What every Muslim needs to know about Ramadan

By: Bilal Abu Aisha

All praise belongs to Allah who said in His final revelation, the Qur’an: “O you who believe! Observing fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become pious.”1 And peace and blessings of Allah be upon the greatest of Messengers, Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and upon all those who pursue his path, the path of righteousness, till the Last Day. As the noble month of Ramadan draws near, it is relevant for us to look into some of the rulings associated with fasting. It is incumbent on Muslims to be aware of what Allah Most High has made permissible, and have knowledge of what He has forbidden, in order that we worship Allah with sure sightedness and clear evidence. Thus by the will of Allah be included amongst the winners of this month. By Bilal Abu Aisha

Virtues of the month of Ramadan

Allah (s.w.t) has specified the month of fasting to be the month entailing a number of specialties that signify its nobility and great virtue. From amongst the distinguishing elements is that the Qur’an was sent down in it, as Allah Most High said: “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an…”2 Also, in this month is the night of decree, which is better than a thousand months. Allah (s.w.t) said: “Verily! We have sent it down in the night of Al-Qadr (decree).”3 In this month the Shaitaans (Satans) are chained, the gates of Jahannam (Hellfire) are closed, and the gates of Jannah (Heaven) are open as per hadith Abu Hurairah in Saheeh Bukhari.

From amongst the specialties of this month also, is that Allah Most High said fasting is for Him alone: “All of the actions of the sons of Adam are multiplied…except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it…”4

Muslims in Ramadan

In Ramadan, Muslims can be categorised into one of the following groups. Firstly, there are those who await this month patiently, with increasing happiness at its advent, so you see them working diligently in varying acts of worship, performing what is obligatory, and carrying out multiple mustahab (desired) acts of worship. They do so following in the footsteps of the best of mankind, Muhammad , as has been narrated in Saheeh Bukhari.

Then there are those people who enter this month and come out in the same state as they entered, that is, without any increase in righteous actions. Indeed, the individuals of this group have forfeited an abundant and countless deal of meritorious deeds.

The third group of people are those who don’t know Allah except in this month. These people are referred to as Ramadan Muslims. When the month of Ramadan arrives you see these people bowing and prostrating, however as soon as the month comes to a halt they return to their old self. To the individual in this category we say, if Allah (s.w.t) decreed death upon you in this month, whilst you are in obedience to Allah, do you not think that you will meet Allah pleased with you? Therefore it is incumbent on you to be in complete obedience to Allah just as you were in Ramadan, so that you meet Allah in a state that pleases Him.

The next group of people are those who fast by abstaining from food and drink and not anything else, that is, they do not forbear sinful actions. The only thing these people attain from their fasting is hunger and thirst, as Prophet Muhammad informs us. We seek refuge with Allah from all types of abominable actions both in and outside of Ramadan.

Another group of people are those who transform the days of Ramadan into times of sleep, and its nights into times of entertainment. They do not build the days or nights in remembering Allah, instead they spend their nights in unlawful acts of amusements. To these people we say, fear Allah, and do not fall short from occupying yourself with the abundance of good that has been bestowed upon you, whilst you are blessed with commendable living standards and excellent health.

The final group of people includes those who do not know Allah Most High, not in Ramadan, nor outside of it. You find these individuals heedless regarding their Salaat and fasting. They abandon these pillars despite being gifted with excellent health, and then they have the audacity to declare that they are believing Muslims – laa hawla wa laa quwata illa billaahi from such immense evil.

Definition and Pillars of fasting

Linguistically speaking, fasting means to abstain from doing something. However, when the notion of fasting is used in Islamic Shari’a, it refers to abstaining from all the things that nullify fasting from the break of dawn (Fajr) till sunset (Maghreb), coupled with the intention of doing so as an act of worship. Fasting the month of Ramadan is obligatory (Fard) according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, and consensus of the scholars on every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty, is sane, and is able to fast without it acting as a threat to his/her health due to illness.

Allah (s.w.t) made it obligatory in the second year after the Prophet’s blessed migration from Makkah. He Most High said: “O you who believe! Observing fast is prescribed for you…” that is, it has been made obligatory upon you. It is also one of the five pillars of Islam. The Messenger of Allah said: “Islam has been built on five pillars…” and one of them is fasting the month of Ramadan. Therefore, whosoever denies this obligation is a disbelieving apostate according to the consensus of the scholars.

As for the first pillar of fasting, this is the intention, and the place of the intention is the heart, hence articulating the intention is something not legislated. It is mandatory to have the intention at night, that is, before the break of dawn (Fajr). This is based on the saying of Prophet Muhammad : “Whoever does not intend fasting prior to Fajr, then there is no fasting for him.”5

It is permissible to make an intention for the whole month at the first evening of Ramadan. However, some scholars have suggested it is obligatory to make an intention every night of Ramadan. On the other hand, if a person wanted to fast outside of Ramadan, that is, supererogatory fasting, it is permissible to make the intention at any point during the day. This is based on the saheeh (sound) hadith collected by Muslim whereby Aisha (r.a) narrated: “The Prophet came to visit me one day and asked, ‘Do you have anything (to eat)?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Then I am fasting.’” Even if a person intended to commence their fast moments before sunset (Maghrib), the fasting is correct. So providing none of the things that render fasting invalid are done, then the person will receive full reward, as there is nothing mentioned from the Prophet the reward commences from the time of the intention, and Allah Most High knows best.

The second pillar of fasting is abstinence; abstaining from the things that break a person’s fast from the break of dawn till sunset, along with a continued intention between these two periods. If a person made an intention to break their fast, however does not come across anything to break their fast with from food or drink until sunset, then they must make up that day after Ramadan. This is because maintaining the intention between Fajr and Maghreb is from amongst the pillars of fasting. The third and final pillar of fasting is the time. That is, one must fast during the days of Ramadan and not the nights. For whoever fasts the nights instead of the days, then their fasting is deemed defective because Allah (s.w.t) says: “…and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your fast till the nightfall…”6

Nullifiers of Fasting

To begin with, there are those things that invalidate the fasting and require the making up of that day of fasting only which are the following:

1. Eating and drinking deliberately. This is the opinion the majority of the scholars, except that Imaam Abu Hanifa (may Allah have mercy on him) and what is also the famous opinion of Imaam Maalik (may Allah have mercy on him) say in addition to the make up day, one must also pay a kaffaarah (atonement). The correct opinion and Allah Most High knows best is that of the majority, since there is nothing mentioned by the Prophet stating otherwise.

2. Induced vomiting. There is difference of opinions among the scholars as to whether or not vomiting invalidates fasting. The soundest view is as long as the vomiting is not done on a person’s own accord then the fasting remains valid. The Messenger of Allah said: “If someone had a sudden attack of vomiting, no atonement is required of him, but if he vomits intentionally he must make atonement.”7

3. Menstruation and post-natal bleeding. A woman who bleeds due to any one os these two reasons has broken her fast, even if it occurs seconds before sunset. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars.

4. Ejaculation. Regardless of whether this resulted due to the husband kissing his wife, caressing her, with his hand, or his wife’s hand. This is the opinion of the majority, except that ibn Hazm, Ash-shawkaani, and from amongst the later scholars Sheikh al-Albaani (may Allah shower them with His mercy) said no make up day is required. The correct opinion, and Allah knows best, is that of the majority. Sheikh Saabiq, author of the book Fiqh-us Sunnah said that if the sperm seeped out as a result of looking or thinking, then this does not nullify the fasting.

5. Supplements and nutritional injections or drips. These dietary intakes defeat one of the main objectives of fasting, namely, to undergo thirst and hunger.

6. The one who makes the intention that they have broken their fast even if they don’t eat or drink as previously mentioned.

7. Apostasy. If a Muslim who is fasting becomes a disbeliever, then their fasting becomes void, as Allah Most High says: “If you commit shirk (associate others in worship with Allah), then surely (all) your deeds will be in vain…”8

The only thing requires a person to make up the fasting day in addition to the kaffaarah is if a person has sexual intercourse, irrespective of whether ejaculation takes place or not. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars based on hadith Abu Hurairah (r.a) collected by both Bukhari and Muslim. The kaffaarah in respect to the one who has copulated with one’s spouse is to emancipate (set free) a slave, if she or he has one. If not, then two consecutive months of fasting must be done. If fasting two consecutive months is detrimental to one’s health then he or she is required to feed sixty needy people.

Controversial Issues

The Muslim scholars have differed regarding certain issues pertaining to fasting that have not been addressed thus far.

What must a person who does one of the things that nullify fasting, such as eating or drinking do, believing the break of dawn has not commenced, or the sun has set when they have actually taken place? The Imaams of the four schools of thought (may Allah have mercy on them) are all of the opinion the day must be compensated for by fasting another day after Ramadan.

The correct opinion (and Allah knows best) is the day needs not be made up as per the verdict of Ishaaq ibn Raahawih, ‘Urwah, Al-Hasan Al- Basri, Maajid, Daawud, ibn Hazm, ibn Taymiyyah, and others, may Allah have mercy on them. Their proof is the people during the Khilaafah of ‘Umar (r.a) broke their fast, some moments later, the sun appeared. The people asked whether they should make up this day, at which ‘Umar (r.a) responded by saying: “No, by Allah, we did not have any inclination towards a wrongful action.”9 In addition there is the hadith found in Saheeh Bukhari where Asmaa’ (r.a) said: “We broke our fast on a cloudy day during Ramadan at the time of the Messenger of Allah , then the sun appeared.”

Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah shower him with his mercy) said: “This suggests two things: firstly, it suggests that it is not recommended to delay the fasting despite the clouds until one is certain about the sunset… Secondly, it is not obligatory to make up the day, for if the Prophet had ordered them to make up that day, this would have been widely known, just as the news of the breaking of their fast was widely circulated. Hence, since we do not have any mentioning they were ordered to compensate for that day, the ruling is he did not command them to do so.10

From amongst the things the scholars differed about also is the use of nose drops, ear drops, eye drops, intravenous injections, and eye liner. A group of scholars ruled these are from amongst the nullifiers of fasting, and a person who uses any one of these must make up for that day. The correct opinion (and Allah knows best) is these things do not nullify fasting, and no compensation is required. This verdict was derived at by Abu Hanifah, Shaafi, Daawud, ibn Al-Munzir, ‘Ataa, Al- Hasan Al-Basri, An-Nakha‘i, Al- Awzaa‘i, Abi Athawr, and from amongst the companions, ibn ‘Umar, and Anas ibn Maalik. Tirmidhi said, “there is nothing authentically mentioned by the Prophet about this.” Ibn Taymiyyah gave the same ruling regarding this.

Water entering into the stomach as a result of sniffing or rinsing out of the mouth has also caused controversy amongst scholars. The correct opinion is the fasting is not broken, as this has occurred as an unintentional mistake. This is the ruling adopted by Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaaq, Abu Thawr, and it is also the opinion of sheikh Al-Qaradaawi and others. With regards to sniffing water, known as istinshaaq (douching), The Messenger of Allah said: “Exaggerate while performing istinshaaq, except when you are fasting.”11 This means that this action is considered as mukrooh (undesirable) when fasting.

Puffers used for asthma do not break the fast, according to a number of scholars. This is because it is considered as compressed gas that goes to the lungs – it is not food, and it is needed at all times, in Ramadan and other times.

Apart from what has been mentioned so far under the different factors nullifying fasting everything else a person does while fasting is either mubaah (allowable), or it is from the things that are pardoned, and Allah the Exalted knows best.

Commonly Quoted Weak Hadiths

In conclusion, there are many famous prophetic traditions circulating during this noble month that are da ‘if (weak), which should be pointed out so that people are made aware of them, and as a piece of advice.

“…A month, whereby the beginning of it is mercy, the middle of it is forgiveness, and the end of it a savior from the Hellfire…”12

“Whoever fasts Ramadan in Makkah, and performs what he is able to from qiyaam (night prayers), Allah records for him (the reward) of one hundred thousand months of Ramadan apart from it…”13

The hadith about the two women who’s fasting was broken due to gheebah (slander). Because backbiting in Islam is compared to eating at the flesh of people, it is mentioned that these two women forfeited their fasting as a result of their actions.14

“If you fast, then perform siwaak in the morning, and not in the afternoon…”15

“Whosoever does not fast one day in Ramadan without any excuse or illness, will not make up for it, even if he fasted all of his life.”16

“Do not say Ramadan, for Ramadan is a name from amongst the names of Allah, however, (you should) say the month of Ramadan.”17

“The fasting person is in a state of worship, even if he is sleeping on his bed.”18

“The sleep of the fasting person is ‘Ibaadah (worship), his silence is tasbeeh (glorification of Allah), his du ‘a (supplication) is accepted, and his sins are forgiven.”19

“If the slaves (of Allah) knew what was in Ramadan (in terms of virtues), my Ummah (nation) would have wished that it was for the whole year.”20

“Fast and you will become fitter.”21

We ask Allah Most High through His beautiful and greatest names and attributes to bless us with the strength that will enable us to remember Him, glorify Him, and extol Him throughout this sacred month and throughout our lives – Aameen. And Allah knows best! Al-Hamdu-lillaah, and peace and blessing be upon His Messenger Muhammad.


1. Al-Baqarah, 2: 18
2. Al-Baqarah, 2: 185
3. Al-Qadr, 97: 1
4. Hadith Qudsi reported by Bukhari and Muslim
5. Ahmad, ibn Hibbaan, and verified as authentic by ibn Khuzaimah
6. Al-Baqarah, 2: 187
7. Reported by the five (books of hadith)
8. Az-Zumar, 39: 65
9. collected by Al-Bayhaqi
10. see Fiqh-us Sunnah
11. Abu Dawud, Ahmad and Tirmidhi
12. Al-Silsilah al-Da ‘ifah (The Series of weak hadith) for Sheikh Albaani
13. ibid.
14. ibid.
15. ibid.
16. ibid.
17. Fatah al-Baari for ibn Hajar
18. Al-Silsilah al-Da ‘ifah - Sheikh Albaani
19. ibid.
20. ibid.
21. Related by Tabaraani, and it is weak.

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