By Kashif Chaudhry
June 24, 2015
It was the October of 2005, during the
month of Ramazan, when a devastating earthquake claimed close to a hundred
thousand lives in the north of Pakistan, and injured just as many. I had the
opportunity to serve the victims of this tragedy in the Kashmiri city of Bagh.
Of the many things I vividly remember is
caring for some men and women with life-threatening injuries who refused
treatment because they were fasting. They considered it a grave sin to break
the fast. As a medical professional, this was especially frustrating for me.
Similarly, we have all come across pregnant women who suffered from
hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes but still continued to fast during the
month of Ramazan, putting at least two lives at risk.
Indeed, it is true that fasting is a
virtue. But what some Muslims don’t understand is that it no longer remains a
virtue in such extreme circumstances. In fact, as I point out below, it becomes
The Holy Quran states in chapter 2, verse
184 that fasting is not a compulsory obligation on those who suffer from
sickness or endure the hardships of travel, or find “great difficulty” for any
other reason. As, and when, these conditions of adversity change, the missed
fasts can be repaid. This is because Allah (SWT) desires ease for us, rather
than hardship. Why then do some Muslims think it is an absolute compulsion to
fast in Ramazan? Do they think they can forcibly please God, despite His
commandments to take it easy and not put their lives at risk?
We can all agree that there is no better
way to understand the commandments of Islam than to see how Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH) applied them in his own life. And it is very clear from studying his
example that he discouraged fasting during travelling and illness or at other
similar times of difficulty.
It is narrated in Sahih Muslim, for
instance, that once the Holy Prophet (PBUH) stopped while on a journey and
called for a cup of water to break his fast. He raised it to make sure everyone
saw it, and drank from it. Despite him breaking his fast, some people continued
their fast. When he was told about this, he expressed his displeasure and
stated that these people are the disobedient ones. This tradition is also
reported in the Hadith books of Jami Tirmizi and Sunan Nasai.
Another similar incident, recorded in Sahih
Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, relates to a journey during a hot summer day when
some of the Muslims chose to fast. Those fasting were so weak and dehydrated
that they could not even get up, while those who were not fasting took care of
all the work and fed the animals. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was pleased with
those who skipped the fast during the extreme heat, saying it was they who
received the reward that day.
Similar, if not worse, conditions are
prevalent right now in parts of Pakistan. It pains me immensely to read that
over 800 (and counting) people have succumbed to heat-related illnesses such as
heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I do not know how many of these were fasting,
but this tragedy has brought back memories of Kashmir. As a physician, and a
fellow Muslim, I feel this calls for some serious education and awareness.
Islam lays great emphasis on goodness and
thus prescribes prayer, fasting and charity as means to achieve spiritual
excellence. However, according to the requirements of wisdom, it also makes
exceptions to these rules. For example, the very poor accrue no sin for not
giving the Zakat (obligatory alms). In fact, they receive from these alms.
Travellers are required to cut short their prayers, with no loss in the reward
of Salat (prayer). Similarly, those in hard situations are exempted from the
requirement of fasting.
We know from numerous other authentic
traditions that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) did not hesitate to break his fast when
embarking on a journey. He emphasised that to stubbornly continuing fasting
under harsh circumstances was not an act of righteousness, but of disobedience.
During another of his journeys, the Holy
Prophet (PBUH) came across a man being protected from the sun by a number of
other men. On being told that the man was fasting, he said that it is not
righteous that one should fast on a journey. Interestingly, this narration is
cited in almost all major Hadith books – Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi
Dawud and Sunan Nasai.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is also known to
have discouraged fasting for the sick and pregnant women. No wonder he was a
mercy for mankind. At another place, he equated those who fasted during times
of hardship to those who did not fast during normal conditions – both
After this clear direction from the man who
brought this faith to mankind, how can one continue to dwell in ignorance? How
can some Muslims still believe they can please God by force, by defying his own
commandments? Do such hard-headed people think they are more ‘Muslim’ than the
Prophet (PBUH) himself?
My intention is to educate fellow Muslims
that it is perfectly in line with the teachings of Islam to not fast in extreme
circumstances. I do not intend to engage in a scholarly discussion on the
degree of travel, sickness or other hardship that is enough to exempt one from
fasting. Our bodies are unique and are the best judge of what we can bear, and
what we cannot. But what we can all agree from the example of Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH) is that those directly affected by the hot weather conditions currently
prevalent in Pakistan definitely have a legitimate reason to refrain from
Until the government does its job of
providing round the clock power and air-conditioned public shelters, those
exposed to the current heat wave – especially the children, elderly and sick –
must ensure proper hydration for themselves. And once these harsh weather
conditions change for the better, they can repay the missed number of days at a
later time. This approach is in line with the requirements of wisdom – and the
teachings of Islam.
A graduate of King Edward Medical University, Lahore and Mt Sinai
University Hospital in New York, Kashif is currently completing his Cardiology
fellowship in Boston, USA. He writes for various American newspapers and
Pakistani publications and blogs at the Huffington Post. His interests include
medicine, human rights and interfaith dialogue.