When the doc says no to fasting: some rulings for the New Muslim
Whether it’s a temporary or permanent illness, being too sick to fast is no fun. You want to be able to fast, but it is harmful to your health, unlike other Muslims who have been blessed with good enough health.
Fasting is a big part of participating in Ramadan, but thankfully it’s not the only way you can worship God at this time. We’ll explore what else you can do during Ramadan when you can’t fast, but first let’s discover when it’s allowed to break the fast.
“Fast for a specific number of days, but if one of you is ill, or on a journey, then on other days later..” (2:184)
This is the part of the Quran that the scholars use to prove that someone who is sick does not have to fast. It means that if a person is sick enough to be exempt from fasting, they can make up those days after Ramadan when they are feeling better. But how sick do you have to be, to break your fast?
If fasting will make your sickness unbearable, then the scholars have said that it’s allowed to break your fast. After all, the Quran says “God does not burden a soul with more than it can bear” (2:186). You know yourself, and your condition, to know how much discomfort you can bear in order to be able to fast.
You might have an illness that doesn’t make fasting hard to do, but will worsen or lengthen the time that you are sick. If at least one doctor tells you that fasting will make you sicker, then it is better for you to break your fast. You can fast if you like, but it is better not to do so.
Some of you might have to take medications that are prescribed to be taken throughout the day. Break your fast while you are on these meds.
Maybe your sickness doesn’t fall under any of the above categories. Perhaps fasting doesn’t make it impossible, or you don’t have medicine to take. However, if your sickness is severe enough that breaking your fast will help you get better quicker, then you should break your fast.
Did you know you can also break your fast while you are travelling? The hardship of travel is made worse by avoiding food and drink, so the phrase from the Quran mentioned above shows us that you are exempt from fasting while you travel.
It’s really hard to break your fast. It’s a real accomplishment to make it for the whole day. But if you’ve forced yourself to the point of extreme discomfort in order to fast, then perhaps you are missing the point.
There are many benefits to participating in worship during Ramadan. The patience that is required to fast can be exercised outside of fasting, too. Practice being patience and avoid arguing, just like those who are fasting. Go out of your way to be kind to people. Recite and listen to Quran. Pray to God and use the nighttime for devotion.
If your illness is of a type that you don’t expect to ever be able to fast, then instead of fasting you can feed one person for each day that you have missed fasting. You can cook the food yourself, and feed the poor, or donate money to Islamic charities who feed the poor on your behalf.