Ramadan for the Pregnant, Nursing and Elderly

You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God. Fast for a specific number of days, but if one of you is ill, or on a journey, on other days later. For those who can fast only with difficulty, there is a way to compensate- feed a needy person. But if anyone does good of his own accord, it is better for him, and fasting is better for you, if only you knew. (Q2: 183-4).

Salamah ibn al-Akwa’ (ra) said: In the days of the Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam), at first we used to have a choice in Ramadan: those who wanted to, fasted, and those who wanted to, did not fast, and compensated for it by feeding a needy person. This was the situation until the following verse was revealed:

(It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong.) So any one of you who is present that month should fast, (and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful).  [Sahih Muslim]

Imam Bukhari referred to this hadith of Salamah and one like it by Ibn Umar. He then narrated the same on the authority of the Tabi’i Ibn Abi Layla, who was told the same by several Companions (Sahih Bukhari – Kitab al-Sawm)

In his Chapter of Tafsir, for verse (2:184), Imam Bukhari narrated with his chain to Ibn Abbas (ra):

“For those who can fast only with difficulty, there is a way to compensate- feed a needy person (2:184) is not (fully) abrogated. It still applies to the elderly who cannot fast (but are neither sick nor travelling). They are to feed a needy person instead of each day.

Imam Bukhari continued to narrate that Anas ibn Malik (ra), when he got old, stopped fasting and would feed a poor person every day bread and meat. He also quoted Hasan Basri and Ibrahim Nakhai’s opinion: which is that the elderly simply feed people, but those who are pregnant or nursing, and fear for themselves or for their children, they should not fast, and then make those days up later.

However, Abu Dawud narrates with his chains in his Book of Fasting, in a section he titled: ‘Those who say [this verse] is not abrogated in relation to the elderly and pregnant’ two hadiths of Ibn Abbas:

1) Qatada said: Ikrimah told him that Ibn Abbas said: ‘It is not abrogated, and remains in the case of those who are pregnant and nursing.’

2) On the authority of Sa’id ibn Jubayr that Ibn Abbas said: ‘[This verse] was a dispensation for the elderly who can fast (with difficulty) to not fast and to feed a needy person for each day, and likewise those who are pregnant or nursing if they fear.’

Abu Dawud said: ‘Meaning, they fear for their children. In this case they do not fast, and compensate by feeding the needy (and do not have to make it up).’


Imam Tirmidhi wrote in his Jami’ (aka Sunan Tirmidhi)  that Imam Ishaq ibn Rahawayh’s madhhab was that the pregnant and nursing break the fast and feed and do not have to make up the fasts, and if they wish, they could make up the fast and not feed.


Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (ra) said in the Futuhat (v. 1, p. 623):

Section: On the Pregnant and Nursing Who Are Able to Fast Being Given a Choice Between Fasting and Not Fasting

Those who are pregnant or nursing (can) feed and they do not need to make the fasts up, as per the wording of the Quran…. Some say (the verse 2:185) abrogated the one before it, and others said it only particularised it (i.e. limited its applicability), and that is our madhhab. Therefore the ruling of the verse (2:184: on the compensation by feeding) remains with regard to those women who are pregnant or nursing if they fear for their children, and God called that ‘doing good of one’s accord.’ He did not specify the ‘good,’ and it therefore covers both feeding and fasting. Bukhari narrated regarding the verse: ‘For those who can fast only with difficulty, there is a way to compensate- feed a needy person (2:184)’: Ibn Abbas said: It is not abrogated, it is for the elderly. Abu Dawud narrated that Ibn Abbas said: It (also) remains for the pregnant and nursing.

[This position of Ibn Arabi (to feed and not make the fast up) is also that of Abdullah ibn Umar, Ibn Abbas, and Sa’id ibn Jubayr, may Allah be pleased with them all.

His position that the ‘doing good of one’s accord’ includes the feeding of the needy is also that of Ibn Abbas. Al-Bayhaqi narrated that Ibn Abbas said: ‘This verse is not abrogated. ‘If anyone does good of his own accord’ – and feeds an extra needy person – ‘it is better for him’.]

Regarding the elderly who *are not able to fast* he said in the Futuhat (v. 1 p. 617):

Some say they need to feed and some say they do not need to but it is still recommended for them to do so, and I take this second opinion. I say: The feeding of the needy was only prescribed for those (elderly) who *are able to fast* with difficulty (as the Quran states). As for those who are unable, the duty (taklif) no longer applies to them. The Sharia does not hold that one who is like that should have to feed when he is not able to fulfil the commandment. ‘God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear’ (2:286), and He did not burden it with having to feed. If He had burdened it with feeding even when it is unable to fulfil what is prescribed, then that is what we would have followed and nothing else (but He has not done so)

[Ibn Arabi’s position that they do not need to feed (but it is recommended) is that of Imam Malik]

As for Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris (may Allah be pleased with him), he said that those who are pregnant and nursing may break the fast if they fear harm for their fetus or pregnancy, but they need to both feed and make it up, and that is the opinion of Imam Shafi’i.

Related: Fasting While Traveling




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