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The Blessed Month: Mistakes During The Day Of Fasting

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

Since it is the beginning of Ramadan, it is useful to remind ourselves of some of the important aspects of this blessed month and the unique worship that is offered in it. We will comment on a number of authentic hadiths that tell us how the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions approached this great worship. We will also learn certain aspects of the Prophet’s guidance with regard to problems people may have to face in their fasting days. We will only quote hadiths related by Imam Al-Bukhari in his Sahih, which means that they are absolutely authentic.

When the idea of mistakes taking place during the day of fasting is mentioned, most people think of eating or drinking, by mistake, through genuine forgetfulness. People may take a bite or a drink, totally oblivious of the fact that they are fasting. However, there is a different type of mistake, which may admittedly be rare, but may take place nevertheless. Hence, it is important to know what Islam says about it in order to make certain that one’s fasting is complete. The mistake to which I am referring is to end the day of fasting before sunset, the appropriate time for ending the fast. Obviously, if one knowingly ends his fast before sunset, even by a few minutes, or even less, he has not fasted. What we are speaking about is when this takes place as a result of a genuine mistake.

The answer to this point is given in a hadith reported by Hisham ibn Urwah who heard it from Fatimah on the authority of Asmaa bint Abu Bakr, herself a companion of the Prophet. She says: “We finished our fast during the lifetime of the Prophet on a cloudy day, then the sun came out again (in full view).” Hisham was asked: “Were they ordered to fast another day in compensation?” He answered: “Compensation is a must.” Ma’mar reports that he heard Hisham saying: “I do not know whether they fasted in compensation or not.”

Before explaining this hadith, it is perhaps worth mentioning that Fatimah who is mentioned in the hadith as the intermediate reporter between Hisham and Asmaa was Hisham’s cousin and wife. Asmaa was the grandmother of both of them. She was a close companion of the Prophet, not only due to her being the daughter of his closest companion. She was also Aisha’s sister, i.e. she was the Prophet’s sister-in-law.

It is understood from her statement that because of thick clouds which gathered over Madinah, people thought that the time of sunset had passed and it was already time for ending the fast. This was felt by everyone since the reference is to the Muslim community having ended the fast, not to a particular person or family. Shortly afterwards, the clouds began to clear and people were able to see the sun in full view. The Arabic statement suggests that the whole of the sun was visible. There was no doubt whatsoever about the mistake in timing. Asmaa’s statement, however, does not mention what happened as a result. Hence the question was put to Hisham, the reporter of this hadith, whether they were told to compensate for this mistake by fasting another day instead. His answer makes it clear that compensation is required.

However, there is an addition of another report attributed to Ma’mar which quotes Hisham expressing his lack of knowledge on whether the companions of the Prophet fasted a day instead or not. These two reports seem to contradict each other. In one of them, Hisham is quoted as giving a clear verdict that compensation is required. In the other, he does not know whether the companions of the Prophet compensated for that day or not. It is easy, however, to remove this contradiction by saying that Hisham’s verdict requiring compensation is based on other reports or hadiths which he had learned. His doubt about the compensation in the second report applies only to this particular case.

Having said that, it should be added that the question itself is debatable, with some scholars having the view that compensation is required, while others maintaining that it is not. The argument of those who do not require compensation is based on the fact that ending the fast took place by genuine mistake. The Prophet states clearly that Muslims are not accountable for what they do by genuine mistake. Since those people who ended their fast had no intention whatsoever of breaking their fast before time, and they genuinely believed that they were finishing the day of fasting on time, then their fasting is acceptable.

Those who argue that compensation is required feel that whatever the reason, the fasting was not complete. This was seen by all to be the case when the sun appeared in full view sometime later. Since it became a certainty that the day of fasting was not completed, compensation for it was required. Obviously, there is no blame attached to any of the Prophet’s companions for having ended the fast early on that day. Similarly, anyone who finishes his fasting before time, through a genuine mistake, remains free of blame. This may happen in a variety of ways such as in the case of a person who goes to sleep during the day and wakes up not knowing what time it is. If the day is overcast, he may genuinely believe that it is already nighttime and he may finish his fasting. If he later discovers that he has ended his fast too early, then he is in the same position in which the companions of the Prophet found themselves on that particular occasion related by Asmaa. If one has to balance between the two views and their arguments, one is bound to say that it is much preferable to compensate for such a mistake by fasting on another day. This gives him the reward of fasting the full number of days, in addition to a reward for his intention to make his worship of fasting complete.

As for the other, more common type of mistake, which involves eating or drinking in a moment of forgetfulness, when one totally forgets that he is fasting, the unanimous opinion of all scholars is that such a mistake does not affect the validity of fasting in anyway. The Prophet describes the person who makes such a genuine mistake as one who “has been given food or drink by God.” This makes the food or drink taken a gift from God. When God grants someone a gift, He does not question him about using it. The person concerned should simply rinse his mouth and continue fasting till the end of the day. Needless to say, this must take place in a moment of total forgetfulness, i.e. through a genuine mistake. If there is any suspicion that at the time of eating or drinking, the person was even very slightly aware that he was fasting, then the case is totally different. It is then a case of knowingly ending the fast before time, which is a very grave sin. In such a case, genuine repentance is required before compensation may be offered.

 

 

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