News & Islam From the Imam’s desk... Frequent questions asked every Ramadan By Shaykh Mustafa Umar, director of California Islamic University Every Ramadan, I receive all sorts of questions about the blessed month. Here are some of the more recurring questions that I receive, and hopefully we can better acquaint ourselves with the answers. 1) WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF FASTING? Fasting is an exercise in self-control. Refraining from food, drink and intercourse is 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 we can apply this to other aspects of our lives. 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 instils the quality of being conscious of Allah, which is the ultimate purpose of fasting. 2) 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 difficulties then it is better to fast. The fasts that are missed must be made-up after returning from the journey. 3) WHEN SHOULD MY CHILDREN START FASTING? The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ 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 be encouraged to fast, at- least sometimes. Once they reach the age of ten, their parents should encourage them to fast the entire month. 4) DOES VOMITING BREAK MY FAST? Vomiting a mouthful [or more] intentionally does break the fast. This is usually a rare scenario. However, unintentionally vomiting does not break the fast. 5) WHAT IF A WOMAN KEEPS HAVING PREGNANCIES AND BREAST-FEEDING FOR A FEW YEARS WHERE SHE IS UNABLE TO FAST? 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 must 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. 6) 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. 7) DIFFERENT MASAJID HAVE DIFFERENT TIMETABLES FOR WHEN FASTING BEGINS. 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, and elevation, 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. 8) CAN I WEAR PERFUME WHEN FASTING? It is permissible to wear perfume while fasting since inhaling that fragrance neither nourishes nor reaches the stomach. 9) 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 Ramadan 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 Ramadan. This is to emphasise the idea that every eligible Muslim must take fasting in Ramdan very seriously. The penalty is to free a slave [which is not possible anymore]. If one is unable to do this, then 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 his/her fast more than once in Ramadan will still perform only one penalty. 10) WHAT IS SADAQATUL FITR AND WHEN SHOULD IT BE PAID? Sadaqah al-Fitr or Fitrah [lit. the charity of breaking fast] is a charity that is paid at the end of Ramadan. 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 Fitrah is an obligation on every Muslim who possesses the minimum amount [nisab] in excess of personal items to pay Zakah on the day of Eid. A man is required 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-Fitr, so whoever possesses the amount at that time must pay the Fitrah. The Fitrah must be paid before the Eid prayer begins. However, if one delays payment, the obligation remains and must still be fulfilled. The Fitrah 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 Ramadan. 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. Fitrah, like Zakah, must only be given to the poor and needy who do not possess the minimum amount (nisab) of wealth. 11) CAN I HOLD A COPY OF THE QUR’AN OR ELECTRONIC DEVICE DURING TARAWIH 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 that purpose is the same, if not worse, because light emitting devices also disturb the people around you who are trying to concentrate in prayer. 12) 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 Ramadan, 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 Ramadan must be made again before starting. 13) WHAT IF TWO DIFFERENT MOSQUES 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. 14) 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, itis recommended to not delay without 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 until the following Ramadan still must make it up, but will be held accountable without an excuse. 15) 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. 16) IS IT OK TO USE EYE/EAR/NOSE DROPS OR ENEMAS WHILE FASTING? It is permissible to use eye/ear/nose drops because the liquid does not normally reach the stomach or nourish the body. 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. 17) 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. 18) CAN I RINSE MY MOUTH WITH WATER OR TAKE A SHOWER TO COOL DOWN WHILE FASTING? This is allowed and does not affect the fast. There is nothing wrong or disliked about this. 19) 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 women should not fast, and make-up the days she missed later on. 20) WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT RAMADAN? WHY FAST IN THIS MONTH ANYWAY? 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. 21) 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. 22) SHOULD BREASTFEEDING WOMEN FAST? There are many women who breastfeed their children and continue fasting. It neither harms them nor their milk supply. Again, this depends on the health and stature of the woman, and her lifestyle. It is best to consult a medical professionals 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, and make-up the days she missed later on. 23) 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. 24) CAN I GIVE BLOOD WHILE FASTING? Giving blood while fasting does not affect the fast, although it is disliked it if will weaken the person very much and make their fast more difficult. 25) 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]. 26) WHY DO SOME PEOPLE PRAY EIGHT AND OTHERS TWENTY UNITS OF TARAAWIH PRAYER [IN THE NIGHTS OF RAMADAN]? There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how many units must be prayed for Taraawih prayer. It is best to follow the masjid you are praying in and not object to those who follow the other opinion. 27) CAN I GO SWIMMING WHILE FASTING? It is permissible to swim while fasting, provided that no water is swallowed. 28) 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. Shaykh Mustafa Umar is the founder and director of California Islamic University and its lead instructor. Raised in Orange County, California, He completed his Bachelors in Information and Computer Science from the University of California Irvine while studying Arabic and various Islamic sciences, including at Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, India and then to Cairo, Egypt. He later graduated with a degree in Theology & Islamic Law [in Arabic] from the European Institute of Islamic Sciences. He went on to serve the Muslim community of Southern California as an Imam and activist, before moving to the UK where he authored several books on Islam whilst at the same time completing an M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of Gloucestershire.