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Sawm: What Breaks the Fast?

By Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)

The following is part of Enter the Sunnah’s Fiqh Series, concise posts on various fiqh topics about why we do what we do with proofs from the primary sources in Islam according to the usool of the Hanafis.

Eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse will break the fast if not done forgetfully.

Fasting literally means to stop. While fasting, one is to stop from three things: eating, drinking and sexual intercourse. These three are allowed before and after the fasting period as specified by the Qur’an, “During the nights of fasting, sexual intercourse is lawful for you…and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn (fajr) becomes distinct from the black thread.”1

If one does any of the three on purpose, his fast is broken, he will have to make it up, and give kaffārah. Kaffārah is an expiation for having broken the fast by actual eating, drinking, or sexual intercourse. It is to fast for sixty days continuously. If one is physically unable to do so, then he or she may feed the equivalent of sixty poor people or give each of them the amount of fidya.2 This ruling comes from the incident in which a man came to the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) after having broken his fast. He was asked if he could free a slave or fast for sixty days consecutively to which he replied in the negative. He was then asked if he could feed sixty poor people.3

Anything entering the gastrointestinal tract at any point4 will break the fast and necessitate a make-up fast because it is similar to eating and drinking.5

If one is forced to take some nourishment or medicine, such as an asthma puffer to preserve one’s health, or to take something providing no nourishment to the body, such as a stone, one will not have to give kaffārah.

Intentionally inducing vomit to the extent that greater than a mouthful is vomited will break the fast and necessitate a make-up fast.

If one vomits unintentionally, his fast will not break due to our Nabi’s (Allah bless and give him peace) statement, “There is no make-up fast for the one who vomits.”6 However, if he unintentionally vomits more than a mouthful and then swallows it, his fast will break since it is similar to eating and drinking. He will have to make that day up.

If one intentionally induces vomiting to the extent that greater than a mouthful is vomited, the fast will break and he will have to make it up due to our Nabi’s (Allah bless and give him peace) statement, “If he vomits intentionally, he will make up the fast.”7

Neither of these situations necessitate a kaffārah.

Ejaculation that occurs from a purposeful action other than sexual intercourse such as from thoughts, kissing or masturbation break the fast and require a make-up because it is similar to intercourse.

A kaffārah is not required because it is not actually intercourse. Non-purposeful ejaculation such as while asleep or unconscious does not break the fast.

Note: There are many situations not clearly fitting into the outline above. For those situations, contact a scholar for the appropriate ruling.

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_____ 1 Al-Baqara 187 2 Sahīh al-Bukhārī 1937 3 From the esophagus to the anus and everything in between. 4 Musannaf ‘Abd al-Razzāq 7574: According to the Companion Ibn ‘Abbās (May Allah have mercy on him), fidya is to feed a poor person at least the equivalent of 3.5 pounds of wheat per day of missed fast. One may give money equivalent to its cost instead. 5 What is meant here is other than eating or drinking, something that nourishes the body or medicine. 6 Sunan Abī Dāwūd 2380 7 Ibid



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