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The Basics of Fasting

From SunniPath Answers

Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher


What are the basics of fasting according to the Shafi`i school?



In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate


The Basics of Fasting according to the Shafi’i School

(An abridged and edited version of a pamphlet written in Arabic by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed.)

1. The Ruling of Fasting Ramadan

2. Integrals

3. Recommended Measures

4. Excuses that permit one not to fast

5. Making up Missed Fasts

6. Payment

7. Expiation


Allah be praised, Lord of the Worlds.  Blessings and peace on our master Muhammad and on his folk and companions, one and all.


The following rulings about the fast should be known, applied, and taught to one’s family and whoever does not know them.


1.  The Ruling of Fasting Ramadan


Fasting Ramadan is personally obligatory for every Muslim who has reached puberty, is sane, and is able to fast.  It is not obligatory for a non-Muslim, a child, an insane person, or someone unable to fast (such as someone of advanced years or someone who is continuously [muzmin] sick).


2.  Integrals of the fast


Fasting has only two integrals: (1) the intention and (2) abstention from the nullifiers of the fast.


2.1  Integral #1: Intention


The intention is to intend to fast.  Its location is in the heart, but it is sunna to say it with the tongue.  One optimally says, “I intend to fast tomorrow as a current performance of the obligation of this year’s Ramadan for Allah Most High.”


For the obligatory fast, it is obligatory to make the intention during any part of the night (from sunset until just before dawn).  A practical way to avoid forgetting the intention is to intend to fast the following day immediately after breaking one’s fast at sunset.  Whoever forgets to make the intention, or sleeps before sunset and does not wake up until after dawn must abstain from the nullifiers during that day and then make it up after Ramadan.


For the supererogatory fast, it is permissible to delay the intention until just before the noon prayer [zuhr], provided that that one has not already done something that nullifies the fast.


It is obligatory to repeat the intention to fast for every day of Ramadan.  It is good practice to intend during its first night to fast the whole month, so that one’s fast will still be valid in the school of Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him) if one forgets the intention on a particular day.


Related Issues:


  1. It is permitted to eat, drink, and have intercourse with one’s wife after making one’s intention until just before true dawn (the second call to prayer).  Such actions do not void the intention to fast.
  2. It is valid to intend to fast while in major ritual impurity [janabah] and then perform the purificatory bath [ghusl] after dawn, although it is better to perform it before dawn.


2.2  Integral #2: Abstention from the Nullifiers


The following seven things nullify one’s fast.


2.2.1  Nullifier #1: A substance reaching the body cavity through an open orifice (substance: this excludes mere traces such as mere taste or smell without any actual substance; body cavity: like the stomach, throat, head, and inside of the ear; open orifice: like the mouth, nose, ear, and anus)


If one deliberately and willingly allows food, drink, or anything else (even if inedible) into the body cavity through one of the aforementioned orifices, and one knew that this was unlawful, one’s fast is nullified.  If one does this forgetfully, under coercion, or in ignorance of its unlawfulness, one’s fast is not thereby nullified.


Related Issues:


  1. Someone whose gums bleed must obligatorily wash his mouth thoroughly with water.  Spitting is not sufficient.
  2. It is permissible to swallow one’s saliva and one’s fast is not thereby nullified unless it is admixed with something else such as blood from the gums or food that remains in one’s mouth, in which case one invalidates one’s fast by swallowing it deliberately.
  3. The ruling of mucus and phlegm is that if one is able to spit it and take it out, it is obligatory to do so, but if it inadvertently reaches one’s body cavity and one is unable to take it out, the fast is not thereby nullified.
  4. If one rinses the mouth during ablution [wudu] without exaggeration and some water reaches the body cavity, one’s fast is not nullified.  But if one rinses the mouth for other than the ablution (such as to cool off or for cleanliness) and water reaches the body cavity, one’s fast is nullified even if one did not exaggerate.  Similarly, if one rinses the mouth during ablution and exaggerates in doing so (by gargling, for example), one’s fast will be nullified if any water reaches the body cavity.
  5. If one performs an obligatory purificatory bath [ghusl] (such as for major ritual impurity or menstruation) or a recommended one (such as for the Friday prayer) and water reaches the inside of the ears, one’s fast is not nullified.  But if one’s bath is neither obligatory nor recommended (such as to merely cool off or to remove sweat) and water reaches the inside of the ears, one’s fast is nullified.
  6. There is no harm in swallowing saliva after rinsing the mouth even if moisture from the water remains in one’s mouth and one’s fast is not nullified because it is difficult to avoid.
  7. It is permissible (although disliked) to taste food with the edge of one’s tongue, provided nothing reaches the body cavity.
  8. There is no harm in smelling food, incense, or flowers.
  9. Smoking nullifies the fast.
  10. If street dust, flour chaff, or car smoke reaches the body cavity, or if one is standing beside someone else who is smoking, one’s fast is not nullified.
  11. Nose-drops nullify the fast.  Scholars have disagreed regarding eye-drops and ear-drops and it is superior to be precautious by delaying them until after sunset for whoever is able.
  12. An anal suppository will nullify the fast so if one is able to delay it until after sunset, it is obligatory to do so.  If one needs it during the day, however, and is unable to delay it, one may take it and it is obligatory to perform a make up fast instead of that day.
  13. Scholars have disagreed whether or not the syringe nullifies the fast.  Some have said that it does not nullify it and others have said that it does, and there is mercy and ease for Muslims in their disagreement, although it is superior to delay it until after sunset if one is able to.  Whoever is unable to delay it may take it and his fast will not be nullified, in-sha’Allah.
  14. Entering a stick in order to clean the inside of the ear nullifies the fast according to the Shafi‘i school if one is aware of this ruling.  If one was unaware of it or did it forgetfully, one is excused.
  15. It is permissible to put Vicks in one’s nose or to enter into one’s nose a tube [unbubah] that has a scent that one inhales in order to open one’s air ducts.  As for opening them by inhaling a powder (such as snuff, for example), one’s fast is nullified if it reaches the body cavity.
  16. The inhaler used by asthma patients nullifies the fast because particles like drops of water come out of it and mix with his saliva, after which the patient swallows it, causing him to break his fast.


Note: It is unlawful to present food to someone if one knows that he will eat it during the day of Ramadan (and he is not excused from fasting), to buy it for him, or to sell it to him, even if the one eating is a non-Muslim or one of one’s parents, since it constitutes helping someone to commit an act of disobedience, which is unlawful.


2.2.2  Nullifier #2: Vomiting deliberately.  Deliberately inducing vomit from one’s stomach nullifies the fast.  If, however, vomit overcomes one and exits without one’s choosing, the fast is not nullified. 


2.2.3  Nullifier #3: Sexual intercourse even if there is no ejaculation.  Both the man and the woman thereby nullify their fast, provided they remembered that they were fasting.  One’s fast is not nullified by kissing and touching without intercourse unless one ejaculates (even if little). 


Related Issue: If one is having intercourse with one’s wife and dawn enters and one immediately disengages, one’s fast is valid even if one ejaculates afterwards (since its cause was permissible).  If one continues having intercourse, one’s fast is nullified even if one is unaware of the entrance of dawn.


2.2.4  Nullifier #4: Ejaculation caused by masturbation using the hand nullifies the fast even if done from behind a barrier (note that masturbation is unlawful even when one is not fasting).  As for kissing and fondling, if one fears that it will result in ejaculation, it is unlawful to do so and if one subsequently ejaculates, it nullifies the fast.  If one knows that one will not ejaculate, it is better not to engage in kissing and fondling, although they are not unlawful.


2.2.5  Nullifier #5: Menstruation or post-natal bleeding during the day of Ramadan.  The fast of a woman who begins the morning in a state of purity and then begins menstruation or post-natal bleeding is nullified.  It then becomes unlawful for her to abstain from the nullifiers with the intention of fasting.  It is not, however, unlawful if she abstains from them without intending to fast.  A woman who begins the morning in menstruation or post-natal bleeding and then becomes pure during the day is not obliged to abstain from the nullifiers for the rest of the day, although it is sunna for her to do so.


2.2.6  Nullifier #6: Insanity.  If the fasting person becomes insane during the day of Ramadan (even if only for a slight moment), his fast is nullified.


2.2.7  Nullifier #7: Unconsciousness.  Whoever is unconscious before dawn and remains unconscious until sunset, his fast for that day is invalid and it is obligatory for him to make it up.  But if one is conscious at the beginning of the day and later becomes unconscious, or if one is unconscious at the beginning of the day and later regains consciousness during it (even if only for a slight moment), one’s fast is valid.


Note:  If someone sleeps all day from dawn until sunset, his fast is valid even if he does not wake up during the day, as opposed to the one who is unconscious, as mentioned above.


2.2.8  Notes regarding the nullifiers:


  1. Whoever does one of these nullifiers forgetfully, under coercion, or in ignorance of its unlawfulness, his fast is not nullified, although ignorance of the rulings of the sacred law is not an excuse for someone who has access to scholars and muftis.
  2. It is obligatory to abstain from these nullifiers starting from true dawn.  The moment the muezzin says, the first “Allahu akbar” to signify the entrance of dawn, it becomes unlawful for someone legally responsible to perform a nullifier.  If there is food or drink in his mouth, it is obligatory for him to spit it out.  Some of the unlearned continue to eat and drink until the end of the adhan and this is a grave mistake that nullifies the fast.
  3. Whoever obstinately [muta‘addiyan] nullifies his fast through eating, drinking, or another nullifier without excuse is sinful and it is obligatory for him to abstain for the remainder of the day.  He must make up a day in place of the one he nullified, provided it did not happen through intercourse.  If he nullified it through intercourse, it is obligatory for him to make up the day he nullified and to also perform an expiation, as explained later on.
  4. Whoever eats, drinks, or has intercourse thinking it merely probable that the sun has set without attaining confidence that it actually has set, must obligatorily make up that day.  Whoever eats, drinks, or has intercourse thinking it probable that it is still nighttime and it subsequently learns that dawn had entered, his fast is nullified and he must abstain from the nullifiers of the fast for the rest of the day and make up the missed fast.  If he does not come to learn that dawn had actually entered, his fast remains valid.


3.  Recommended Measures while Fasting


  1. To hasten to break the fast once it has been established that the sun has set.  If one doubts whether or not it has set, one should not hasten to break the fast.
  2. To break the fast with three or more moist dates [rutab].  If one is unable to do so, then with dry dates [tamr] and if one is unable to do even that, then with water.  If one cannot break it with water, then it is recommended to do so with something sweet like raisins.
  3. To eat the predawn meal.  It has a great blessing in it.  It is sunna to delay it until just before dawn as long as delaying it does not result in doubt regarding the entrance of dawn.
  4. To abandon vulgar speech such as lying, backbiting, and tale-bearing.  These things are unlawful even if not fasting but they become even more so when fasting.  If someone abuses one, one should say three times, “I am fasting” (either with the tongue or in the heart).
  5. To give much charity.
  6. To break others’ fasts even if only with a sip of water.
  7. To perform much worship such as praying, learning sacred knowledge, reciting the Qur’an, making remembrance of Allah, and performing the spiritual retreat [i‘tikaf].
  8. To keep good relations with kinfolk and visit others for the sake of Allah Most High.
  9. To take a bath [ghusl] every night of Ramadan, especially if one attends the group prayer.


Warning:  Let the fasting Muslim who is avid for his religion and the pleasure of his Master beware lest he conclude his day of fasting by breaking it with smoking, having finished off his good work with an unlawful act that Allah is not pleased with.  Whoever prefers Allah, Allah will prefer him.


4.  Excuses that Permit one not to Fast


  1. Sickness during which fasting causes extreme hardship (meaning that one fears a worsening of the sickness, loss of limb, or loss of life).  If one begins the day fasting and then later becomes sick in the manner described above, it is permissible for one to break the fast.
  2. A long trip (81 km. or more), provided one begins traveling before dawn.  If one travels after dawn, one is not excused from fasting unless one experiences extreme hardship such as extreme hunger or thirst.
  3. Pregnancy or nursing when the woman fears for herself or her child.  Note that mere pregnancy without any legitimate fear of harm for herself or for her child does not excuse her from fasting.


5.  Making up Missed Fasts


All missed fasts must obligatorily be made up later on, regardless of whether they were missed with a valid excuse (such as sickness or travel) or without an excuse, except a child when he reaches puberty, an insane person when he regains sanity, an original non-Muslim when he accepts Islam, an old person who is unable to fast, and someone who is continuously sick.  These people are not obliged to make up their missed fasts.


Related Issue: If, while fasting, a child reaches puberty, a traveler ceases his travel, or a sick person recovers, it is obligatory for them to complete their fast.  If they were not fasting, it is recommended for them to abstain from the nullifiers for the remainder of the day.


6.  Payment [fidya]


Payment [fidya] is due from four:


  1. An old person who is unable to fast.
  2. Someone continuously ill.
  3. Whoever delays making up missed fasts until the following Ramadan without being excused in this delay.  Payment [fidya] is due for every year.
  4. The pregnant or nursing woman who doesn’t fast purely out of fear for her child.  If she fears purely for her own self or for both herself and her child, payment [fidya] is not due from her.


According to the Shafi‘is, payment is a handful (about 275 grams) of food from the main staple of the area, such as wheat, barley, or rice.  It can be paid to any deserving recipient of zakat. 


7.  Expiation [kaffara]


Expiation is only due on someone who deliberately and willingly has intercourse during the day of Ramadan in full knowledge of its unlawfulness when he has not already nullified that day’s fast by eating or drinking.


As for the one who merely touches his wife without actual intercourse, or has intercourse not remembering that he was fasting, or under coercion, or out of ignorance of its unlawfulness, or has already nullified his fast before intercourse by eating or drinking, he does not need to perform an expiation.


Expiation is only obligatory for the husband; it is not obligatory for the wife.  An expiation is due for every day of Ramadan that one nullifies through intercourse.


One performs the expiation by freeing a believing slave.  If unable, then one must fast for two consecutive months and if unable to do even that, then one must feed 60 people who are short of money (see Reliance, h8.11) a handful (about 275 grams) of food from the main staple of the area (such as wheat, barley, or rice).


Warning: Some newlywed youths ignorantly have intercourse during the days of Ramadan, preferring to satisfy their lusts rather than obey Allah Most High.  They should fear Allah and know that in addition to the expiation they have to perform for every fast nullified through intercourse, they are also falling into Allah’s wrath and anger during this tremendous [mu‘adhdham] month.

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