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For Whom Fasting is Mandatory?


The obligation of fasting is mandatory on a person who has fulfilled these requirements: He or she must be a Muslim, sane, must have reached puberty, must be healthy, and not in a state of travel; and for women, they must be in a state of purity (clean from menstruation and post childbirth bleeding). If a person fulfills the above prerequisites, fasting becomes valid and mandatory.

Inferring from this definition, if one of these conditions is missing, the fast will be invalid. Indeed, it may be better to analyze each category of the definition.

Not Mandatory

Non-Muslim (Kafir)

Fasting is not obligatory on a non-Muslim because he is not commanded to fast and even if he decides to fast and follows all the regulations, it will not be accepted by Allah (SWT). If he or she wants to fast the Islamic fast, he has to declare the Kalimah first, and only then will the fast be accepted. Similarly, the non-Muslim (Kafir) is not obligated to perform any Islamic duties. If he converts to Islam during the month of Ramadan, for instance, in the middle of the month, it becomes incumbent upon him to fast the remaining days. There will be no making up the days he missed before becoming Muslim.Allah (SWT) states:

"Say to the unbelievers, if they desist from unbelief, their past would be forgiven of them..." (Al-Qur'an 8:38)

If one converts to Islam during the daytime in Ramadan, say 10:00 a.m. in the morning, he or she should observe the rest of the day in fasting. That is, from 10:00 a.m. until sunset, he should not break his fast.

Insane (Majnun)

The insane or retarded person is not obligated to keep his fast because he is deprived of sanity, a key component on which religious duties depend. In a hadith related by Ali Bin Abi Talib (raa), the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said:

"The Pen that records the deeds has been lifted from three people; the insane person, until he recovers; the sleeping person, until he wakes up; and the minor, until he dreams (i.e., has wet dreams.)" (Ahmed)

This hadith indicates the fast of the insane person, for instance, is not valid because he cannot comprehend the worship, and he cannot meaningfully declare intention (niyyah), without which the acts are invalid. If he has mental relapses whereby he is healthy, and then on occasion is sick, the fast is mandatory upon him during the days and times he is healthy but not when he is unhealthy.

If he intends to fast in the morning, and he falls ill during this time, his fast is good as if he fainted as a result of illness, because he knows that he may experience an attack at certain times. If he gets well during the daytime in Ramadan, he should observe the fast the rest of the day because he is obligated to fast. However, he does not have to make up the day because his case is like that of unbeliever who becomes Muslim time or a minor he reached puberty during the day.

Minor (Sabiyy)

Similarly, the minor person is not obligated to observe fast (Sawm), because of the previous hadith related by Ali bin Abi Talib, "... And the minor until he dreams." However, it is imperative that the parents or the guardians of the juveniles or adolescents encourage and urge them to fast so they will get used to it. It will be vital training for them in their worship, because they will not have any chance for training as soon as they reach puberty.

In a hadith reported by Rubayyiah Bint Mau'awwidh (raa), the Prophet (saas) sent a messenger to the village of Ansar on the morning of Ashura to inform them:

"Whoever wakes in fasting should continue his fasting, whoever wakes up without fasting should complete his day in fasting. So we used to fast, let our young children fast, and go to the Masjid with them. When one of the children cried for food, we would make toys from wool and give them to the children until it was time to break the fast." (Bukhari and Muslim)

This hadith indicates that training minor boys and girls is highly recommended early in life, from about seven years of age for the spiritual, educational, and cultural upbringing of Muslim youth. It is the most powerful symbol of our religion.

Puberty - Boys

Puberty is known in Islamic law as al-bulugh, or Tamyeez, (coming of age as a man and woman). There are three signs of puberty (bulugh):

  1. Discharging semen as a result of wet dreams, known as inzaalul-manyyi. Allah (SWT) states: "But when the children among you come of age, let them also ask for permission, as do those senior to them in age..." (Al-Qur'an, 24-59)

    In a hadith, the Messenger of Allah (saas) said: "Friday bath (ghuslul-Jum'ah) is mandatory upon anyone who has experienced a wet dream." (Bukhari/Muslim) The point in this hadith is that Islamic obligations are not incumbent on anyone until they reach the age of bulugh.

  2. Appearance of hair around the pubic area is another sign of puberty. If a person sees that even without wet dreams, he or she has attained puberty. This may happen at the age of thirteen or fourteen, and parents should inform girls and boys about these signs.

  3. Reaching 15 years of age: When the person reaches 15, he or she is a man or a woman, and anything that is obligatory on a man or woman is obligatory on him or her from that time on.

In a hadith reported by Abdullah Bin Umar (raa), he said:

"My parents brought me to the Messenger of Allah on the eve of the Uhud Campaign and I was fourteen years old, so the Prophet (saas) did not enlist me in fighting." But a year later in the Campaign of Al-Khandaqq, I was fifteen, so this time the Prophet (saas) enlisted me in combat." (Muslim)

This hadith indicates the age of 15 is the legal age for a Muslim boy or girl to be responsible for his or her religion as well as worldly responsibilities. Some of us who reside in the western world, seem to think adulthood depends on State laws. In some states it is 18, while in others it is 19, or 21, and so on. This is a very serious mistake, as the juvenile will reach puberty (bulugh) and adulthood, but go on without observing his or her Islamic duties, such as Salat, fasting, or being restrained from that which is prohibited.

Puberty - Girls

Girls reach puberty and adulthood when they experience the above three signs. However, they have a fourth sign, that is, menstruation (hayd). Whenever a girl experiences it, she is a woman even if she is 12 years old. At that time, the Qalam, the pen of responsibilities, begins to flow and to record the deeds of the servant, good or bad. It is interesting that in the western world the case is the reverse. You see, when a juvenile reaches the age of puberty in Al-Islam he or she should be careful about anything he or she does or says. On the contrary, in the West when the person comes of age, he or she is allowed to do things which are detrimental to his or her well being.

Indeed, if puberty is attained during the days of Ramadan, say at midday, and the young person is fasting, he or she should continue his or her fasting and there will be no obligation on him or her to make up the fast. If he was not fasting, it is incumbent upon him to observe the rest of the day in fasting, because he has become an adult upon whom Islamic rites are obligatory. Girls in menstruation can't observe half day, nor should they make that half day up.


Article Contributed by: itsIslam Staff

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