With Ramadan not too far, I thought I’d write about fasting for pregnant and breast feeding women. There are a variety of actions taken by Muslim women – some choose to fast, others don’t in Ramadan but make up the fasts later. Some pay the fidya (‘a small amount of money expiating for each fast missed’) while a minority do both (make up those fasts later and pay the fidya).
Why the different actions?
The answer is one word – ‘Scholars’.
The Muslim male dominated clergy have different opinions and for many a Muslim woman, the action she takes this Ramadan is determined by whose opinion she decides to follow.
The religion is clear on the matter.
We look first to the Qur’an for evidence. Surah Al Baqarah has verses 183 & 184.
يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَتٍ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
These translate to read – ‘ Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so you may increase in Taqwa.’ (183). ‘Fast for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, feed a Miskin (i.e.poor person). So whoever pays the fidya, it is good for him. And that you fast is GOOD (often translated as ‘better’) for you if only you knew.’ (184).
According to verse 184, there are 2 groups;
1. Those who are sick (i.e. Whose health has changed from well to unwell) and anyone travelling makes up the fasts after Ramadhan.
2. Those who would fast with difficulty. The word in Arabic ‘yuteequnahu’ (in bold above) means when you can ‘bear/tolerate something’. So these people could fast but it may harm them either immediately or in the longer term. This group pays the fidya (i.e. feed a poor person for every fast they have missed).
So, which group do pregnant and breastfeeding women fall into?
Some ‘scholars’ put breastfeeding and pregnant women into the first group because they claim it is a temporary condition so the fasts should be made up after Ramadan. Others claim it is the second group and if women feel fasting will harm them or their baby, they can miss the fasts and pay the fidya. The third faction err on the side of caution and state these women are in both groups mentioned in the verse and hence must make up the fasts and pay the fidya!
This is puzzling as there is a hadeeth from the Prophet (sallalahu alahi wa Salam) narrated by Anas bin Malik al Ka’abi which states, ‘Allah relieved the traveller from half of the prayer and relieved the pregnant woman and the suckling woman from fasting.’
Collected by Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi (who said its chain is hasan/good, and Sheikh Albanee authenticated it more recently giving it Saheeh status).
We also have evidence from the companions;
Ibn Abbas upon seeing seeing his servant girl who was pregnant/suckling said, ‘you do not observe the fasting, you pay the fidya, and you do not need to make up the fasts.’ (From Abu Dawud & cited by At Tabari in his tafseer).
Ibn Umar, when asked by his wife when pregnant, if it was possible not to fast, said ‘Do not fast. Feed a poor person for each day and do not make up the fasts’. (Ad Daraqutni).
These answer the question without any doubt. Breastfeeding and pregnant women belong in the second group. They do not fast but pay the fidya instead.
Now, going back to the verse above, English translations usually fail to convey the complete and beautiful meaning of the words which only come through in the original Arabic. The Lord is telling us there is good in both actions. Good for those who make up the fasts (due to temporary sickness or travel) AND for those who end up paying the fidya (and not fasting). One action is not better or of more value. So pregnant and breast feeding women need not feel they are missing out or pressure to fast.
This is the route we must travel to find the truth of our religion. Start at the beginning with the words of Our Lord, the Quran. Then, look to the example of the Prophet followed by the Companions as opposed to taking the opinions of those who base their views on the opinions of those before them!
Following ‘scholars’ leads to unnecessary hardship and harm (the research is there, if you’re interested) for pregnant and breast feeding women and for their babies. It leads to innovation for us all.
The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Every innovation is going astray, and every going astray will be in the Fire.” Narrated by Muslim and an-Nasaa’i.
Let us find our way back while we still can.