As of Sunday, Febrary 2nd, 2020, His Eminence resumed meeting with visitors to his office…
Editor’s Note: His Eminence, Sayyid al-Sistani recently received questions asking whether it is incumbent upon the believers to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, given the advice of the health experts which states that people should increase their daily water intake to diminish the risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Below are the questions and an in-depth explanation of Sayyid al-Sistani’s ruling.
Sayyid M.B. Kashmiri, representative of the Supreme Religious Authority in Najaf and vice chairman of I.M.A.M., provides an explanatory commentary on the recent religious ruling by Ayatullah Sayyid al-Sistani pertaining to fasting during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
To watch the Arabic version of this video, please click here.
Question: Doctors have recommended that people should drink water frequently to reduce the risk of becoming infected with coronavirus. As a result, is the obligation to fast the month of Ramadan revoked for Muslims this year?
Answer: Fasting in the month of Ramadan: It is obligatory upon each and every individual who fulfills the conditions of sanity, age of religious obligation (bulugh), [physical] capability, and not being in the state of hayd (menstruation) or nifas (post-natal bleeding) [for women].
The obligation to fast is revoked or suspended for those who have a legitimate excuse, they fall under one of two categories:
1) Those who cannot fast temporarily:
- A traveler (see the manual of Islamic Laws for full details
- The person must make up each missed fast after the month of Ramadan
- A person who has a temporary health condition, such as a pregnant woman who is near-term, a nursing mother (see the manual of Islamic Laws for full details), or someone afflicted with a temporary sickness or facing a [serious] temporary impediment [to fasting], and perhaps those encountering certain pandemics (i.e., under certain conditions).
- The person must make up each missed fast after the month of Ramadan (with certain exceptions – see the manual of Islamic Laws for full details)
2) Those who are not required to fast at all:
- A person who has reached an old age who is unable to fast or finds it excessively difficult, and is recognized to be [very] elderly
- The person is required to offer a fidyah of feeding one poor person for each day [not fasted], only if they find fasting difficult; as for those who are [absolutely] unable to fast, they are not required to offer a fidyah.
- A person who suffers from a chronic condition/disease such as certain types of diabetics, someone who has [certain serious] ulcers, or those who have other similar chronic conditions due to which they are unable to fast.
- The person must make up each missed fast if they are able to do so; otherwise, they do not have to make it up if they remain unable (i.e., due to that chronic condition) until the following month of Ramadan. However, they must offer fidyah for each day.
Question: In light of these rules, what is the ruling for believers who must fast in the month of Ramadan while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing? Do they fall into one of the above categories?
Answer: The obligation to fast is revoked if there is a legitimate excuse, this includes the current coronavirus pandemic situation, irrespective of whether the person is infected themselves, is a doctor, nurse or other health professional treating patients on the frontlines, or is actually healthy but solely wants to prevent becoming infected with the virus. However, in this case, revocation of the obligation to fast occurs only under one of the following conditions:
- If there is medical advice that one can ascertain is authentic and officially adopted by doctors, which asserts the necessity of drinking water frequently throughout the day, and the person has [simultaneously] taken the other necessary precautions [to avoid contracting the disease], or
- If the person has a reasonable fear of contracting the disease, even after taking all the necessary precautionary measures, or
- If the person is not able to reduce the likelihood (i.e., by using certain measures) of becoming infected to a degree that rational people would no longer consider the risk of transmission to be worthy of concern. For instance, by employing measures like eating succulent (i.e., water-filled) vegetables and fruits like watermelon before fajr (dawn) or chewing sugar-free gum* as a means of staying hydrated. Or, it would be possible for the person to decrease exposure, and therefore the likelihood of becoming infected, by staying home, frequently washing their hands and wearing personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, face mask), but this would result in unbearable hardship, even if the nature of their work could be performed from home.
* increases the secretion of saliva in the mouth and can be used provided it does not disintegrate in the mouth and go down the throat
In other words, apart from these conditions, the obligation to fast is not revoked if there is no reliable and authentic medical guideline that advises otherwise, or if there does not exist a reasonable fear of the likelihood of contracting the disease, or if it is possible to reduce the probability of infection by staying home and consuming (before fajr) what is needed to remain hydrated.
Accordingly, the following rules apply to anyone who determines that their obligation to fast is revoked on the basis of any one of the conditions mentioned above:
- They must not break their fast (i.e., eat and drink) in public.
- They are required to fast the [subsequent] days of the month of Ramadan for which the excuse is removed (i.e., no longer applies).
- They must make up any missed fasts of the month of Ramadan if the excuse is removed before the next month of Ramadan. If the excuse for not fasting persists until the next month of Ramadan, they are not required to make up the fast; however, they must offer a fidyah. Although, the obligation of offering fidyah is revoked if the person dies before the next month of Ramadan.
To read the translation of the main verdict please see below.
The Original Statement:
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
To: The office of His Eminence al-Sayyid al-Sistani (may Allah prolong his life)
As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
The holy month of Ramadan is approaching while the coronavirus continues to spread to various regions of the world. During this pandemic, various doctors have recommended that people should drink water frequently to reduce the risk of becoming infected with this dangerous virus, because dehydration reduces the body’s immunity and dryness of the throat would facilitate transmission of the virus to the respiratory system if a person were to become infected. Simultaneously, drinking water helps bring the virus down [the esophagus] to the stomach (i.e., instead of going down the windpipe to the lungs) and so eliminates it there. Thus, is the obligation of fasting the month of Ramadan revoked for Muslims this year?
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The obligation of fasting for the month of Ramadan is an obligation for each individual; thus, every person who meets the conditions of obligation must fast, regardless of whether it is obligatory for others. Therefore, if the upcoming month of Ramadan begins and a Muslim fears becoming infected by the coronavirus if they fast, even after taking all precautionary measures, the obligation to fast is revoked for each day on which they fear contraction of the disease (i.e., COVID-19) if they fast. However, they are required to make up each missed fast. Yet, if the person is able to reduce the probability of infection (i.e., its risk to themselves) to a degree that rational people would no longer consider the risk of transmission to be worthy of concern, albeit by remaining at home and not coming into direct contact with others, wearing a mask and medical gloves, and constantly sanitizing and disinfecting [their surroundings], and furthermore, these actions would not result in unbearable hardship, then the obligation of fasting is not revoked.
As for what is mentioned that doctors recommend drinking water frequently to avoid dehydration and dryness of the throat because these conditions increase the likelihood of infection by coronavirus—if in fact true—that does not revoke the obligation to fast. This is the case (i.e., one is required to fast) except for a person who has a reasonable fear of contracting the disease if they fast and that person [simultaneously] does not have a way to reduce its probability, despite staying home and taking other advanced precautions, as a result of which they would not have a reasonable cause to fear. All others must fast. Note that it is possible to prevent dehydration when fasting by eating succulent (i.e., water-filled) vegetables and fruits like cucumbers and watermelon before fajr (dawn). In addition, a person can chew sugar-free gum if it does not disintegrate [in the mouth] and go down the throat. Chewing [sugar-free] gum increases the secretion of saliva in the mouth and there is no problem in swallowing it (i.e., the saliva) when fasting. Furthermore, those who can suspend going to work during the month of Ramadan and stay home instead, so that they are safe from contracting the disease (i.e., COVID-19), are not excused from fasting. As for those who cannot afford to leave their jobs, for any reason whatsoever, if they fear becoming infected with the virus because of not drinking water frequently during the day, and [simultaneously] cannot implement other measures to prevent contraction of the disease, they do not have to fast. However, it is not permissible for them to break their fast (i.e., eat and drink) in public. It is well known that fasting the month of Ramadan is one of the most important obligations in Islam, and it must not be abandoned without a legitimate excuse. As such, each person knows their own condition and whether they have a legitimate excuse for not fasting.
In brief, it is obligatory to fast during the day in the month of Ramadan. However, this obligation is revoked for a person who has a legitimate excuse, such as someone who is sick, or for instance, someone who fears that they will become sick based on medical advice if they fast, and [simultaneously] it is not possible for them to take the precautionary measures to prevent contraction of the disease. Otherwise, they are required to fast.
May the peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you.
17 Shaban, 1441 AH
Office of His Eminence al-Sayyid al-Sistani, al-Najaf al-Ashraf