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Who is Fasting Obligatory Upon?

 From evidences in the Quran and Sunnah the person upon whom fasting is obligatory needs to meet the following conditions:

  1.  Must be a Muslim
  2.  Must be accountable (mukallaf)
  3.  Must be able to fast
  4.  Must be settled (i.e. not travelling)
  5.  There must not be any impediments to fasting 

If all the above five conditions are met, then it is obligatory for that person to fast. 

Must be a Muslim

Non-Muslims, are excluded from the first condition and only a Muslim comes under this ruling. The evidence for that is the ayah in which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“And nothing prevents their contributions from being accepted from them except that they disbelieved in Allah and in His Messenger (Muhammad) and that they came not to As-Salaah (the prayer) except in a lazy state, and that they offer not contributions but unwillingly” [Quran: Surah al-Tawbah 9: Ayah 54] 

The above ayah refers to kafirs, disbelievers, and hypocrytes, people who profess belief upon their tongues in front of Muslims, but do not believe in their hearts. Thus if their contribution is not acceptable even though it may benefits others, because of their kufr, disbelief, then other acts of worship may be even more unacceptable. When a non-Muslim accepts Islam, they do not have to make up any fasts, prayers or indeed any of the other obligations of Islam prior to their acceptance of Islam, because Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“Say to those who have disbelieved, if they cease (from disbelief), their past will be forgiven” [Quran: Surah al-Anfaal 8: Ayah 38] 

Must be accountable (mukallaf)

The person must be accountable (mukallaf). The one who is mukallaf is one who is has reached the age of puberty and is of sound mind, because a minor or one who is insane is not held accountable in Islam. Puberty is generally considered to be reached when any one of the three, or four, signs is seen:

  1. Nocturnal emissions (wet dreams)
  2. Growth of coarse hairs around the private parts
  3. Reaching the age of fifteen
  4. Menstruation - for females

The one who is of sound mind is the opposite of one is insane, which is one who has lost his mind, whether he is insane or feeble-minded. Everyone who has lost his mind, in whatever sense, is not accountable and he is not obliged to do any of the obligatory duties of Islam, be it prayer, fasting or feeding the poor; he does not have to do anything at all. 

Must be able to fast

The one who is unable to fast does not have to fast, because Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days” [Quran: Surah al-Baqarah 2: Ayah 185] 

However, being unable to fast falls into two categories: temporary inability and permanent inability. 

Temporary inability is that which is mentioned in the ayah quoted above, such as one who is sick but hopes to recover, and the traveller. These people are allowed not to fast, then they have to make up any fasts they miss. 

Permanent inability is when a person is sick and has no hope of recovery, or those who are elderly and are unable to fast, are mentioned in the ayah: 

“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)” [QuranSurah al-Baqarah 2: Ayah 184] 

As Ibn ‘Abbaas (رضی اللہ عنھا) interpreted it, it refers to the old man and old woman who are not able to fast, so they should feed one poor person for each day.

Must be settled (i.e. not travelling)

If the person is travelling then it is not obligatory for him to fast, because Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days” [QuranSurah al-Baqarah 2: Ayah 185] 

The scholars are agreed that it is permissible for a traveller not to fast. It is better for the traveller to do that which is easier. If fasting is likely to be harmful then it becomes haraam, forbidden, to fast, because Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“And do not kill yourselves (nor kill one another). Surely, Allaah is Most Merciful to you” [QuranSurah al-Nisa’ 4: Ayah 29] 

This indicates that whatever is harmful to a person is forbidden to him.

The question arises what degree of harm makes fasting haraam, forbidden? The answer is: harm may be physical, or someone advises him that fasting may harm him. With regard to physical harm, that means that the sick person feels that fasting is harming him and causing him pain, and will delay his recovery and so on.

With regard to being advised, this means that a knowledgeable and trustworthy doctor tells him that it will harm him.

There must not be any impediments to fasting

This applies specifically to women. Women who are menstruating or bleeding following childbirth should not fast, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said in a rhetorical question: “Is it not the case that when she gets her period, she does not pray or fast?” 

So she should not fast and her fast is not valid in this case, according to scholarly consensus. And she has to make up the days missed, also according to scholarly consensus.

Al-Sharh al-Mumti’, 6/330, in islamqa