Is it permissible for a person who does hard manual labor not to perform fasting? What are the excuses that makes it permissible for a person not to fast?

Details of the Question

Is it permissible for a person who does hard manual labor not to perform fasting? What are the excuses that makes it permissible for a person not to fast?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

1. To work in hard and toilsome jobs.

It is fard for man to work for his living. It is also fard to fulfill religious duties. The realization of the freedom of religion and conscience in working life and business life is determined as the duty of the employers and the right of the employees in international human rights documents. However, this right is not always fully provided even by Muslim employers. Even if it is provided, some jobs are heavy and difficult due to their nature. There are some things to ease people who face difficult conditions especially regarding fasting. 

It is not appropriate for a person to work or to be forced to work in hard jobs that will prevent him from performing his/her worship normally. It is absolutely unacceptable in terms of human rights to force a person into a dilemma to choose between performing his/her worship normally and making his/her living. If a person is left in such a case, if the society is unable to provide him with a better job and if he is unlikely to earn his living when he quits his job, it is permissible for him not to fast. If a person who has to work in a hard job temporarily is worried that his health will be harmed when he fasts, it is permissible for him not to fast. If he finds the opportunity, he can perform fasting later as qada; otherwise, he can give fidyah for each day instead of fasting.  

The excuses that render it permissible not to fast are mentioned as illness, travelling and being unable to fast in the Quran (al-Baqara 2/184-185). Fiqh scholars preferred to base the permissibility not to fast on these three causes; the common property of these three situations is hardship but they hesitated to say that it is permissible not to fast in case of all kinds of hardship. The main reason for this is the concern that those who are supposed to fast might act immoderately or in a relaxed manner while determining hardship, which is subjective and changeable, and that they will abandon fasting based on unnecessary things; that is, the concern that this permissibility might be misused. However, since fasting is a relationship of obligation between the slave and Allah, it will be an appropriate attitude for the people who are supposed to fast to use their personal initiative in the light of the excuses mentioned above, not to abandon fasting unless they feel satisfied with their excuses and to benefit from the permissibility only if they are convinced that their excuses are right and valid.

2. Hunger and thirst:

If hunger and thirst reach an extreme level and if a person is worried that he will die or lose his mind, it becomes permissible for him to break his fast. It becomes necessary for him to perform fasting one day for it after Ramadan.

On hot days, if a person who serves on behalf of the Sultan in an imaret (place where meals are given to the poor) and organizes the work is concerned about losing his health or mind, it becomes permissible for him to break his fast.

By comparison, those who work in very tiring and weary jobs in a hot season and who are concerned about their lives and mental and spiritual health, it becomes permissible for them to break their fast. (Fathul-Qadir-Kamal Ibn Humam, Celal Yıldırım, Kaynaklarıyla İslam Fıkhı, Uysal Kitabevi: 2/234)

3. Other excuses that render it permissible not to fast

We know that it is often pointed out in the Quran and hadiths that there is no obligation that is too difficult for man to do in the religion and that some conveniences and permissions are granted to people who are held responsible for religious orders in case of any difficulty and hardship. As a part of this general principle, in some cases, some people are allowed not to perform Ramadan fasting, which is fard.

Excuses (reasons) for not fasting in Ramadan are as follows in general:

Travelling: As it is stated in the Prayer section, the state of travelling (expedition) is generally troublesome and hard; therefore, some ease is in question for travelers regarding many issues. Travelers are allowed to shorten or combine prayers but not abandon them but they are allowed to abandon fasting because it is more wearisome and tiresome. (see al-Baqara 2/183-184) However, it is more virtuous for a traveler to fast if he faces no difficulty and if he is not likely to be harmed.

According to Hanafis, a person who intends to fast at night but who has to travel the next day had better complete this fasting but if he breaks it, kaffarah is not necessary.  On the other hand, Shafiis and Hanbalis say that a fasting that is intended at night can be broken if a person starts a journey acting upon the narration that the Prophet (pbuh) fasted until he arrived a place called Qadid when he was on the way to conquer Makkah and broke his fasting there. War and staying in the front line for a long time by fighting are each an excuse. Such a person should act based on the choice that is appropriate for his health and duty. 

Illness: Illness is a condition that causes some permissions to be given. Almighty Allah states in the verse mentioned at the beginning of the chapter that those who are sick can fast when they get well without mentioning any conditions. Therefore,  those who are worried that their illness will deteriorate or prolong and the ill people who will have difficulty in fasting do not have to fast and they can break the fasting they have started. It is said that a person who is likely to get sick if he fasts according to the data of the science is regarded like an ill person. 

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Women who are pregnant or who breastfeed their babies do not have to fast if they fear that they or their babies will be harmed. They are regarded as ill in a way and there are also hadiths that give them this permission. (Nasai, "Siyam", 50-51, 62, Ibn Majah, "Siyam", 3)

Old age: Our religion does not want the old people who are very weak to fast; instead, they are demanded to give fidyah enough to feed a poor person for each day that they cannot fast. It is stated in the verse mentioned at the beginning of the chapter that those who are not strong enough to fast or those who will suffer great distress if they try to fast need to give fidyah. The ill people who do not have any hope of recovery are also regarded like them. However, those who are not strong enough to fast in Ramadan but who will be able to fast in the future do not pay fidyah; they have to fast for each day they have missed. 

If a person gives fidyah due to a chronic disease that will not heal becomes strong enough later, the fidyah becomes invalid; he has to perform fasting as qada for each day he has missed.

Anyone who cannot fast because of one of these excuses listed above should not show others that he is not fasting in terms of respect to fasting, the people who fast and the month of Ramadan.  

Some scholars say that a person who is threatened to be killed or wounded if he does not break his fast in Ramadan will not be a sinner if he does not break it and on the contrary he will receive a great thawab due to being faithful to his religion; however, the view of the majority of the scholars is that it is better to break the fast. If the person who is threatened so that he will break his fast has an excuse such as being a traveler or having an illness that renders breaking the fast permissible, he will be a sinner if he does not break his fast when he is forced. (see Diyanet İslam İlmihali, Oruç Bölümü)

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