Is it permissible for a student to break the fast to study?


Answered by Dar Al-Ifta Al-Masriyah (The Egyptian House of Fatwa)

The Question

Is it permissible for a student to break his fast in Ramadan so he/she can study during his her exams?

The Answer 

We must distinguish between a student who can study with some difficulty, and between one who cannot study at all because of fasting. We must also distinguish between one who is financially supported by someone else, and between another who supports himself/herself or his/her dependents, such that failing his/her exams will affect his/her work which is indispensable for his/her livelihood and that of his/her dependents.

It is permissible for a student, who is legally responsible and for whom there is an overwhelming need to study during the month of Ramadan, to break his/her/she fast if he finds through experience or symptoms that fasting will cause him to fail his exams due to physical weakness or an inability to continue his/her studies which are necessary for his/her livelihood and basic expenses and those of his dependents. This is the preponderant opinion of Ibn ‘Abdin and others who maintain that it is permissible for bakers and others working in strenuous crafts to break their fast. These students must then make up the fast they have broken due to this necessity or need, the permissibility of which will cease once these extenuating circumstances are over.

One must note that this fatwa is applicable only when there is an overwhelming necessity. A necessity is measured according to its extent, and [in this case], it is contingent upon the following:
- Whether the student’s studies are necessary during Ramadan or whether they can be postponed.
- Whether the student thinks that he will fail his exams if he does not study.
- Whether failing his exams will prevent the student from continuing his studies without which he cannot work or meet his needs and those of his dependents.

Fasting becomes obligatory when any of these conditions is absent.

Allah Almighty knows best.

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25 Comments

  1. Ibn Muhammad says:

    Asalamu alaikum,

    Subhanallah I love how they breakdown the categories of students mashallah shows the hikmah and fahm of Azhari scholars.

    Fatwa aside…I used to study 8 hours a day while fasting. I truly thought it would be extremely difficult but Alhumdulillah with patience it wasn’t too bad. In fact it kept me occupied and passed time quite well. There were many medical students who did the same. So be patient dear brothers and sisters.

    May Allah bless us all and make our fasting easy for us. Whatever difficulty we have, may it be a source of forgiveness and mercy.

    Asalamu alaikum.

  2. Abu Omar says:

    Salam alaikum,
    I actually find it easier to concentrate while i am fasting, but it was still beautiful to see how Islam always brings ease to the believer. Maybe this fatwa is more applicable in countries overseas where there is common power outages and not the same comfortable conditions that we have been blessed with in America. Also i remember in a lecture by Imam Awlaki about two students taking the same exam, and one students spends most of his night in ibadaah, and the other misses out in the ibadaah due to his concern for the exam, thus neglecting his extra worship in Ramadan. Imam Anwar said it is very possible that Allah will bless the student who divided his time between worship and studying with the better grade. My account of the exact story may be a bit off as it has been a while since i heard the lecture.
    Allahu alim.

  3. mariposa says:

    There’s an issue though, that people take fatwas such as these, even though they are clearly articulated, and apply them to everything. And then you have students breaking their fast at the slightest conditions … It is more applicable in other countries and societys where young people have “real” responsibilities such as fully supporting their families. But I feel my generation is lacking in that area, our biggest responsibilities these days (in general) are to simply go to school, and get good grades! Alhamdulillah the majority of the Muslim population in America is blessed enough to not be in extreme circumstances compared to people who really have problems. How do we apply that to the context of the fatwa?

  4. Suhaib Webb says:

    Mariposa:

    salamu alaykum,

    I’ve ran into this in the West and have heard of some having this problem. In fact, this is the opinion of the muhadith and faqih of Birmingham al-Sharif Mulana Bukhari al-Diobandi. That being said, I think we have to move, and I’m not pointing in anyway the finger at you, from saying to Muslims “You are not qualified to apply this. You are not trusted enough to know if you are following your desires, or following the truth.”

    Dr. Sherman Jackson told me, “One of the important ingredients of Islam is that it empowers people.” We have to allow folks to feel comfortable in the decisions they make, if founded upon authoritative knowledge. Many Muslim I run into are like children whose parents always told them “No” or “You can’t do that”; lacking any type of self esteem or optimistic outlook, distant from a religion that continues to tell them “your stupid”. This fatwa, like others, empowers folks to think, weight their options and make an intelligent decision and, by default causes them to think about their relationship with Allah.

    In an age where people are thirsty for spiritual anchorage, lost in the deep sea of Post Modernity, we cannot adopt an outlook that pushes people from articulating their relationship with God as best they can. In fact, on of the unique characteristics of our faith is that it grabs a person, places them in the arena with the crutches of the scholars, and says, “Take on that lion.”

    I know the scholars who wrote this fatwa and they are the top of the top; some of the best students of Dr Ali Guma. Now, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we trust our own insecurities, or trust a large group of noble scholars.” It is here, in this moment, that I tend to turn off my impulsive feelings, hit cruise control and follow.

    Sufyan al-tharwi said that anyone can give the people opinions that are overly difficult, but ease and facilitation in matters is the role of the scholars of fiqh.

    SDW

  5. Abu Majeed says:

    Sadaqa al-ustath SDW!

  6. J says:

    Jazakh-Allah Khair.

    May Allah [swt] reward Imam Suhaib Webb.

    I agree with him that the scholars should pass fatawa that facilitate ease for the people. I feel that nowadays many scholars, especially from Najd and Hind, seem to pass fatawa that are ‘overly cautious/strict’ based on the principle that it is better to avoid what is doubtful.

    My question to Imam Suhaib is: how do we reconcile the principle of facilitating ease for the people and avoiding the doubtful? It seems that if we apply the former principle, then we will arrive at ‘lenient’ fatwas, and if we apply the latter principle, then we will arrive at ‘strict’ fatwas. So how do we reconcile these two methods?

    My own personal thinking was that perhaps we apply the former principle to others, whereas we apply the latter principle to ourselves? This is based on the principle that we are lenient on others and harsh on ourselves.

    What do you think, Imam Suhaib?

  7. Aysha Khanom says:

    Asalamu Alaykum,

    “There’s an issue though, that people take fatwas such as these, even though they are clearly articulated, and apply them to everything. And then you have students breaking their fast at the slightest conditions …”

    True say, that people try to apply those fatwas specifically stated in need of hajahs are used at conditions which wont be classified as Hajahs, its not the fatwas that are the problem, its the people.

    The individual knows themselves if they are being truthful or using such things as way outs, and Islam isnt here to burden us, so let Islam carry onto flourish and not let the problems of the intent of people hinder it.

    Allah is best of all judges

  8. Haq says:

    Interesting discussion

    Mariposa’s concern is understandable since it eminates from a feeling of being protective of the shariah though feelings must be kept in check with proper understanding.

    I have studied alot with scholars from Hind and agree with J that they do over emphasise the principle of precaution known as Ihtiyaat whilst i know others say that Azhari scholars apply too much of tayseer.

    Yet even after all this studying of advance fiqh arabic tafsir etc… I have to ask my self what Sh Suhaib said. Why do i feel that what suhaib webb said alway applies to me? I dont feel at times confident in applying principles laid down in fatwas to specific circumstances like this fatwa its because i constantly think “Am i following my desires, or following the truth”. One possible reason may be and i dont know if i can ever change that since my early islamic education taught me alot of ihtiyaat is that every time “easy” opinions were presented to me in oppostition to “Ihtiyaat” thus opting for ease was against Ihtiyaat. Now anything one finds easy goes with the nafs, and we are commanded to go against the nafs thus the strict opinions were always “better”. So there is always a trade off between ease and Precaution and this is what J also seems to be saying. I dont know if this is true or not. No doubt staying with Bold couragoues Muftis helps, and staying with fearful ones who never wish to depart from what their teacher said have a negative effect. Early in my studies I use to bring in my own “ijtihaadaat” if you wanna call them that , and my fiqh teacher use to correct me and encourage me (how rare these Scholars are here). I think this is also what gave Sh Suhaib the courage to go ahead with Music, after discussing alot with scholars there.

    Regarding the the way J suggested we can reconcile between the strict and harch opinions, I have discussed this with alot of local scholars here (London) and alot of them expressed this view looking at the Sunnah where the Prophet use to pray until his feet were swollen yet commanded Zainab to Sleep when she would pray holding a rope out of tiredness. However this again is questionable since is moderation only ment for others and not yourself? I also kind of rememebr Somewhere Sh Qaradawi also saying this in one of his books which also shock me abit.

    See what all this Ihtiyaat does in the end is, if someone genuinly does take an easy opinion, he does it with guilt which i think is totally unnecessary since he has followed an interpretation, and sometimes this guilt is soo much that he ends up in difficulty so as to satisfy himself that he is not following his desire.

    Wassalam

  9. Abda says:

    Subhanallah. While I find myself completely ignorant and submit to the opinion of the scholars, I have some doubts in mind that I thought I should seek to clarify. When Allah mentions in al-Baqarah that no soul is burdened with anything by Allah except for that which he can bear, doesn’t that mean that atleast to the extent of the Fara’id, one would need to fulfill them unless the Rukhsahs are explicitly specified through the nusoos?

  10. Saif says:

    With all due respect to the scholars who issued the fatwa, I think it’s a haphazard application of the principles [I]Al-Mashaqqatu Tujlabu at-Taysir (Hardship begets facility) and Ad-Daruraatu Tubihu al-Mahdhurat (Necessity permits the unlawful). They have wisely placed certain conditions, but to me it seems that they have gone too far. They cannot forcefully relegate something that belongs to the Hajiyat to the realm of the Daruriyat.

    Do such situations, where ONE exam seriously affects your ability to provide for your dependents (the exam can’t be retaken, there is no alternative option for earning livelihood, and you simply can’t study at night), actually exist? I’d say they are few and far between. That should be clearly stated in the fatwa, to prevent it from being misused.

    Also, aren’t fatwas issued keeping in mind the circumstances of the original questioner? Adab al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti, anyone? Is it wise to generalize the application of this fatwa in our current circumstances, where such situations are not that common? I understand what Sh. Sherman Jackson said, but we have to develope a proper framework for that. In order for people to be truly empowered, they need to have easy access to people who can explain to them the teachings of the Wahy, which will facilitate informed decision-making about the application of these teachings to their individual lives.

    I hope Sh. Suhaib Webb elaborates on his perspectives regarding this.

  11. J says:

    As-Salam Alaykum.

    I think one thing that should be remembered about the fatwa is that a person who misses fasts due to this reason, MUST make up those fasts! Therefore, the idea–that people will abuse this fatwa left and right in order to get out of fasts–is a bit absurd, since they would know they have to make up those fasts anyways…right after the exams. So most people would not take this concession unless they really had to…it’s not getting out of fasts…it’s just rescheduling the fasts.

    Fi Aman Allah.

  12. Suhaib Webb says:

    Asalamu alaykum,

    Saif:

    I can truly relate to your concerns about the misuse of the axiom “necessities permit the forbidden.” I personally don’t see how it is applied to this situation and have struggled, although I have not had much time to look into it due to travel, tried to look into it. That being said, I think we should exercise greater maturity than using terms such as “haphazard” and so on. While I feel somewhat confident in my studies, I still hold without a doubt that I’m not at the same level of understanding as those who wrote this fatwa.

    Dr. ‘Ali Guma said, “The sheikh never makes mistakes.” Meaning, one should not rush to correct a scholar, but think deeply and investigate things before concluding. Upon my return to Egypt I plan to discuss this fatwa with my teachers in Dar al-Ifta and plan to share their answers with all.

    That being said, I fail to understand your contention with the issue “Difficulties bring ease.” Perhaps, you could offer the definition of “Difficulties” and offer those areas touched by this important axiom. My teacher in Hadith Maulana al-Bukhair al-Diyobandi told me that he applies this ruling to some youth in his area based on this axiom and his understanding that the ‘Ila behind allowing one to break his fast while traveling is not travel itself, but the difficulty travel places on one physically. Thus, he made qiyas on that and applied the axiom when he issued this fatwa. Now, Imam al-Bukhari al-Diobandi is a tremendous scholar of hadith and fiqh. I trust his opinion and know that my knowledge compared to his is like a drop in the ocean.

    SDW

  13. Saif says:

    Wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah.

    Imam Suhaib,

    JazakAllah khayr for your response. I apologize for using the word ‘haphazard’, and I wish I had shown more maturity. I do not normally do such things, but I guess I responded in haste, and I seek Allah’s forgiveness for it.

    Let me add that I find the discourse presented by/through your blog very enlightening and extremely beneficial, and Alhamdulillah I have learned much from it. I have tremendous respect for Sh. ‘Ali Guma, and consider the opportunity you have to study with him to be among the great favors of Allah upon you.

    However, I do not agree to all interpretations of “The sheikh never makes mistakes”, possibly due to a conflicting approach adopted by some of my teachers. To err is human, and my teachers encourage criticism of their views, especially since it leads to interesting discussions that turn out to be great learning processes for students, who are almost always wrong, and are corrected by their teachers every step of the way.

    I prefer Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad al-Zarqa’s(r) definition of al-Mashaqqah (al-Jalibah li at-Taysir): “Al-Mashaqqatullati tanfakku ‘anha at-taklifat ash-shar’eyah.” He presents its spheres of influence in 7 categories: safr, mardh, ikrah, nisyan, jahl, etc. I am having a difficult time reconciling this fatwa with what I have understood from this principle (and its explanation by Sh. Zarqa(r)), and perhaps I am entirely to blame for that.

    I wonder how relevant “Ad-Dararu yuzal, walakin la bi-darar” is in this case, and if this principle would offer more perspective on the issue. Also, from your response, it seems that Imam al-Bukhari al-Diobandi’s ruling concerns people he knows personally, which is quite different from a general ruling. I am of the opinion that the situation described in the fatwa is very rarely found in the lives of our youth. As such, I fear that it may confuse people, and open the doors to laxity in important religious matters.

    I have discussed my understanding of Sh. Sherman Jackson’s views in my previous comment. I would like to see how scholars from other parts of the world respond to this fatwa. I am particularly interested in Sh. M. al-Dido’s opinion. Once again, JazakAllah khayr for the advice.

  14. Saif says:

    Also Ustadh, I have two questions:

    - If we recognize the ‘Illah behind shortening of prayers during travel as difficulty and not travel itself, would it be correct if we made qiyas and applied it to a different situation, such as sickness? For example, a sick person faces similar difficulty, and should therefore be allowed to shorten her/his prayers.

    - Farming is one of the most physically demanding jobs, and a farmer faces extreme difficulty while fasting. Would this ruling apply to people whose jobs demand physical work, such as farmers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers (in the Indian subcontinent), et cetera? Since people have been farming since much before the time of the Prophet(pbuh), are there any classical opinions supporting this view?

    I would really appreciate it if you took the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. May Allah reward you for your efforts. Ameen.

  15. Suhaib Webb says:

    Saif:

    Wa ‘alaykum al-salam wa rahmathullahi wa barakatuh,

    I hope you are well and your last ten days of Ramadan are illuminated with worship and noble deeds.

    You wrote:

    “If we recognize the ‘Illah behind shortening of prayers during travel as difficulty and not travel itself, would it be correct if we made qiyas and applied it to a different situation, such as sickness?”

    My Answer:

    It is well known that the Malikis and the Shafis, both with conditions, and the Hanbalis allow one to join the prayers due to illness with the Hanbalis being the most relaxed allowing one to due so in the face of a need. [see fatwa al-Azhar vol. 9 pg. 55.] This is based on the fact that the Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessing be upon him] allowed a women suffering from abnormal vaginal bleeding to delay her prayers. Thus, as Dr. ‘Attyiah Saqar mentioned, scholars made qiyas on that, applying the ruling to other situations. In fact, it is known that some of the salaf allowed one to join his/her prayers without any reason. This is based on their understanding of the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas, related by al-Tirmidhi, that the Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessing be upon him] joined the prayers without travel, fear or sickness. From amongst them was Ibn Sireen [may Allah's mercy be upon him]. However, they stated that this could not happen on a consistent basis, but once in awhile.

    From the Classical Texts:

    Imam Khalil, in his text which is the book of fatwa in our school [Maliki] says ” [one can joing prayers] due to sickness” and this was echoed by Sidi al-Dardir in Sharh al-Saghir as well. Sh. Abdul Karim al-Zaydan articulated this position with some clarity in his famous work al-Mufasal and I would advice you to refer to it, or the al-Mughni of Ibn al-Qudama.

    Your Question:

    “- Farming is one of the most physically demanding jobs, and a farmer faces extreme difficulty while fasting. Would this ruling apply to people whose jobs demand physical work, such as farmers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers (in the Indian subcontinent), et cetera? Since people have been farming since much before the time of the Prophet(pbuh), are there any classical opinions supporting this view?”

    The Hanafis of India

    The opinion of Ibn ‘Abidin was mentioned above and I think that is sufficient. In Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyah it states that from amongst those excused from fasting, “The servant girl who is scared she will not be able to work or that she might be harmed.” It also, mentions those who work for the ruler and are unable to perform their tasks due to “the heat” vol. 5 pg. 330

    Al-Azhar

    Sh. Muhammad ‘Abdu wrote a fatwa around 100 years ago and he applied it to laborers. In addition, Sh. al-Azhar Jad al-Haq ‘Ali Jad al-Haq wrote in 1981 “Allah granted the elderly, the pregnant and those whose work is such that it is unbearable for them to fast, the choice to break their fast.” I also remember Dr. ‘Ali Guma mentioning this as well, but can’t remember where.

    Saudia:

    A similar question was put to the standing body of scholars in Saudi Arabia by one of the guards for King ‘Abdul ‘Aziz [ra] who said, in 1959, that he had to stand guard over the king in the hot sun and, “Became extremely thirsty.” The standing body allowed this person to break his fast and make it up another day. See Fatwa of the Standing Committee vol. 12. pg. 296. The same fatwa was given by the Standing Committee for one who is a laborer with certain conditions vol. 12 pg. 299.

    As for the fatwa above, Sh. al-Bukhari made clear to me that this was his general fatwa for those who met the conditions at hand. Also, this was the opinion of Sh. ‘Attiyah Saqar see Fatwa al-Azhar vol. 9 pg. 248. However, his approach is much more restrictive than the Azhari fatwa mentioned above.

    Hope that helps?
    Suhaib

  16. Saif says:

    Salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.

    Imam Suhaib,

    JazakAllah for your kind words.

    Your response helped a lot, but I’d like to clarify a few points regarding my questions:

    1) I was aware of the various opinions permitting the joining of prayers under certain circumstances, but my question was specifically about shortening prayers. Is it a valid qiyas if we permit sick people to shorten their prayers (if we recognize difficulty and not travel itself as the ‘Illah behind the hukm of shortening prayers during travel)? As far as I understand, the ‘Illah here is travel and not difficulty, and that can be proved using as-Sibr wa at-Taqseem. Please let me know what you think.

    2) Some farmers, construction workers, domestic helps, rickshaw-pullers, etc. have to work the year round, which makes it impossible for them to make up fasts missed during Ramadan at a later time. Are such people exempt from fasting? And if they’re poor (which is usually the case), they do not have to make up in any other way?

    3) Does Sh. al-Bukhari al-Diobandi employ an Usooli approach, a Maqasid-based approach, or both to arrive at his conclusion? I’m curious to know what tools he has used to equate the difficulty faced while studying to al-Mashaqqah al-Jalibah li at-Taysir.

    JazakAllahu khayr. May Allah reward you immensely for answering my questions. And may Allah increase us both in ‘Ilm and ‘Amal. Ameen.

  17. Suhaib Webb says:

    Asalamu alaykum,

    Saif:

    1. The Hanbalis and the Shafi’s hold that the ‘Ila for the rukhsa in travel is the “hardship and not the travel itself.” [see Encyclopedia of Fiqh Kuwait Ministry of Religious Endowments under the travelers prayer.]

    As for your question regarding the sick, aren’t the sick excused from many of the pillars of prayer as well as her conditions? I don’t know about joining the prayers due to sickness, but I know that there is the axiom that says, “Orders are based on ability.” The Prophet (sa) said in a sound hadith, “What I’ve ordered you to do, do it as best you can.” Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) commenting on this says, “Like the sick……….if he is unable to complete his prayers correctly, then his prayer is sound according to his ability.” Majmu’ al-Fatawa vol. 3. Pg. 125.

    2. You are asking for a fatwa and I don’t feel qualified to answer so I will say, “I don’t know.”

    3. I would rather you talk with Sh. al-Bukhari yourself. I went and met him in the Birmingham Masjid, sat with him and asked him questions. I don’t feel it is my right, since I’m just a simple beginner, to speak on his behalf.
    Suhaib

  18. Saif says:

    Wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah.

    JazakAllah Imam Suhaib for some very valuable lessons. Please forgive me for any mistakes on my part. And please remember me in your du’as. InshaAllah, I will be doing the same.

    May Allah raise your station in knowledge and wisdom. Ameen.

  19. Haq says:

    br Saif i like your interrogative method WHILST maintaining Adab.many brothers lack this today!

    Dont know about the Malikis on this, but the ahnaf say its “travelling” per se that is the Illah hence they dont do qiyas on this as its not possible.

    Peace
    May Allah accept all our prayers in Ramadan

  20. Hassan says:

    Who is shaykh bukhari from birmingham. I am a deobandi and have never heard of him. The light of birmingham is shaykh zahir mahmood and the real man of birmingham was shaykh riyad ul haq but then they kicked him out. Shaykh riyad is the man.

  21. Haq says:

    Salaam
    Br Hassan what do you mean when you say you are a deobandi?
    just curious…

  22. Abu Layla says:

    Interesting to note that in some parts of the world Muslims are forced by the oppressive governments *not* to fast in Ramadhan. Meanwhile, we given the opportunity, choose not to. Worth reflecting upon:

    [quote]One rule that officials in some towns seem especially intent on enforcing is the ban on students’ fasting. Supporters of this policy say students need to eat to study properly.[/quote]

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/10/18/asia/19xinjiang.php

  23. Ali says:

    AsA Imam Suhaib,

    Is it OK for students to not fast the day of the exam if it is in Ramadan? Studying may not be a problem, but I know for exams like the MCAT, it can really drain you, and having food in your system is ncessary to get through this exam. Studying is probably not an issue.

  24. Cherine says:

    ASA to all,
    In the east so many circumstances are different and accommodations are made.
    Even when Ramadan falls in the summer months, countries like KSA and Egypt experience Maghrib at 6 or 7 pm. Whereas here in the west Maghrib began at 9:15 in Michigan and 10:00 pm in London, U.K. Waking up or suhoor is often difficult due to the short time frame between Maghrib and fair.

    In the east people are going to work at a later hour… 10-11 am, many countries have laws where during this holy month a person who is fasting cannot be made to work more than 6 hour days, and no examinations are given to students at this time, or heavy homework load.

    It is unreasonable to expect that students can focus , especially if they lo work long hours outside of school. No one WANTS to break their fast during Ramadan, but these summer months have been exhausting, subhan’Allah, for those of us who have no accommodations to ease the pace of the day and the demands of ones focus to prepare for examinations. My professors are not going to postpone my numerous exams until after Ramadan and the term is over. I pay $3500 per graduate course to improve the life of my family and I wait all year for Ramadan to arrive.

    I am no scholar, but neglecting the reality of life in non-Muslim countries on the fasting person is not in the Islamic spirit in my humble opinion. There must be some balance of the reality of modern life.

  25. Omar says:

    I myself am in the middle of PhD exams and have found it difficult to focus if I am fasting especially as these fasts can be long (16 hours). Given that my financial support and livelihood comes from my PhD program (no tuition, stipend, health insurance, retirement, etc) I find it useful that I can break the fast if needed just to be able to focus on preparations. Failing these exams will result in me being dropped from my program and all the financial support and livelihood that I have. In addition, my work does not entail exam preparation but also work in the lab which takes up much of my day (up to 10 hours at times)

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