Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 184 & 185
Verses 184 & 185
For a specified number of days. But any of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days. But for those who can manage to fast with some hardship, there is redemption by feeding a person in poverty. Yet better it is for him who volunteers greater good, and that you should fast is better for you, if you only knew.
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 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.
(Chapter 2, Verses 184 and 185)
The ‘specified number of days’ mentioned in the first verse is clarified in the second where the lunar month of Ramadan is assigned as the month of fasting. Allah –the All-merciful- is well aware of the circumstances that may make fasting difficult or burdensome. Thus, He has prescribed exemptions to address these situations. These exemptions were clear and specific: Travel or Illness. This clarity suggests that you should not make up your own rules regarding when it is ok for you to fast or not. Be mindful that there are some people who claim that some religious obligations are too much of a burden for them. They point to verses such as this one as an excuse to their shortcomings and procrastination. God says in the 286th verse of ‘The Cow’:
God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear: each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad- (02:286)
Some people misinterpret this verse for their own benefit. They think that it is up to them to decide what they can bear and what they are not able to do. When they are faced with a religious obligation that they like, they do it. When they are faced with a religious duty that is tough or inconvenient, such as fasting long summer days, they say we are not obligated to do it because 'God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.' In other words, they want to be the judge of which of God’s commands applies to them. The truth is exactly the opposite; Allah is the best judge and has absolute knowledge of what you and I are able to do. So, when Allah assigns a duty to you, then rest assured that it is well within your ability because ' God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.' So, do not excuse yourself from fasting because you think that in this modern and fast paced world you are too busy, or your job does not allow you to skip meals. Keep in mind that these duties have been assigned by Allah. He is well aware of what all generations from the time of Adam until the Day of Judgment are capable of doing. In fact, the evidence of God’s mercy and knowledge is clear in the verses under study; God says: “So anyone of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up by fasting on other days later.” The word ‘ill’ is not specific; therefore, one must consult a physician who is aware of the requirements of fasting in order to determine if fasting will negatively affect health. If the disease is chronic and the patient will never be able to make-up missed fasting days, then in such case he or she will be can make-up for fasting by feeding the poor.
Likewise, Allah permitted skipping the fast during travel. This is because of what travellers face of hardship and the need to acclimate to a new place, new people, and new time zones. Even if you travel to somewhere familiar that you have been to before; the conditions and people you have to work with are often different. Here again, there are some who argue that travel in our time is totally different from those in the olden days. We have cars, planes, and comfortable hotel accommodations. Sadly, those who argue about fasting during travel want to prevent people from skipping the fast. In other words, they want to disallow what Allah, the all merciful, had permitted. We answer that God’s legislation of permits makes them legal religious obligations. Allah says: “And whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days” indicating that travelling is enough reason for not fasting regardless of hardship. Moreover, our travels for business and through time zones present their own challenges that were not present in the olden days. Jabir narrated that prophet Muhammad saw a man who was being helped and shaded by other people while travelling. The Prophet asked about him, and was told that the man needed help because he was fasting. The Prophet –peace be upon him- said: “It is not a part of piety to fast while travelling”
Allah does not want you to fast while travelling. It is true that He did not say ‘do not fast,’ but He made mere travel or illness as excuses for not fasting. The Prophet (peace be upon him) set an example for us. He prohibited fasting on the day of Eid al Fitr –the first day of celebration at the end of Ramadan-. It is a day that brings the joy of getting together with your fellow Muslims to celebrate the end of fasting. Therefore, it is a sin to fast on the first day of Eid, but permissible on the second.
A person may argue that he or she does not want to skip fasting during the month of Ramadan –even if sick or travelling- because the days of Ramadan are blessed and special. Ramadan, after all, is the month in which the Quran was revealed. We answer that: Yes, the days of Ramadan are blessed and honoured with the revelation of the Quran; However, Allah who revealed the Quran and prescribed fasting is the One who granted us permission to break the fast due to illness or travel. He ordered us to make up fasting on days other than Ramadan. Allah is the Merciful, the All-capable, will reward you for the days you make up the fast just as He rewards you for the special and blessed days of Ramadan. Moreover, the phrase ‘and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up days by fasting on other days later’ did not specify whether the person was fasting or not, rather, the verse stated that whoever is travelling or ill should make up the days regardless.