Shaban / Ramadan 1423 H
Volume 15-11 No : 191
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The first Muslim community, composed of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) approached the holy month of Ramadan with great purity and sincerity and there is the Prophet’s guidance with regard to problems which people may have to face in the days of fasting. Most people think of only eating or drinking by mistake, through genuine forgetfulness. There is however a different type of mistake though admittedly rare. Hence, it is important to know what Islam says about it in order to make certain that one’s fasting is complete. This mistake is to end the fasting before sunset, which is the appropriate time for ending the fast. Obviously, if one knowingly ends his fast before sunset, he has not fasted, although the difference in time may not be more than a few minutes. What we are speaking about is when this takes place as a result of a genuine mistake.
The answer to this point is given in a Hadith reported by Hisham ibn Urwa who heard it from Fatimah on the authority of Asma’bint Abu Bakr, herself a companion of the Prophet. She says: “ We finished our fast during the lifetime of the Prophet (Pbuh) on a cloudy day, then the sun came out again in full view.” Hisham was asked: “ Were they ordered to fast another day in compensation?” He answered: “ Compensation is a must.”
Ma’mar reports that he heard Hisham saying: “ I do not know whether they fasted in compensation or not.” Perhaps before explaining this Hadith, it is worth mentioning that Fatimah who is mentioned in the Hadith as the intermediate reporter between Hisham and Asma was Hisham’s cousin and wife. Asma was a close companion of the Prophet. Apart from being the daughter of his closest companion, she was also his wife Aisha’s sister. It is understood from her statement that because of thick clouds which gathered over Madinah, the people thought that the time of sunset must have passed and it was already time for ending the fast. This was felt by everyone since the reference is to the Muslim community having ended the fast, not to a particular person or family. Shortly afterwards, the clouds began to clear and the people were able to see the sun in full view. The Arabic statement suggests that the whole of the sun was visible. There was no doubt whatsoever about the mistake in the timing. Asma’s statement, however does not mention what happened as a result. Hence the question was put to Hisham, the reporter of this Hadith, whether they were told to compensate for this mistake by fasting another day instead. His answer makes it clear that compensation is required. There is however an addition of another report attributed to Ma’mar which quotes Hisham expressing his lack of knowledge on whether the companions of the Prophet fasted a day instead or not. These two reports seem to contradict each other. In one of them, Hisham is quoted as giving a verdict that compensation is required. In the other, he does not know whether the companions of the Prophet compensated for the day or not. It is easy however to remove this contradiction by saying that Hisham’s verdict requiring compensation is based on other reports or Hadiths which he has learned. His doubt about the compensation in the second report applies only to this particular case. Having said that, I should add that the question itself is debatable, with some scholars holding the view that compensation is required while others saying that it is not. The argument of the latter is based on the fact that ending the fast took place by genuine mistake. The Prophet states clearly that Muslims are not accountable for what they do by genuine mistake. Since those people who ended their fast had no intention whatsoever of breaking their fast before time and they genuinely believed that they were finishing the day of fasting on time, then their fasting is acceptable. Those who argue that compensation is required feel that whatever the reason, the fasting was not complete. This was realised by the fact that the sun appeared in full view sometime later. Since it became a confirmed fact that the day of fasting was not completed, compensation for it was required. Obviously, there is no blame attached to any of the Prophet’s companions for having ended the fast early on that day. Similarly, anyone who finishes his fasting before time, through a genuine mistake, remains free of blame. This may happen in a variety of ways such as in the case of a person who goes to sleep during the day and wakes up not knowing what time it is. If the sky is overcast, he may genuinely believe that it is already night time and he may finish his fasting. If he later discovers that he has ended his fast too early, then he is in the same position in which the companions of the Prophet found themselves on that particular occasion related by Asma. If one has to balance between the two views and their arguments, one is bound to say that it is much preferable to compensate for such a mistake by fasting on another day. This gives him the reward of fasting the full number of days, in addition to a reward for his intention to make his worship of fasting complete.
As for the other more common type of mistake, namely eating or drinking in a moment of forgetfulness, the unanimous opinion of all scholars is that this does not affect the validity of fasting in anyway. The Prophet describes the person who makes such a genuine mistake as one “who has been fed or given drink by Allah.”
This makes the food or drink taken, a gift from Allah. When Allah grants someone a gift, he does not question him about using it. The person simply washes his mouth off and continues fasting till the end of the day. Needless to say, this must take place in a moment of forgetfulness-that is through a genuine mistake. If there is any suspicion that at the time of eating or drinking, the person was even slightly aware that he was fasting, then the case is totally different. It is then a case of knowingly ending the fast before time, which is a very grave sin.