Should you fast if traveling in Ramadan?
Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris al-Fasi (may Allah be pleased with him) was asked about this, and he replied:
As for the matter which you found to be problematic in the hadith, in that the Companions were traveling with him (peace and blessings be upon him) in Ramadan, and they said: “Among us are the fasting, and among us are those who are not,” and neither those fasting reproached those who were not, nor did the ones who broke their fast reproach those who were fasting (1), that was in the beginning. Then later on, it was imposed on the people to break the fast. That is what is shown in the other example when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was traveling in Ramadan, and he broke his fast, and so did some of the people, but others remained fasting. So he said about those fasting: “They are the disobedient ones! They are the disobedient ones!” (2) And he (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “It is not from piety to fast on a journey.” (3) So if it is not piety, then it is not obedience. And he (peace and blessings be upon him) said in another hadith: “The one who is fasting in travel is like he who is breaking his fast while not traveling.” (4) Therefore there is no contradiction or obscurity.
1) Muwatta and Sahih Muslim
3) Bukhari and Muslim
4) Nasa’i and Ibn Majah
Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
1) Should a traveler break his fast for a travel of a certain distance or for any distance?
He breaks his fast for everything that is called “travel.”
2) What is the illness that allows one to break their fast?
The least thing that is called “illness”, and that is the madhhab of Rab’ia bin Abi Abd ar-Rahman
[Translator’s note: That is Imam Malik’s famous Teacher ‘Rabi’a t-ur-Ra’i.’ This is also the opinion of Ibn Sirin, Imam Bukhari, and Imam Qurtubi]
3) What about the fasting of the traveler and the sick in the month of Ramadan?
My madhhab is that if they fast, then that does not fulfill what is required of them (laa yujzeehimaa) and that what is obligatory upon them is to fast on other days. Except that I differentiate between the sick and the traveler if they fast in the month of Ramadan.
As for the sick, his fasting in Ramadan is considered a nafl (extra worship), and it is an act of piety that is not obligatory upon him, even if he made it obligatory upon himself, it is not obligatory upon him.
As for the traveler, his fasting, whether in Ramadan or outside of it, is not an act of piety, and if it is not an act of piety, then the least that it could be is that it is like not doing anything at all. Or it could be the opposite of piety, which is fujoor (impiety), and I do not say that, but I do deny it being an act of piety. It has been established in the two Sahihs, Muslim and al-Bukhari, from Ibn Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “It is not from piety that you fast in travel.” And the word “from” is in the narration of Bukhari, while the narration in Muslim says, “It is not piety” without the “from.”
I, the translator and compiler of these words above, say:
The position of these two great ‘arifin and independent mujtahids on this matter is in accord with the Hanbali madhhab. The Hanbali madhhab holds that it is a Sunna for the traveler to break his fast, and makruh (disliked) for him to fast even if the fasting causes no hardship, because of the hadith of ”It is not from piety to fast in travel.”
Likewise Imam al-Awza’i said: To break the fast during travel is absolutely superior, because the Lawgiver denied the existence of any piety in fasting during travel when he said: ““It is not from piety that you fast in travel.”
The hadith quoted by Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris about the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) breaking his fast during a journey in Ramadan took place during the conquest of Mecca, which took place in Ramadan. In it the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) broke the fast during the journey, and when some people remained fasting, he said: “they are the disobedient ones, they are the disobedient ones” (Sahih Muslim and al-Tirmidhi). Commenting on this, the great Imam Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri said: “They (the Companions) used to always go by the latest actions or affairs of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him)” (Muwatta, Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim). In other words, Imam al-Zuhri is saying that this action, which took place in the Year of the Conquest, abrogated the earlier permissibility to continue fasting during travel. Ibn Hajar adds that al-Zuhri may have agreed with the Zahiris that fasting during travel simply does not count and needs to still be performed later, but there is no known narration from him to confirm this. (see Fath al-Bari).
The Explanation of “To fast is better for you” (2:184)
But what about the aya that says: “To fast is better for you” ?
It is part of an aya that, according to Ibn Kathir, discusses the fasting that was ordained upon the Muslims before the fasting of Ramadan was ordained. It was, as the aya says, “for a specific number of days“.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, as well as Abu Dawud and al-Hakim narrated from sayyidna Muadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) that this aya came down to ordain the fasting that the Muslims did before the aya of Ramadan was revealed, and the “specific number of days” were three days of each month as well as the day of ‘Ashura. And the aya said: “For those who are able to fast (but do not): the feeding of a needy person.”
Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said: “For those who are able to fast” means: with great difficulty (and therefore do not).
He said: So he who wanted to, fasted, and he who did not want to, broke the fast and fed a needy person.
Muadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “In the beginning, he who wanted to, fasted, and he who did not want to, broke his fast and fed a poor person for each day of not fasting.”
And it is about those people who broke their fast because they found it to be too difficult and chose instead to feed the needy that it said: “And to fast is better for you, if only you knew.”
Then this aya is directly followed by the aya of the fasting of Ramadan: “It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as a guidance for mankind….So those among you who witness it, let him fast therein. Whoever is sick or on a journey, then a number of other days.” (2:185)
Ibn Kathir narrates that Muadh ibn Jabal, Salama ibn al-Akwa’, Abdullah Ibn Umar and Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with them) all said that the first aya was abrogated by the the following one.
But Ibn Abbas said that it is not completely abrogated because “For those who are able to fast (but do not): the feeding of a needy person” applies to those who are very old and weak, who may choose not to fast in Ramadan.
In the aya of Ramadan, it does not add “and to fast is better for you” as it did in the previous aya. It ends with “then a number of other days.”
The Prophet (
I say: In “Whoever is sick or on a journey, then a number of other days” is evidence for the position of al-Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn Arabi that what is written for them is to fast other days outside of Ramadan, and so if they fast those days when they are sick or traveling in Ramadan, they have not fulfilled what is obligatory upon them and must still fast outside of Ramadan.
Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani stated that some of the scholars of Madina held this opinion. They said: “One must not fast during travel, and if one does, he must still fast other days instead of them because Allah says: “then a number of other days.” It is also the opinion of Ibn Hazm of the Zahiri school.
However, Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Breaking the fast when traveling is not obligatory, it is rather recommended (mustahab). If a person continues to fast then Allah (most high) will accept it from him.”
And Allah (the most sublime) knows best.