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Various Kinds of Fasts according to Shia and Sunni Islamic Law

The five schools of Islamic law, Imami, Hanafi, Shafiʻi, Maliki and Hanbali classify fasts into four categories: Wajib, mustahabb (supererogatory), muharram (forbidden), and makruh (reprehensible).

The legists of various schools classify fasts into four categories: Wajib, mustahabb (supererogatory), muharram (forbidden), and makruh (reprehensible).

Obligatory Fasts

All the schools concur that the wajih fasts are those of the month of Ramadan, their qada’, the expiatory fasts performed as kaffarah, and those performed for fulfilling a vow. The Imamis add further two, related to the Hajj and solitude in masjid (i`tikaf). We have already dealt in some detail with the fast of Ramadan, its conditions and the things that invalidate it. Here we intend to discuss its qada’ and the kaffarah to which one who breaks it becomes liable. Other types of obligatory fasts have been discussed under the related chapters.

Qada’ of the Ramadan Fasts

  1. The schools concur that a person liable to the qada’ of Ramadan fasts is bound to perform it during the same year in which the fasts were missed by him, i.e. the period between the past and the forthcoming Ramadan. He is free to choose the days he intends to fast, excepting those days on which fasting is prohibited (their discussion will soon follow). However it is wajib upon him to immediately begin their qada’ if the days remaining for the next Ramadan are equal to the number of fasts missed in the earlier Ramadan.
  2. If one capable of performing the qada’ during the year neglects it until the next Ramadan, he should fast during the current Ramadan and then perform the qada’ of the past year and also give a kaffarah of one mudd for each day in the opinion of all the schools except the Hanafi which requires him to perform only the qada” without any kaffarah.

And if he is unable to perform the qada’–such as when his illness continues throughout the period between the first and the second Ramadan–he is neither required to perform its qada ‘ nor required to give kaffarah in the opinion of the four schools, while the Imamis say: He will not be liable to qada’ but is bound to give a mudd as kaffarah for each fast day missed.

  1. If one is capable of performing the qada’ during the year but delays it with the intention of performing it just before the second Ramadan, so that the qada’ fasts are immediately followed by the next Ramadan, and then a legitimate excuse prevents him from performing the qada’ before the arrival of Ramadan, in such a situation he will be liable only to qada’ not to kaffarah.
  2. One who breaks a Ramadan fast due to an excuse, and is capable of later performing its qada’ but fails to perform the qada ‘ during his lifetime:
  • The Imamis observe: It is wajib upon his eldest child to perform the qada’ on his behalf.
  • The Hanafis, Shafi`is and Hanbalis state: A sadaqah of a mudd for each fast missed will be given on his behalf.
  • According to the Malikis, his legal guardian (wali) will give sadaqah on his behalf if he has so provided in the will; in the absence of a will it is not wajib.
  1. In the opinion of the four schools, a person performing the qada’ of Ramadan can change his intention and break the fast both before and after midday without being liable to any kaffarah provided there is time for him to perform the qada’ later.

The Imamis observe: It is permissible for him to break this fast before midday and not later, because continuation of the fast becomes compulsory after the passing of the major part of its duration and the time of altering the niyyah also expires. Hence if he acts contrarily and breaks the fast after midday, he is liable to kaffarah by giving food to ten poor persons; if he is incapable of doing that, he will fast for three days.

Fast of Atonement (kaffarah)

The fasts of atonement are of various kinds. Among them are atonement fasts for involuntary homicide, fasts for atonement of a broken oath or vow, and atonement fasts for zihar. These atonement fasts have their own rules which are discussed in the related chapters. Here we shall discuss the rules applicable to a person fasting by way of kaffarah for not having observed the fast of Ramadan:

  • The Shafi`is, Malikis and Hanafis say: It is not permissible for a person upon whom fasting for two consecutive months has become wajib consequent to deliberately breaking a Ramadan fast to miss even a single fast during these two months, because that would break their continuity. Hence, on his missing a fast, with or without an excuse, he should fast anew for two months.
  • The Hanbalis observe: If he misses a fast due to a legitimate excuse, the continuity is not broken.
  • The Imamis state: It is sufficient for the materialization of continuity that he fast for a full month and then a day of the next month. After that he can skip days and then continue from where he had left. But if he misses a fast during the first month without any excuse, he is bound to start anew; but if it is due to a lawful excuse, such as illness or menstruation, the continuity is not broken and he/she will wait till the excuse is removed and then resume the fasts.


  • The Imamis further observe: One who is unable to fast for two months, or release a slave or feed sixty poor persons, has the option either to fast for 18 days or give whatever he can as sadaqah. If even this is not possible, he may give alms or fast to any extent possible. If none of these are possible, he should seek forgiveness from God Almighty.
  • The Shafi’is, Malikis and Hanafis state: If a person is unable to offer any form of kaffarah, he will remain liable for it until he comes to possess the capacity to offer it, and this is what the rules of the Shari’ah require.
  • The Hanbalis are of the opinion that if he is unable to give kaffarah, his liability for the same disappears, and even in the event of his becoming capable of it later, he will not be liable to anything.

The schools concur that the number of kaffarahs will be equal to the number of causes entailing it. Hence a person who breaks two fasts will have to give two kaffarahs. But if he eats, drinks or has sexual intercourse several times in a single day:

  • The Hanafis, Malikis and Shafi`is observe: The number of ka ffarahs will not increase if iftar occurs several times, irrespective of its manner.
  • The Hanbalis state: If in a single day there occur several violations entailing kaffarah, if the person gives kaffarah for the first violation of the fast before the perpetration of the second, he should offer kaffarah for the latter violation as well, but if he has not given kaffarah for the first violation before committing the second, a single kaffarah suffices.
  • According to the Imamis, if sexual intercourse is repeated a number of times in a single day, the number of kaffarahs will also increase proportionately, but if a person eats or drinks a number of times, a single kaffarah suffices.

Prohibited Fasts

All the schools except the Hanafi concur that fasting on the days of `Id al-Fitr and `Id al-Adha is prohibited (haram):

  • The Hanafis observe: Fasting on these two `Ids is makruh to the extent of being haram.
  • The Imamis say: Fasting on the days of Tashriq is prohibited only for those who are at Mina. The days of Tashriq are the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth of Dhu al-Hijjah.
  • The Shafi`is are of the opinion that fasting is not valid on the days of Tashriq both for those performing Hajj as well as others.
  • According to the Hanbalis, it is haram to fast on these days for those not performing Hajj, not for those performing it.
  • The Hanafis observe: Fasting on these days is makruh to the extent of being haram.
  • The Malikis state: It is haram to fast on the eleventh and the twelfth of Dhu al-Hijjah for those not performing Hajj, not for those performing it.

All the schools excepting the Hanafi concur that it is not valid for a woman to observe a supererogatory fast without her husband’s consent if her fast interferes with the fulfillment of any of his rights. The Hanafis observe: A woman’s fasting without the permission of her husband is makruh, not haram.

The Doubtful Days

There is consensus among the schools that imsak is obligatory upon one who does not fast on a “doubtful day” (yawm al-shakk) that later turns out to be a day of Ramadan, and he is liable to its qada’ later.

Where one fasts on a doubtful day that is later known to have been a day of Ramadan, they differ as to whether it suffices without requiring qada’:

  • The Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali schools observe: This fast will not suffice and its qada’ is wajib upon him.
  • In the opinion of the Hanafis, it suffices and does not require qada’.
  • Most Imamis state: Its qada’ is not wajib upon him, except when he had fasted with the niyyah of Ramadan.

Supererogatory (mustahabb ) Fasts

Fasting is considered mustahabb on all the days of the year except those on which it has been prohibited. But there are days whose fast has been specifically stressed and they include three days of each month, preferably the `moonlit’ days (al-‘ayyam al-bid), which are the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth of each lunar month.

Among them is the day of `Arafah (9th of Dhu al-Hijjah). Also emphasized is the fasting of the months of Rajab and Sha’ban. Fasting on Mondays and Thursdays has also been emphasized. There are other days as well which have been mentioned in elaborate works. There is consensus among all the schools that fasting on these days is mustahabb.

Reprehensible (Makruh) Fasts

It is mentioned in al-Fiqh `ala al-madhahib al-‘arba`ah that it is makruh to single out Fridays and Saturdays for fasting. So is fasting on the day of Now Ruz (21st March) in the opinion of all the schools except the Shafi`i, and fasting on the day or the two days just before the month of Ramadan.

It has been stated in Imami books on fiqh that it is makruh for a guest to fast without the permission of his host, for a child to fast without the permission of its father, and when there is doubt regarding the new moon of Dhu al-Hijjah and the consequent possibility of the day being that of `Id.

The selection taken from “fasting according to five Islamic schools of law” by Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah.

About Ali Teymoori

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