Who is fasting obligatory for?
Allah the Almighty states in the Holy Quran:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيْ أُنْزِلَ فِيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَى وَالْفُرْقَانِ فَمَنْ شَهِدَ مِنْكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ
“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was sent down as a guidance for mankind with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination. Therefore, whosoever of you is present [at home] in this month, let him fast therein.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.186)
During the month of Ramadan, the observance of fasts is mandatory upon every adult Muslim man and woman who is healthy, muqim (stationary, not travelling) and able to fast.
Only those have been given exemption who are sick or travelling etc. Such people can complete their fasts later. Those who are suffering from a chronic illness, are weak or a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding etc. and are incapable of fasting, as compensation during the rest of the year, can offer fidya (feeding of a poor man). This is stated in the Holy Quran by Allah the Almighty:
فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيْقُوْنَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِيْنٍ
“And whoso among you is sick or is on a journey [shall fast] the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast [only] with great difficulty is an expiation – the feeding of a poor man.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.185)
Regarding the fasting of children, it should be kept in mind that they should be trained to observe fasts through a gradual process. Owing to the atmosphere of devotion to values of faith, at a very early stage they begin to exhibit an eagerness to keep fasts, but parents should restrain young children from observing entire fasts too frequently as this can affect their growth. Children may be permitted to keep one or two fasts as a practice before they become fully mature to observe mandatory fasts.
What is the guidance for those who deliberately abstain from fasting?
Allah the Almighty states in the Holy Quran:
وَأَنْ تَصُوْمُوْا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ
“Fasting is good for you.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.185)
Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. One should be extremely cautious and watchful regarding the fasting of Ramadan. If someone consciously refrains from fasting without any excuse and cares not about the command of Allah the Almighty, they may not ever be able to make up for this mistake, even if they fast for the rest of their lives. It means every person upon whom it is mandatory to fast must take the fasting of Ramadan seriously.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,said:
“Anyone who does not fast on any of the days of Ramadan without lawful excuse or illness will never be able to ransom the loss even if he fasts for the rest of his life.” (Musnad Darimi, Baab Man aftara yauman min Ramadan muta‘amidan)
The terms “illness” or “journey” are not defined by the Holy Quran because they are left to be defined by common usage of the people and the attending circumstances. If doctors do not recommend fasting, one must refrain from fasting.
Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra states:
“In my opinion there are some people who take fasting as something trivial and leave it due to minor excuses. At times, they possess a thought that they will become sick and abstain from fasting, even though there is no excuse to quit fasting, with only the mere thought that they will become sick. One can leave fasting only in the condition that they are sick, and sick to the extent that fasting is harmful. It is unacceptable for a person experiencing a sickness which has no risk through fasting to not fast.” (Al Fazl, 11 April 1925)
What is the status of one who fasts?
Fasting spiritually elevates the status of a believer and draws the love of Allah the Almighty for His creation. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,said:
“Allah declares that each act of man is for himself, apart from fasting. Fasting is for Allah and Allah alone is its reward.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Saum)
Fasting helps a person wash away their previous sins and come closer to Allah the Almighty. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,said:
“Whoever wakes up in the middle of the night and offers prayer with the intention of reward, fulfilling the demand of belief, and fasts, their previous sins are forgiven.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab as-Saum)
Allah the Almighty begins to love that person who restrains from drinking, eating and sexual desires etc., thereby pardoning their earlier mistakes and errors, making them pure like a new born child. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him,said:
“By the Being in whose hands is the life of Muhammad! The odour from the mouth of a person fasting is much more pure and pleasant than that of kasturi [deer’s scent].” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab as-Saum)
Explaining the following verse of the Holy Quran:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيْ أُنْزِلَ فِيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ
“The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was sent down” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.186), Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas states:
“This verse indicates the greatness of the month of Ramadan. The sufis have recorded that this is a good month for the illumination of the heart. The one who observes fasts has frequent experience of visions in this month. Salat purifies the spirit and the fast illuminates the heart. The purification of the spirit means that one may be delivered from the passions of the self that incites to evil; and the illumination of the heart means that the gates of vision may be opened so that one may be able to behold God.” (Malfuzat, Vol. IV, pp. 256-257)
What renders a fast invalid?
A fast is broken by eating, drinking or conjugal relationships between a husband and wife. It is also broken by bleeding profusely, either by accident or illness, or by vomiting deliberately.
If someone accidently breaks a fast of Ramadan, there is no sin, but they will have to make up for the fast later. However, if a person mistakenly eats or drinks and immediately or after some time realises that they were fasting, then there is no sin in it.
It is stated by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him:
“Whoever forgets that they are fasting and eats or drinks, then they should still complete their fast. It is only Allah who fed him and gave him drink.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab as-Saum)
During Ramadan, if a woman’s menstrual cycle begins, she should stop fasting and make up for the missed fasts later.
The fatwa (verdict) for those who break the fast of Ramadan deliberately, being compelled by an inner desire or a sudden burst of feelings, can be found in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
It is pointed out in Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Saum that whoever breaks a fast of Ramadan on purpose must fast the one missed, plus 60 consecutive fasts. If one cannot fast, then they must feed 60 poor people, either together or separately. Or, they can feed one person for 60 days or give the required amount in money. If one cannot feed anyone, then they should beseech the mercy and blessings of Allah.