Abu al-Darda’ (r.a) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said,
“Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.”
We are truly blessed to have had scholars throughout our history who have dedicated their lives to the preservation of this deen and made our practice of it today so easy. May Allah (s.w.t) reward them abundantly and grant them Jannatul Firdaws, ameen.
In this section we present a collection of fatawa or legal rulings that describe the position on pregnant and breastfeeding women fasting during Ramadaan. The essence of each is that pregnant and breastfeeding women are obliged to fast, unless they fear harm for themselves or their child. This rukhsa (dispensation) is based upon the hadith of Anas (r.a) where he reports that the Messenger of Allah (s.aw) said, “Verily, Allah has lifted half of the prayers and fasting from the traveller, and [fasting] from those pregnant and nursing.”2
The commentators and fuqaha have agreed that this exemption is conditioned by the inability to fast or fear of harm, which is confirmed by ahadith such as the narration in Abu Dawud from Ibn Abbas (r.a) where he limited it to “if they fear.” Imam Abu Dawud (r) explained this as meaning, “That is, if they fear for themselves or their child.” Imam Bukhari said likewise in the relevant chapter-heading in his Sahih.3
Within the Hanafi school, we quote from three texts: Mukhtasar al-Qudoori, Noor al-Idah and al-Hidaayah. ‘Umdatul-Fiqh is used to take the Hanbali position, for Shafi’i fiqh we quote from ‘Umdatul-Saalik. For Imam Malik’s opinions we rely upon his Muwatta. We close with a fatwa from Shaykh Uthaymeen and Imam Bukhari.
A renowned treatise on Hanafi fiqh written by the 11th Century scholar Imam Abul-Hasan Ahmed ibn Muhammed al-Qudoori, states:
“…and the pregnant woman and the breastfeeding woman if they fear for their children, they may break the fast and make it up, and there is no ransom for them.”
The commentary further mentions: “breastfeeding is necessary upon the mother from a religious standpoint, especially when the husband is under financial difficulty [and therefore cannot afford a wet-nurse] i.e. the make-up fast is necessary upon both women without expiation or compensation.”
Two important points arise: first, the fast can be attempted and then broken at any time if one fears harm, and second, that according to the Hanafi madhab no expiatory payment or feeding of poor people is to be offered in place of the fast.
The commentary is also important in that Imam al-Qudoori stresses the importance of breastfeeding and clarifies that if any fasts are left in Ramadaan by pregnant or breastfeeding women then these fasts need to be made up by fasting another day, one for each missed fast, outside of Ramadaan.
This is one of the early works on Hanafi fiqh, by Imam Abul-Hasan Ali ibn Abi-Bakr al-Marghinani, in which he states:
“…and the pregnant and breastfeeding women, if they fear for themselves (or their children) they should break the fast and make it up (to prevent hardship), and there is no expiation required of them (as they broke their fast with valid reason).”
This reiterates the position stated in the previous works but in the commentary to this section ‘Allama Abul-Fadl ‘Asqalaani writes: “Here what is intended by ‘breastfeeding woman’ is the wet-nurse because a mother will not break her fast if the child has a father [who can afford a wet-nurse] as fasting is compulsory upon her before breastfeeding. And Shaykh Abdul ‘Aziz (r) states that it is necessary to restrict this to a situation where the father is affluent and the child takes to a breast other than his mother’s.”
It was commonplace in the past for children to have wet-nurses, as is apparent also in the seerah of our beloved Prophet (s.a.w). ‘Allama ‘Asqalaani was therefore of the opinion that if the child’s right to breastmilk is fulfilled via a wet-nurse, the child’s mother does not fall under the category of ‘breastfeeding women’ and fasting takes precedence for her.
It should be noted here however that whilst this shows the emphasis placed on fasting by the esteemed scholar, it is not the relied upon opinion of the Hanafi madhab, as seen below.
This is a 17th Century manual on Hanafi jurisprudence written by a great scholar of the time, Imam Hasan Shurunbulali. On the topic at hand, he writes:
“…and leaving the fast is allowed for a pregnant or breastfeeding woman if she fears a loss of mind, death, or illness upon herself or her child, whether it is her own child or a child she nurses. And the ‘fear’ that is considered [genuine] is that which is based upon one’s predominant belief through past experience or on the information from a Muslim doctor who is skilled and upright.”
We can see that the reasons considered legitimate for one to leave the fast are far from minor. In everyday cases, one would need reasonable cause to be worried about getting ill or making one’s child ill, in order to warrant abandonment of the fast.
Crucially, ‘Allaama Shurunbulali qualifies what fear is and how to act upon it. He differentiates a particular type of fear – not fear about anything from anywhere, but fear that stems from one’s own first-hand experience of having fasted, such as in a previous pregnancy under the same conditions, or from one’s current attempt to fast, or fear that is justified in the opinion of an upright Muslim doctor who knows the importance of fasting in Ramadaan.
In his commentary, Maraqi al-Falah, ‘Allaama Shurunbulali further states:
“the Prophet (s.a.w) said: ‘Indeed Allah has excused for the traveller fasting, and excused half the Salaah, and (excused) for the pregnant and breastfeeding woman fasting’and whosoever has restricted [this ruling] to the [hired] wet-nurse, [that view] is rejected.” Maraqi al-Falah, Chapter on Fasting, Fasl fil ‘Awaaridh, pg. 250
Here we find that ‘Allama Shurunbulali is refuting the opinion given above from the commentary of Al-Hidayah by ‘Allama ‘Asqalaani, by stating that any breastfeeding woman whether it be the mother or the wet-nurse, may take the exemption from fasting if they fear for themselves or the child.
Said to consist of the soundest opinions of the Shafi’i madhab, this is a 14th Century text in which the great Imam Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Misri states:
“A woman who is breast-feeding a baby or is pregnant and apprehends harm to herself or her child may omit the fast and make it up later, though if she omits it because of fear (of harm) for the child alone (not for herself) then she must give 0.51 litres of food in charity for each day missed, as an expiation (in addition to making up each day).”4
Shaykh Abdul-Karim Yahya expands on this: “A pregnant or breastfeeding woman who breaks her fast because she fears an illness afflicting her (by herself or along with the child) has to make up the fast without paying an expiation… Here an illness means having or fearing a significant illness (not something like minor headache or pain), or fearing the increase or prolongation of the illness.”5
Once again this indicates that the only valid reason for a pregnant or breastfeeding woman to break her fast is due to fear of an illness for her or her child, and importantly, the illness has to be something that is not minor. Fasts can also be left if resuming fasting will prolong or worsen the illness, or delay recovery. In such cases, the fast is to be made up, and a penalty is not due if she only fears for herself, however Imam al-Shafi’i states that the ransom is necessary when a woman fears for her child [and not herself], because the breaking of the fast is of benefit to the one upon whom the fast is not necessary, and that is the child.6
Relied upon to this day as a manual of simplified Hanbali fiqh, the 12th Century text written by Imam Abdullah ibn Ahmad ibn Qudaamah sheds light upon the issue of fasting for pregnant and breastfeeding women:
“Breaking the fast is permissible in Ramadaan for four types of people… The third type is a pregnant woman and one who is breastfeeding. If they fear for themselves, they break their fast and make up for it. And if they fear for their unborn child, they break their fast and make up for it and feed one poor individual per day.”
In his commentary on this great text, Hatem al-Haj states: ‘The position of al-‘Umdah, here above, is the correct position of the Hanbali School of Fiqh’.
Imam Malik narrates in his Muwatta, expanding on his opinion, that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar was asked regarding the fast of a pregnant woman who fears for the safety of the unborn child and finds fasting difficult. He advised that she should not fast and for every fast missed feed one poor person one Mud (a measure) of barley according to the Mud (measure) of the Prophet (s.a.w).
Imam Malik further mentions that scholars are of the opinion that she has to make up the missed fasts as is mentioned in the ayah, “So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]”. They consider hers to be an illness from amongst the illnesses [mentioned in the ayah], provided she fears for the safety of her child.7
A minority opinion
Imam Abu Dawud mentions in his sunan narrating from Ibn Abbas regarding the ayah, “And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship]”:
“There is a concession for the elderly (man and woman) that they can abstain from fasting and feed in place of every fast one poor person; therefore a pregnant woman and wet nurse will fall under the same category if they fear for the child. So they are able to choose either to make up the fast or feed the poor person.” Imam Bazzaar has mentioned at the end that Ibn Abbas said to a pregnant lady, ‘You fall under the category of those who are unable to fast therefore you are able to give Fidya and no Qadha is upon you’.”8
There appears to be a similar discussion amongst Salafi scholars, as the abovementioned opinion of Ibn Abbas (r.a) was relied upon in the contemporary text “Fiqh al-Sunnah”. However, the renowned Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen is quoted thus in Fataawa al-Siyaam (p. 161):
If a pregnant woman or breastfeeding mother does not fast without an excuse, and she is strong and in good health, and is not affected by fasting, what is the ruling on that?
It is not permissible for a pregnant woman or breastfeeding woman not to fast during the day in Ramadaan unless they have an excuse. If they do not fast because they have an excuse, then they have to make up the missed fasts, because Allah says concerning one who is sick: “and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days.” [al-Baqarah 2:185]
Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers come under the same heading as those who are sick. If their excuse is that they fear for the child, then as well as making up the missed fasts, according to some scholars they also have to feed one poor person for each day missed, giving wheat, rice, dates or any other staple food. Some of the scholars said that all they have to do is make up the missed fasts, no matter what the situation, because there is no evidence in the Quran or Sunnah for giving food in this case, and the basic principle is that there is no obligation unless proof of that is established. This is the view of Abu Haneefah (may Allah have mercy on him) and it is a strong view.”
We will end with the eminent Imam Bukhari (may Allah be pleased with him), who mentions in his Saheeh, “Hasan and Ibrahim have mentioned that if a pregnant woman or wet nurse fears for her life or for the life of her unborn child she should not fast and make up the fast later.” Bukhari
1 Related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others. Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others deemed it sound (hasan) or rigorously authentic (sahih)
2 Tirmidhi 649, Abu Dawud 2056, Nasa’i 2237, Ibn Maja 1657, Ahmad 18270, with different wordings and narrations
3 Shaykh Faraz Rabbani- http://spa.qibla.com/issue_view.asp?HD=1&ID=317&CATE=6
4 As translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller in Reliance of the Traveller, Book I on Fasting, Section i1.8, pg. 113
6 Commentary on Mukhtasar al-Qudoori
7,8 Tuhfatul Ahwazi Sharh of Sunan Tirmidhi, Book of Fasting, Chapter on Breaking the fast for the pregnant and breastfeeding