If someone puts me in their will as a bequest [waṣiyyah], can I make a bequest with that wealth to someone else in case I die first?

In the of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Summary: No, because you do not own that money yet, and if you die first, that wealth would never have belonged to you at all.

It is allowed, and in some cases, recommended, to leave wealth to a specified person, or cause, after your death. This is known as a bequest [waṣiyyah]. You may not leave a bequest to someone who will already inherit according to Islamic guidelines, such as your children or parents, since that would unfairly increase the shares of specific individuals who are inheriting. Also, the bequest must not be more than 1/3rd of your property, so that the inheritors like children and parents are not deprived of your wealth [estate]. For example, Umar may decide to leave 10% of his wealth after his death to his best friend Ali, since he always helped him throughout his life.
Wealth from inheritance only transfers after the death of a person. For example, in the above scenario, if Umar already wrote the bequest for Ali in his will, that wealth will not belong to Ali until Umar actually dies. If Ali dies prior to Umar, the bequest of Umar is void. So if Ali wanted that wealth to go to his own mother, in case he died first, he cannot write a bequest to that effect, since you cannot transact with wealth that does not belong to you. However, Ali may request that Umar write in his will that if Ali dies first then the wealth will go to his mother. It is Umar’s decision whether to honor that request or not.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar
California Islamic University
Fullerton, CA – USA – 2018

Do I Have to Pray Jumʿah [the Friday Prayer] if Eid is on Friday?

Summarized Answer

The majority of Muslim scholars said that Friday Prayer is still mandatory for people who have performed Eid Prayer on the same day. They argued that only people living in isolated areas [who are normally exempted from attending the Friday prayer] coming from out of town to attend the Eid prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer. This is the opinion of Imams Abū Ḥanīfah, Mālik, ash-Shāfiʿī, and several other scholars.

Nonetheless, there are some scholars who have posited that those who prayed the Eid Prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer when both fall on the same day. Therefore, anyone who skips the prayer should not be blamed since they are following a respectable scholarly opinion. To understand the issue in detail, see the Appendix.

 

Appendix

Muslims scholars have differed over whether or not Friday Prayer remains obligatory on Eid day. This results from different approaches to dealing with the prophetic reports on the issue. There are four main pieces of evidence which broadly result in two opinions about how to understand them.

A: The verse of the Qur’an stipulates that Friday prayer is an obligation: “You who believe: When the Prayer is called for Friday, hasten toward the remembrance of Allah and leave your business. That is better for you, if only you knew.”[1]

B: There is a report that the third khalīfah, Uthmān ibn ʿAffān, gave permission for some people to skip the prayer: “…then I witnessed the ʿĪd with Uthmān ibn ʿAffān, and that was on Friday. He prayed before the sermon [khutbah], then gave a speech and said: ‘People. This is a day where two ʿĪds have fallen on the same day. So whoever from amongst the people of the outskirts[2] of Madinah wants to wait for the Friday Prayer, they may; and whoever wants to return [home], I have given them permission.”[3]

C: There are reports that the Prophet allowed people to skip the ʿĪd prayer.

  • Zayd ibn Arqam reported that the Prophet performed the ʿĪd prayers early in the day but then offered an exemption for Friday prayer and said, “Whoever wants to may pray it.”[4]
  • “Two ʿĪds were on the same day during the time of Ibn al-Zubayr [a Companion]. He delayed people from coming out until the daylight had spread. When he came out and gave a sermon, he made it long. Then he descended and prayed but the people did not pray the Friday Prayer on that day. This was then mentioned to Ibn ʿAbbās who said: ‘He has acted according to the Sunnah [the way of the Prophet].’”[5]
  • Abū Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said, “Two ʿĪds have synchronized together on this day, so whoever prefers, it may suffice for Friday prayer. We will soon gather.”[6]

D: There is a report that the Prophet himself performed the Friday prayer on ʿĪd day: “The Prophet used to read surah al-Aʿlā and al-Ghāshiyah in the two ʿĪd Prayers and the Friday Prayer. When the day of ʿĪd and Friday would come together on the same day he would still read both of them in both prayers.”[7]

The opinion of Abū Ḥanīfah[8], Mālik[9], and ash-Shāfiʿī[10] is that only people living in isolated areas [who are normally exempted from attending the Friday prayer] coming from out of town to attend the ʿĪd prayer are exempted from the Friday Prayer.

Their reasoning is:

  • Verse A cannot be overridden by any report which indicates something different unless it is of the highest authenticity. It must also be reported by several different people because this is not something that would only be heard/observed by one or two people only.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any rational reason why one obligation should be dropped due to another being performed. This is similar to the way people must still pray Ẓuhr after praying ʿĪd.[11]
  • Report B indicates that the leader of the Muslims exempted only a specific group of people [who normally don’t need to pray the Friday prayer because they don’t live in a city] and none of the Companions objected to his decision. This implies they understood that it was in line with the practice of the Prophet.
  • Evidence C may be general in wording but should be understood as being confined to a specific group of people based on the other evidence.
  • Much of evidence C is of doubtful authenticity.
  • Report D indicates that the Prophet himself prayed it and he obviously had other people with him.

The opinion of Aḥmad ibn Hanbal[12], Ibn Taymiyyah[13], and ash-Shawkānī is that whoever performed the Eid prayer is exempted from the Friday prayer[14], but must still pray Ẓuhr.

Their reasoning is:

  • Evidence C is sufficiently authentic to prove that the Prophet made an exception to the rule in order to make life easier for the Muslims.
  • The sermon for Friday prayer is an addition to the prayer of Ẓuhr. Since one set of sermons was already heard, there is no need for another set later in the day.
  • Friday prayer is a type of ʿĪd and there is no need for two of them in one day. When two acts of worship of the same genre combine together, one of them drops, the way wuḍū’ is not needed when taking a bath [ghusl].[15]

[1] Qur’an 62:9.

[2] The word used is “al-ʿawālī” which refers to people living about one or two miles from the mosque in Madinah. See al-Laknawī, ʿAbdul Ḥayy, al-Taʿlīq al-Mumajjad.

[3] Bukhārī 7:103 #5572, Muwaṭṭa’ 2:249 #613.

[4] Abū Dāwūd 1:281 #1070, Al-Nasā`ī 3:194 #1591. Scholars differed over the authenticity of this report.

[5] Al-Nasā`ī 3:194 #1592.

[6] Abū Dā`ūd 1:281 #1073. Scholars differed over the authenticity of this report.

[7] Muslim 2:598 #878, Nasā`ī 3:112 #1424.

[8] Al-Shaybānī, Muḥammad, al-Muwatta’.

[9] Ḥāshiyah al-Dassūqī 1:391.

[10] Nawawi, al-Majmūʿ.

[11] Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī 2:265.

[12] Ibn Qudāmah, al-Kāfī fī Fiqh al-Imām Aḥmad 1:338, Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī 2:265.

[13] Majmū’ Fatāwā Ibn Taymiyyah 24:211-213.

[14] With the exception of the imām, unless no one shows up.

[15] Majmūʿ Fatāwā Ibn Taymiyyah 24:211.

The Month of Dhul Hijjah – What a Muslim Should Do

What is Dhul Hijjah
Dhul Hijjah is the name of the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar. It starts tomorrow on Wednesday August 23, 2017. It literally means: “the time of Hajj”.

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and constitutes the pilgrimage to Makkah, which every Muslim must perform at least once in their lifetime, if they are able to undertake it. That is what makes this month so special: it is the month in which the Pilgrimage takes place.

The First Ten Days
The first ten days are considered to be special in Islam. Allah created time, and made some times to be better than others, where rewards are multiplied. This encourages people to do more good deeds and renew their zeal to worship Allah. It is similar to a farmer who works extra hard to plant crops during certain seasons, because those times of the year will yield better results. The Prophet said regarding Dhul Ḥijjah, “There are no other days in which actions are better than in these ten days.”[1]

Therefore, it is recommended to increase in good deeds. Fast on as many of these days as possible, like the Prophet Muhammad did.[2] Pray in the masjid more often. Read more Qur’an, and reflect on it. Give more charity. Visit people who are sick. Be extra careful not to gossip, use profanity, or insult others.

Technically, the tenth day is the day of Eid, which is a celebration. It is not allowed to fast on this day. So when ‘ten days’ are mentioned, it actually means the first nine days of the month.

Cutting Hair and Nails
Some scholars hold that a person should not cut their nails or hair during these first ten days of Dhul Ḥijjah. That is because of the report that the Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever sights the crescent for the month of Dhul Ḥijjah and intends to sacrifice an animal should cut neither his hair nor his nails.”[3] Imam Nawawī says that the wisdom behind this could be that a person who is offering a sacrifice wants to resemble a person performing Hajj since it is about sacrifice, so they refrain from cutting the hair and nails to further the resemblance [since pilgrims to Makkah are also not allowed to cut].[4]

However, there is another report about the Prophet by his wife ʿĀ’ishah that: “…the Prophet sent a sacrificial animal to the Kaʿbah [while residing at Madīnah] but did not abstain from anything [that a person performing Ḥajj would abstain from]…”[5] This report led many scholars to say that it is perfectly fine to cut one’s hair and nails during these days. This is the opinion that I lean towards. See Appendix below for a more detailed discussion about why scholars have differed on this issue.

Fast on the 9th Day
The 9th day of this month is called “the day of ʿArafah” because that is the day the pilgrims performing Hajj gather in the plain of ʿArafah, just outside Makkah. This year, it will take place on Thursday, August 31, 2017. It is highly recommended for people who are not performing Hajj to fast on this day. This is a special fast that the Prophet Muhammad said: “Fasting on the day of ʿArafah is an expiation for the preceding year and the following year.”[6] This meant that the fast is so rewarded that it helps to absolve a person of some of the sins they committed in the past and might do in the future.

So, one day before the Eid celebration, make sure to fast.

Summarized Table of What to Do this Month
1st-8th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Aug 23-30] Recommended to fast and do good deeds
9th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Aug 31] Highly recommended to fast
10th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Sep 1] Eid prayer and animal sacrifice
Appendix
Muslims scholars have differed over whether or not there are any restrictions on cutting the nails or hair during the first ten days of Dhul Ḥijjah. This results from different approaches to dealing with the prophetic reports on the issue. There are two main pieces of evidence which result in three different opinions about how to understand them.

A: The prophetic report narrated by Umm Salamah states: “Whoever sights the crescent for the month of Dhul Ḥijjah and intends to sacrifice an animal should cut neither his hair nor his nails.”[7]

B: The prophetic report narrated by ʿĀ’ishah that: “…the Prophet sent a sacrificial animal to the Kaʿbah [while residing at Madīnah] but did not abstain from anything [that a person performing Ḥajj would abstain from]…”[8]

The first opinion is to affirm that both reports are equally authentic. Report A should be taken in its literal sense, but report B should be confined to only those who send a sacrificial animal, not those who sacrifice an animal within their own city.[9] The scholars who took this approach and said cutting nails and hair is forbidden for a person who intends to slaughter are Aḥmad ibn Ḥambal, Ibn Ḥazm, and Ṭaḥāwī [of the Ḥanafī school].[10]

The second opinion is to affirm both reports as equally authentic and that they are addressing the exact same issue, but understand that report A should not be taken literally as a prohibition, but rather as something disliked. The scholars who took this approach are ash-Shāfiʿī and some of Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s students [such as Abū Yaʿlā].[11]

The third opinion is to prefer report B over report A, because it is of a higher standard of authenticity. Report A is also dismissed since it is contrary to analogy [qiyās] because if a person was supposed to refrain from cutting their nails and hair, they should have also been instructed to refrain from certain clothing, perfume, and intimacy, because that is what people who are performing Hajj must also do.[12] The scholars who took this approach and said there is nothing wrong with cutting the hair or nails are Abū Ḥanīfah and his students, Mālik and his students, and Sufyān al-Thawrī.[13]

[1] Al-Bukhārī
[2] “Allah’s messenger used to fast the [first] nine days of Dhul Ḥijjah…” Abū Dāwūd
[3] Muslim 3:1565, Abū Dā’ūd 3:94, Tirmidhī 4:102, Nasā’ī 7:211.
[4] Sharḥ al-Nawawī ʿalā Muslim 13:138-139. Al-Nawawī mentioned another possible reason as well which I prefer not to mention here.
[5] Bukhārī 7:102, Muslim 2:957.
[6] Muslim
[7] Muslim 3:1565, Abū Dā’ūd 3:94, Tirmidhī 4:102, Nasā’ī 7:211.
[8] Bukhārī 7:102, Muslim 2:957.
[9] `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:346, al-Istidhkār 4:84.
[10] al-Tirmidhī 4:102, Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār 14:141-143.
[11] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:346.
[12] `Awn al-Maʿbūd wa Ḥāshiyah ibn al-Qayyim ʿalā Sunan Abī Dāwūd 7:347.
[13] Tuḥfah al-Aḥwadhī 5:99-100, al-Istidhkār 4:84.

Zakah on Access Restricted Investments Like 401(k)s and IRAs

History

In 1978 U.S. Congress passed a Revenue Act which included a provision that allowed employees to avoid being taxed on a portion of income that they decide to receive as deferred compensation, rather than direct pay. The provision was Internal Revenue Code Sec. 401(k). Today, 94% of private employers offer 401(k) plans.

A 401(k) plan is a retirement account that you can only access through an employer. You contribute a portion of your salary to the plan, and if you choose to put that contribution in a traditional 401(k), it isn’t taxed until you withdraw the money, allowing your investments to grow over time without being taxed. (Note: You will pay penalties if you take out the money before a set retirement age, as defined by the plan.) And, as an added bonus, many employers will match some of your contributions.

Traditional IRA – contributions are often tax-deductible (often simplified as “money is deposited before tax” or “contributions are made with pre-tax assets”), all transactions and earnings within the IRA have no tax impact, and withdrawals at retirement are taxed as income (except for those portions of the withdrawal corresponding to contributions that were not deducted).It was introduced with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and made popular with the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981.

These are popular investments vehicles due to the tax advantages, but also place access restrictions and penalties on a person’s wealth. These tax shelters are usually created by the government to promote a certain desirable behavior, usually a long term investment for retirement so that people do not rely on the government when they are advanced in age.

Fundamentals of Zakah

Zakah is due on wealth that is liable to increase such as cash and sellable goods. It is exempted from personal items such as clothing, vehicles, etc, regardless of how much it may be. The reason behind this is because it is not liable to increase. For example, Muhammad has a personal research library containing $5000 worth of books and tools that he uses to landscape his backyard that are worth $5000. Even though he could sell these items in case he needed to, he has no intention to sell them and owns them in order to use them, thus they are not liable to increase in value due to the state they are in. Ali, on the other hand, owns a store in which he sells both books and tools. Assuming that he had $5000 worth of books in his store and $5000 worth of tools, he would have to pay Zakah on these items because this wealth is liable to increase. The difference between the two scenarios is that Ali purchased these items with the intention to resell them at a profit. Once he sells them, his product will convert to cash, which is zakatable, and most likely he will use that money to purchase more goods for sale. By buying products and selling at a profit, his wealth increases, whereas Muhammad’s books and tools are not intrinsically liable to increase in this way.

Another scenario which highlights financial decisions by individuals is the case of purchasing a car versus leasing one. Uthman and Zayd both have $20,000 each and want to get new cars. Uthman uses his $20,000 to buy a car but Zayd leases the same type of car for $2,000 per year for five years. When Zakah becomes due Uthman will not have to pay on the value of his car but Zayd will pay on the remaining cash every year from the original $20,000 he had, after his lease payments were made. After two years, Uthman could probably sell his car for $16,000 cash. If he did so, he would have to pay Zakah on that cash, but if he does not, then he does not need to pay Zakah. The reason why Zayd, who had originally had the same amount of money and now has the same type of car, has to pay Zakah and why Uthman does not is because Zayd’s cash is [potentially] productive, meaning he can invest it, whereas Uthman cannot because his wealth is stuck in the car he is using for personal reasons.

Investments are like Trade Goods

Many people will purchase something and hold that asset with the hope it will appreciate over time and they will be able to resell it at a profit. Even though they may not have the intention to sell it immediately, their primary purpose is for eventual resale. For example, Hasan purchases a vintage Ferrari vehicle for $100,000 and intends to keep it in storage for five years. He hopes that its value will double over those five years. Since his intention to purchase it was primarily for eventual resale, he will evaluate the market value of the vehicle every year and pay Zakah on it. This is because he would most likely be able to sell it at that market value on any given year.

Tax Shelters, Zakah Shelters, and Intention

When investing, a wise person considers choosing investments that result in the least amount of taxes possible. Taxes are paid to the government and utilizing tax shelters are generally not viewed as being unethical as long as they are legal. These tax shelters are usually created by the government to promote a certain desirable behavior, usually a long term investment.

Sometimes there is a fine line between a purchase being considered an investment or for personal use. In such a case, the intention of the individual, and cultural context, will determine whether Zakāh is due on something or not. For example, Mustafa buys a rare comic book for $50, even though the cover price of the comic was originally $2.50. He bought it because it is his favorite comic book story and has no intention to sell it, and it is common for people in his community to pay high prices for a good story, therefore Zakāh is not due on it. Eventually, he gifts this comic book to his friend Umar, who is not interested in the book itself but keeps it hoping to sell it one day because its value is increasing. Since Umar had the intention of investment, he must pay Zakāh on it.

Items are deemed to be for ‘personal use’ according to the intention of the owner. If someone purchases items mainly with the intention to escape paying Zakāh, they will be responsible in front of Allah on the Day of Judgment. For example, if Hasan wanted to evade paying Zakāh on the extra cash he owns he might think of buying diamonds and store them under the guise of ‘personal use’. However, in reality, his intention for buying them was to avoid paying Zakāh on his excess cash because he knows he could sell them at any time and convert them back into cash. Since his real intention is to sell them whenever he feels the need, they are considered investments or business assets and he must pay Zakāh on them. Maryam, on the other hand, buys some emeralds and rubies to use as decorations in her room. Since her intention to purchase them was for beautification and not as an investment, she will not pay Zakāh on them.

Should Access Restricted Accounts be Zakatable

Some investments have access restrictions. For example, Ahmad gave Talha $5,000 to invest as a partner in a home. Talha told him that he will not have access to the money he invested for three years, but after that he will get his money back plus the profit made from the sale of that house. Ahmad will have to pay Zakāh on this money, after adjusting for current profit or loss if that can be determined, every year. This is because he voluntarily gave up his ability to access that money with the hope of earning more profit than a liquid investment would yield. If Ahmad does not have enough liquid assets to pay Zakāh on the restricted investment, he may defer the payment until he has the money available and will not incur any sin for that. The reason for that is because the original principle when paying Zakāh is that it is taken from the actual wealth itself, but in this case it is restricted and not available.

Other investments like retirement plans have access restrictions and early withdrawal penalties in exchange for tax benefits. In the United States, a retirement plan such as a 401(k) or IRA (Individual Retirement Account) serve as containers to allow investments to grow on a tax-deferred basis. The caveat is that there are restrictions and penalties for early withdrawal of funds in addition to the fact that taxes will be incurred when the money is eventually withdrawn. These added variables complicate Zakāh calculations and has resulted in different rulings by scholars due to their varied understanding of how these financial instruments function and relate to the system of Zakāh:

  • The first view is that Zakāh is due on the entire market value of the account every year. This is the opinion of Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Mangera, and the opinion I lean towards. The reasoning is that the person voluntarily put their money into this account. Since the account is owned by the individual the actual amount of capital in the account is given consideration since the investment grows through that full amount. Future taxes or possible penalties are not given consideration since they are not incurred at present and it is unknown if, when, and how much penalties and taxes will be deducted. Most retirement accounts provide incidental access to the invested wealth in cases of emergencies and for other reasons, which implies full ownership and control. For example, Maryam has $250,000 in a 401(k) in which she owns iShares Gold Trust ETF. This is a fund where investors pool their money together and buy physical gold which is kept in vaults scattered around the planet. Maryam will have to pay 2.5% of the value of this investment every year.
  • The second view is that the early withdrawal penalty may be deducted from the value of the account when calculating Zakāh, in addition to deducting the current tax bracket of the individual, since this would be the true amount of unrestricted wealth the person would have if they were to withdraw the funds and incur all penalties on that day. This deduction may amount to about 20-50% of the market value of the account. This is the opinion of Shaykh Salah As-Sawy. The problem with this view is that it takes an incidental circumstance into consideration. Most people never access their retirement accounts early and therefore never incur any penalties, while their wealth continues to grow based on the full market value of the account, which represents their true net worth. For example, Mustafa has $100,000 in a 401(k) brokerage account. He has another $100,000 invested in Microsoft shares which is not in a 401(k). According to this opinion, he would owe $2500 in Zakah on the Microsoft shares [2.5% of $100,000] but would owe only $1500 on his shares of Apple [assuming the early withdrawal penalty was 10% and his tax bracket was 30%]. If Mustafa paid his Zakah from the extra money he had in his checking account, he would have received a massive Zakah deduction, even though this penalty was never actually incurred. Furthermore, if his shares of Apple increased by 10% the following year, that increase would be on the $100,000 and he would thus have $110,000 in Apple shares. Therefore, it does not seem to make sense to deduct a hypothetical cost which is not actually incurred.
  • The third view is that Zakah is not due on a retirement account. Three arguments have been presented in defense of such a view:
    1. Zakah is only due on wealth that is fully accessible to the owner, so retirement accounts are exempt. This argument does not take into consideration two important facts concerning retirement accounts. First, that the person consciously placed their money into this account knowing that it would contain some access restrictions. This was done for the benefit that would accrue from such an account, either through tax breaks or employer matching. Second, it is incorrect to say that a person with a retirement account does not have access to it. For example, if Yusuf had $250,000 in his 401(k) retirement account and had no other wealth, then lost his job and could not pay rent for his house or cover his other bills, he would not become homeless and poor. He would have access to this account and would be able to withdraw the money and continue to live a comfortable lifestyle, thus classifying him as ‘wealthy’ from a Zakah perspective.
    2. Zakah is only due on wealth that is actively managed by its owner, so retirement accounts are exempt. This argument does not consider the fact that the investor was able to choose what type of investments to initially invest in. This could have been mutual funds, ETFs, bonds, or another investment type. Furthermore, the argument fails to consider that there is a money manager who is actively managing the account of the investor, and this was done by choice. When Muslim scholars exempted Zakah from a person who does not have ‘management access’ to their wealth, their concern was that this wealth would fail to be productive due to lack of decision making. However, this is not the case of retirement accounts. It is analogous to the situation where Amr signs a contract with Zayd for five years that his $100,000 will be managed by Zayd and he will make all financial decisions with regard to that wealth. The wealth is being managed, but by someone more qualified, which is why Amr passed investment decision authority over to Zayd in the first place.
    3. Zakah is not due on wealth that can only be accessed with a penalty. This argument does not seem to have any historical basis that I can locate. The reality is that the investor voluntarily signed up to be subject to penalties due to a tax benefit they would receive for having such an account. An analogous situation would be where Ali puts $10,000 every year into a special security guarded underground vault. The company that owns the vault charges a percentage of the wealth every time the wealth is either inserted or withdrawn due to their physical costs of accessing the underground vault. Ali cannot claim that his cash in the vault should be Zakah exempt merely because he cannot access that wealth without a penalty.

It is also important to keep in mind that when a company matches retirement contributions for an employee, Zakāh is only due once they become ‘vested’, which means that a span of time has passed over them such that their ownership is guaranteed and not revocable. If a person does not have enough liquid assets to pay the Zakāh because they have nothing to sell or give away, it may be deferred without sin. For example, Ali invests $7,000 every year into his retirement account which has now grown to $200,000. He must pay $5,000 in Zakāh [which is 2.5% of the $200,000] but he does not have any liquid assets in his account and is not able to withdraw from his retirement account. He may pay his Zakāh late but should consider investing less money for retirement in the future so that he may pay his Zakāh on time.

30 Frequently Asked Questions About Ramaḍān

1. What is the purpose of fasting

Fasting is an exercise in self-control. Refraining from food, drink and intercourse are difficult because these are among the strongest three desires that humans have. By learning to go without these three human needs for a period of time, Muslims learn self-control so that they can apply this to other aspects of their life. For example, a person who went sixteen hours without water can more easily resist the temptation to drink alcohol or do some other forbidden act. This instills the quality of being conscious of God, which is ultimately the purpose of fasting.

2. What is special about Ramadan? Why fast in this month?

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed. Allah decided that this month should be singled out as being special in order to commemorate the Qur’an.

3. When should my children start fasting?

The Prophet Muhammad taught that children should begin praying at the age of seven. This means that they should learn what prayer is and try to perform it at least sometimes. Then he clarified that they must pray regularly by the age of ten and should be disciplined for not doing so. That gives them three years to learn and understand what they are doing and get used to it. The same rule applies for fasting. Once children reach the age of seven, they should be taught how to fast and encouraged to do so, at least sometimes. By the age of ten, children should be encouraged by their parents to fast the entire month, or as much as they are able to.

4. How sick do you have to be to skip fasting?

Someone suffering from an illness where fasting will probably either cause harm to their body, increase their illness, or delay their recovery is excused from fasting. The severity of their illness can be determined by consulting a medical professional. People with a minor cough or slight fever should still fast, because that will not usually cause much harm. Remember that fasting, even when healthy, causes some discomfort, so be careful when deciding whether you are too sick to fast or not.

5. Should pregnant women fast?

There are many pregnant women who fast and it neither harms them nor their child. However, this depends on the health and stature of the woman, as well as the season and her lifestyle. Every case is different. It is best to consult a medical professional who is both well versed in pregnancy as well as nutrition to see if there is a real threat to either the mother or child due to fasting. If there is, the pregnant woman should not fast, and make up the days she missed later on.

6. Should breastfeeding women fast?

There are many women who breastfeed their children and continue fasting. It neither harms them nor their milk supply. However, this depends on the health and stature of the woman, as well as the season and her lifestyle. Every case is different. It is best to consult a medical professional who is both well versed in breastfeeding as well as nutrition to see if there is a real threat to either the mother or the production of milk due to fasting. If there is, the nursing mother does not need to fast, but will have to make up the days she missed later on.

7. What if a woman has successive pregnancies and is unable to fast for a few years?

This situation might make a woman miss several Ramadans and have to make up fasting for a few years past. Usually, when a person misses a fast in Ramadan, they should make it up before the next Ramadan comes in. In the case where someone has missed more than one Ramadan, they have more leniency in spreading these makeup fasts over a longer period of time. It is recommend for women to try making up their fasts in the winter time when days are shorter and spreading them out by fasting one or two days a week, if it is difficult for them due to their circumstances.

8. What if someone has a chronic illness or is really old?

People who suffer from a chronic illness or are very old such that fasting will cause them harm do not have to fast. However, since this situation will persist they must feed a poor person, two average meals, for every day of fasting they miss. In that way, they have earned the reward of fasting despite their inability.

9. Can I still fast when traveling?

A person who is traveling is excused from fasting due to the difficulties and inconveniences associated with a journey. However, if there will be little difficulty, then it is better to fast. The fasts that are missed must be made up after returning from the journey.

10. What if two different masjids in my area are starting/ending Ramadan on different days?

There is a difference of opinion among Muslim scholars on how to determine the start/end of Ramadan. It is best to follow the masjid that you trust the most concerning their Islamic knowledge. However, if this will cause a division within your family or will result in other difficult circumstances, it is permissible to take the opinion of the other masjid and follow their timing, even if you feel they are less qualified in Islamic knowledge.

11. Different masjids have different timetables for when fasting beings. Why is that?

The timings for Fajr prayer [which is when fasting begins] are determined by true dawn, which is when a clear thread of light is seen on the horizon. However, given environmental factors such as mountains, light pollution, elevation, etc. people, even in the same city, will not be able to observe dawn at exactly the same time, depending on their point of observation. Therefore scientific calculations are used to approximate the time of dawn. Since these calculations cannot predictably determine the true time of dawn, there will be different opinions on how many degrees the sun needs to be below the horizon before dawn should be considered to have occurred.

12. Does vomiting break my fast?

Vomiting a large amount, intentionally, when it comes out with force and cannot be kept in, does break the fast. This is usually a rare scenario, because that is rarely done intentionally. However, unintentionally vomiting does not break the fast.

13. Is it ok to use eye/ear/nose drops or enemas?

It is permissible to use eye/ear/nose drops because the liquid does not normally reach the stomach or nourish the body.[1] Therefore, it is not analogous to food or drink. However, when using nose drops it is important to not swallow any of the fluid if it goes down and reaches the mouth. Using an enema to empty the bowels or administer medicine into the bloodstream does not break the fast. However, if the enema is used for hydration or nourishment and it reaches the stomach, then it does break the fast.

14. Does a medical injection break the fast?

Normally, a medical injection does not break the fast since it neither nourishes nor does it reach the stomach. However, injecting glucose or some other nourishing substance does break the fast.[2]

15. Can I brush my teeth with toothpaste while fasting?

It is permissible to brush your teeth while fasting, and may even be encouraged to do so. Using toothpaste does not break the fast, as long as you are very careful not to swallow any of it. However, it is better to not use toothpaste, unless necessary, because it does leave a taste in your mouth. It would be ideal to use toothpaste right before starting your fast so that you can start your day with clean teeth.

16. Can I use mouthwash?

It is not recommended to use mouthwash while fasting because it does leave a taste in your mouth. However, if it is necessary to remove bad breath that might affect people you are near, it will not break the fast as long as you are careful not to swallow any [e.g. through gargling].

17. What if I swallow small bits of food accidentally that were stuck in my teeth?

Swallowing food accidentally does not break the fast, even if it is a large amount. Continue fasting as usual.[3]

18. Can I give blood while fasting?

Giving blood while fasting does not affect the fast, although it is disliked if it will weaken the person very much and make their fast more difficult.

19. Can I use an asthma inhaler?

Using an asthma inhaler does not break the fast because it neither nourishes the body nor goes into the stomach.

20. Can I wear perfume when fasting?

It is permissible to wear perfume while fasting since inhaling that fragrance neither nourishes nor reaches the stomach.

21. Can I rinse my mouth with water or take a shower to cool down?

This is allowed and does not affect the fast. There is nothing wrong or disliked about this.

22. How soon must I make up missed fasts?

Whoever misses a fast and needs to make it up may do so at their leisure before the next Ramadan. However, it is recommended to not delay without a reason. Whoever has missed more than one fast may either make up those fasts consecutively or intermittently, but consecutively is better. Whoever has not made it up prior to the following Ramadan still must make it up, but will be deserving of sin without an excuse.

23. If I got hungry and broke my fast in Ramadan, do I just ask Allah for forgiveness?

Whoever intentionally breaks their fast without any excuse by eating, drinking, or having intercourse during the month of Ramaḍān will not only have to make up that fast but will also be subject to a penalty for violating the sanctity of the month of Ramaḍān. This is to emphasize the idea that every eligible Muslim must take fasting in Ramaḍān very seriously.

The penalty is that they must fast for sixty consecutive days. If they are unable to do this, then they must feed sixty poor people for a day with two average meals. It is also allowed to feed one poor person for sixty days or give the monetary equivalent of the food. Anyone who intentionally broke their fast more than once in Ramaḍān will still perform only one penalty.

24. Why do some people pray 8 and others 20 units of taraweeh prayer?

There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how many units should be prayed for taraweeh prayer. It is best to follow the masjid you are praying in and not object to those who follow the other opinion.

25. What is Sadaqatul Fitr and when should it be paid?

Ṣadaqah al-Fiṭr or Fitrah [lit. the charity of breaking fast] is a charity that is paid at the end of Ramaḍān. It gives the needy an opportunity to enjoy the day of Eid without having to worry about working for their livelihood on that day. Paying the Fiṭrah is an obligation on every Muslim who possesses the minimum amount [niṣāb] in excess of personal items to pay zakāh on the day of Eid. A man is to pay on behalf of himself and his minor children, while a woman must pay for herself. The obligation begins at dawn on the day of Eid al-Fiṭr, so whoever possesses the amount at that time must pay the Fiṭrah. The Fiṭrah must be paid before the Eid prayer begins. However, if one delays payment, the obligation remains and must still be fulfilled. It is recommended to be paid earlier so that it may be properly distributed to those in need. It is allowed to pay it in advance from the first day of Ramaḍān. The amount to be paid has been measured in foodstuffs. It is four double handfuls of dates, barley, raisins, or any other staple food. It is recommended to pay the value in cash if it would be more helpful to the poor so they can purchase other food or clothing. Fiṭrah, like Zakāh, must only be given to the poor and needy who do not possess at least the value of 3oz of gold.

26. Can I go to the dentist while fasting?

It is better to not have a dental procedure while fasting because it is likely that water will be swallowed during the procedure. If some water is swallowed, which could have been avoided, the fast will be broken.

27. Can I go swimming while fasting?

It is permissible to swim while fasting, provided that no water is swallowed.

28. Do I have to renew my intention to fast every night?

Since fasting is an act of worship, one must have the intention to fast in order for it to be valid. For example, if one had the intention of dieting and abstained from food and drink throughout the day, it would not count as a fast. For the month of Ramaḍān, it is sufficient to make a general intention that you plan to fast the entire month. If anything causes that intention to change, such as illness or travel, then the intention to continue fasting in Ramaḍān must be made again before starting.

29. Can I pray witr behind an Imam who normally prays a different way?

It is common for witr prayer to be performed in a congregation during the month of Ramadan. If the Imam who leads that prayer does so in a different manner than you do, it is recommended to follow the way he prays. There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how the witr prayer should be performed and it is best to give up your own opinion for the opinion of the Imam when praying behind him.

30. Can I hold a copy of the Qur’an or electronic device during taraweeh prayer?

It is disliked to make excessive movements during prayer that are not necessary. Holding a copy of the Qur’an will usually result in unnecessary movements, especially when going into prostration. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose of congregational prayer is to listen to the recitation of the Qur’an, not to read it. If someone has a difficult time concentrating during prayer, there are other methods they can employ to rectify that issue. Using an electronic device for the same purpose is the same, if not worse, because light emitting devices also disturb the people around you who are trying to concentrate in prayer.