Can a person whose occupation involves long hours of concentration and focus, and/or the safety of others, fast?
All Muslims are required to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. However, there are certain occupations that require several hours of continuous concentration and focus, and/or are responsible for the safety of others. For illustration purposes, this may include (but is not limited to) surgeons, whose delayed reflexes from hypoglycaemia may impair their ability to operate safely; or heavy machinery operators who, due to fasting, may experience slower response times that can potentially lead to fatal accidents; or construction workers, who are required to work long hours in the heat.
Scholars have generally asserted that people working in such occupations are required to:
- Leave or change their occupation during the holy month of Ramadan.
- If it is not possible to leave or change their occupation, then they should abstain from breaking their fast until it becomes extremely difficult to bear the fast, in which case it is permissible for them to consume the minimum amount of food or drink that will allow them to continue to fast for the rest of the day. For each fast that they break by consuming a minimum amount of food or drink, they must keep a lapsed (qaḍāʾ) fast, however they are not liable to pay a penalty (kafāra).
A person whose occupation involves several hours of concentration and focus and/or the safety of others, should try to arrange taking leave from work. If it is not possible to do so, then they should fast but can consider the following options: a) they can shorten the length of fasting if they reside in parts of the world that have extensive hours of day light; or b) they can consume the minimum amount of food or drink that would allow them to recuperate and continue fasting for the rest of the day. In both cases, they are not required to keep a lapsed (qaḍāʾ) fast or pay a penalty (kafāra).
1. It is clear from the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet and his family that the objective of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is to maximise spiritual and health benefits (see the following ICCI discussion: Is it obligatory to fast in the holy month of Ramadan.
Furthermore, the Quran states that “fasting is better for you, if only you knew.”
In light of this objective and the aforementioned Quranic verse, it is necessary that an able person must fast, irrespective of whether or not his/her occupation requires several hours of concentration and focus and/or ensuring the safety of others.
2. However, there is a tradition from Imam al-Sadiq that states: “It is permissible to sip water whilst fasting and carry on fasting.”
This hadith also demonstrates that in extreme situations the objective of fasting (i.e. to maximise spiritual and health benefits) can be met with mere partial abstention from eating and drinking. This is why the aforementioned narration highlights that in extreme situations, it is permissible to consume a minimum amount of water and to continue fasting. Accordingly, if an individual’s occupation requires several hours of concentration and focus and/or ensuring the safety of others, then it is permissible for them to consume the minimum amount of water required to replenish their focus and concentration and continue fasting.
3. This understanding is also supported by various juristic maxims (qawāʿid al-fiqhiyya) that are derived from the Quran and traditions of the Prophet and his family, which act as meta-legal principles. For instance:
- The juristic maxim of nafī al-ḍarar (‘eliminating harm’) stipulates that causing any harm to oneself or to others is prohibited, and therefore if enacting the Sharia obligatory fast will cause any type of harm to oneself or to another then it must be dropped.
- The juristic maxim of nafī al-ḥaraj (‘eliminating hardship’) stipulates that no Sharia obligation should cause unbearable hardship. Accordingly, if due to an obligatory fast, a person finds it hard to concentrate or focus in his/her workplace and cannot take leave for whatever reason, then the obligation must be dropped.
Both these juristic maxims stipulate that the Sharia obligation of fasting must be dropped completely if an individual feels that due to fasting they are unable to concentrate and focus and/or ensure the safety of others in their line of work. However, in accordance with the objective of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and the hadith of Imam al-Sadiq, it can be concluded that in extreme circumstances, an individual can partially abstain from eating and drinking and carry on fasting. In other words, they can consume the minimum amount of water or food to recuperate themselves and continue fasting.
4. Since in extreme circumstances an individual can continue fasting after consuming a minimum amount of food or drink, he/she is not liable to repeat a fast or pay a penalty (kafāra).
5. If a person lives in a part of the world that has extensive hours of daylight and finds it difficult to concentrate and focus due to the length of fasting, then they can shorten the length of their fast. Please see the following ICCI discussion: Is it permissible to change the length of fasting in areas of the world that have abnormal day-lengths?