, sane, pubescent, healthy, resident (meaning not a wayfarer) and well-purified from all impurities including those of menstruation and childbirth.

When this command came, the people thought that perhaps the excuse for the ill and traveler has been lifted, and now they too are compelled to fast. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed, “…and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number from other days.”  This indicates that the ill (including the old and menstruating women) and travelers are still exempted from fasting as mentioned in ayah 184. It is a relief from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala which should be availed. However, if a person has flu and he decides to not fast then such an excuse will not be acceptable. Not eating or drinking in such a state will not cause us to die. Only when a (God-fearing) doctor recommends that you must not fast (such as in case of diabetes or some other illness) then one can leave their fast. Similarly, if a person is traveling from Karachi to Lahore by air, then again you cannot leave your fast. The flight is only an hour long. You can easily continue your fast.

  • The ayah also teaches us that while there is an exemption in certain cases, we should not slack. Many women have successfully managed pregnancy and breastfeeding in Ramadan. Read Sister Sadaf Farooqi’s story here. Sometimes, it takes strong willpower to excel in the matters of Deen. May He make us strong Muslims, aameen. Also, try fasting voluntarily on other days of the years such as fasting on Mondays and Thursdays or fasting the three white days [Ayaam Al-Baeed] of each lunar month.

  • Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds us that the missed fasts must be compensated by making up for them in other days. For example, a menstruating woman can make up her missed fasts when she is pure. Likewise, when one recovers from the illness they can fast unless it is an illness where there is no hope for recovery. Old age should not be taken as an illness because it isn’t. It is a stage of life and we must ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for strength. However, if a person is too feeble then of course he is exempted and should not be burdened.
  • We should remember to not judge people when they appear healthy and able but do not fast. We are not aware of people’s personal conditions. Let’s leave it to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to judge.

Point to Note: If one is capable one must immediately make up his missed fasts and not wait till the next Ramadan. It is because we do not know when we will die and Ramadan fasts are obligatory that means we will be asked about them. If you have not made up your fasts then make sure you write that down in your Will, so that your family can pay a fidyah or fast on your behalf (whatever ruling applies).

[The Qur’anic View of Making Will]

Some Rulings of Fasting

Question comes: What are some rulings concerning fasting? For instance, while traveling or on a journey or while under extreme conditions?

The authentic Sunnah states that Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam traveled during the month of Ramadan for the battle for Makkah. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam marched until he reached the area of Kadid and then broke his fast and ordered those who were with him to do likewise. This was recorded in the Two Saheehs.

[How did the Prophet spend His Ramadan?]

Breaking the fast mentioned in this hadeeth was not required, for the Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum used to go out with Allah’s Messenger during the month of Ramadan, some of them would fast while some of them would not fast and neither category would criticize the others. If the command mentioned in the hadeeth required breaking the fast, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam would have criticized those who fasted. Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself sometimes fasted while traveling. For instance, it is reported in the Two Saheehs that Abu Ad-Darda’ radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “We once went with Allah’s Messenger during Ramadan while the heat was intense. One of us would place his hand on his head because of the intense heat. Only Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ‘Abdullah bin Rawahah were fasting at that time.”

We should state that observing the permission to break the fast while traveling is better, as Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said about fasting while traveling:

مَنْ أَفْطَرَ فَحَسَنٌ، وَمَنْ صَامَ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْه

“Those who did not fast have done good, and there is no harm for those who fasted.”

In another hadeeth, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

عَلَيْكُمْ بِرُخْصَةِ اللهِ الَّتِي رُخِّصَ لَكُم

“Hold to Allah’s permission that He has granted you.”

Some scholars say that the two actions are the same, as ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha narrated that Hamzah bin ‘Amr Al-Aslami said, “O Messenger of Allah! I fast a lot, should I fast while traveling?” The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

إِنْ شِئْتَ فَصُمْ، وَإِنْ شِئْتَ فَأَفْطِر

“Fast if you wish or do not fast if you wish.” [This hadeeth is in the Two Saheehs.]

It was reported that if the fast becomes difficult (while traveling), then breaking the fast is better. Jabir said that Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam saw a man who was being shaded (by other people while traveling). The Prophet asked about him and he was told that man was fasting. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

لَيْسَ مِنَ الْبِرِّ الصِّيَامُ فِي السَّفَر

“It is not a part of Birr [piety] to fast while traveling.” This was recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

[What is Al-Birr (Piety/Righteousness)?]

As for those who ignore the Sunnah and believe in their hearts that breaking the fast while traveling is disliked, they are required to break the fast and should not fast. As for making up for missed fasting days, it is not required to be consecutive. One may do so consecutively or randomly. There are ample proofs to this fact. We should mention that fasting consecutive days is only required exclusively during Ramadan. After the month of Ramadan, what is required then is to merely make up for missed days. This is why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “…the same number (should be made up) from other days.”

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

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