The office of the Shiʻa Muslim religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani has answered to the question regarding fasting the holy month of Ramadan with the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
The holy month of Ramadan is approaching, and the coronavirus continues to spread in various regions of the world. Some doctors recommend drinking water at close intervals to reduce the risk of contracting this dangerous virus. The lack of water in the body reduces its immunity and causes dryness of the throat. If the virus reaches the throat, it will then continue its way to the respiratory system. Drinking water may help in eliminating the virus by flushing it out of your mouth. In this case, is the fasting of the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims waived this year?
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate the Merciful
The necessity of fasting the month of Ramadan is an individual obligation. Every person who fulfills the conditions of obligation must fast, regardless of whether it is obligatory for others or not. If the holy month of Ramadan comes by and a Muslim fears that he may contract the virus due to fasting, even if he takes all precautionary measures, then his obligation for fasting is waived for each day in which he fears that fasting may result in him contracting the virus. However, if a Muslim is capable of lowering the risk of contracting the virus by staying at home and avoiding contact with others, by wearing a protective mask, by wearing medical gloves and through continuous sterilization and so on then he is required to fast, provided that this does not cause him extreme and extraordinary hardship.
As for what was mentioned regarding some doctors recommending to drink water throughout the day to avoid dehydration of the body and throat because this increases the possibility of infection with the coronavirus, assuming that it is true, a Muslim is still required to fast unless he fears that fasting may result in him contracting the virus, and there is no way to reduce the possibility of infection even if it may be through staying at home and taking other advanced precautions. As for others they must fast.
Note that it is possible to avoid body dehydration while fasting by eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in water such as cucumbers and watermelons before dawn. It is also possible to avoid having a dry throat by chewing sugar-free gum, provided that its parts in the mouth are not crumbling and going down the throat. Chewing gum increases salivary secretion in the mouth and it is permissible to swallow that saliva while fasting.
Thus, it appears that those who can leave work during the month of Ramadan and stay at home so that they are safe from the disease do not cease to be under the obligation to fast. As for those who cannot afford to leave their jobs for any given reason and are afraid of contracting the virus while not drinking water throughout the day and are unable to take any other measures to protect themselves from the virus, then they are not required to fast. However, it is not permitted for a Muslim to show others that they are not fasting, whether it be by eating or drinking in public.
In short, it is obligatory to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. However, this obligation is lifted if a Muslim has a legitimate excuse, such as being ill, and one who, upon medical advice, fears illness if he were to fast and cannot take precautionary measures to be safe from infection, otherwise he is required to do so, and it is not permitted for him to quit fasting.
Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatoh
17 Sha’ban 1441 A.H.
The Office of al-Sayyid al-Sistani
The Holy City of Najaf