Fasting: In tough conditions

Q208 :I understand that only illness and travel exempt a person from fasting in Ramadhan. A question has been raised by a factory worker who is working in the kiln (furnace) area of a cement factory where the inside temperature is extremely high. He must drink water frequently while he is on the job. Otherwise, the consequences to his health may be very serious. What relief is he eligible for, as a special case, in the light of the Hadith which tells us that no compensation is acceptable for not fasting?

A208 : What you have mentioned about the compensation for not fasting in Ramadhan is correct. The Prophet says that a person who deliberately does not fast on one day in Ramadhan cannot compensate for his deliberate disobedience to Allah even if he would fast for the rest of his life. This is due to the fact that the omission was deliberate. As such, it constitutes defiance and a challenge to Allah. The only two reasons which exempt any particular person from fasting in Ramadhan are sickness and travel. A traveler may choose not to fast in Ramadhan while he is on his journey, and an ill person need not fast. In both cases, however, a compensation is required in the form of fasting a similar number of days to the ones a person did not fast. The compensation is made at any time during the following year, after the traveler has returned and the sick person has recovered. When a person fasts in compensation, he is not required to fast on consecutive days. He may fast one or two days at a time. The total number must be equivalent to the days he did not fast in Ramadhan. The case of people who work in tough condition is frequently raised. What we have to understand is that Allah does not want to afflict us. Nor is it pleasing to Him that we should suffer enormous hardship. Scholars have said that in tough conditions a person may be exempted from fasting, with a compensation required on the same lines as that for the sick person or traveler, if he can manage that. If he has to work every single day of the year, in the same tough conditions, the compensation may be given in the form of feeding a poor person two meals for each day of not fasting. The important point in this case is, therefore, to define what constitutes "tough conditions." What we are speaking of here is not that the work is physically difficult, because many people can endure fasting in such conditions. If we were to open the door very wide in this area, then every single person goes through some difficult days at work. Is he then allowed not to fast? The answer is decidedly 'No.' We are speaking of physical conditions which make fasting pretty impossible. The case you have mentioned most probably qualifies as an example. Nevertheless, the relief must be treated on an individual basis. In the same sort of conditions, two persons may have different degrees of tolerance. One may be able to fast and the other may not be able. Hence, each case must be treated on its own. A person who is working in conditions which may qualify as tough should do the following. He starts, on the first day of Ramadhan fasting. When he reaches a point when he no longer can tolerate the conditions which he is in, he ends his fast. But if he manages to go through the first day fasting till sunset, then he should come the following day fasting. If he manages to fast three days with tolerable difficulty, then he should continue and fast the whole month. If fasting, however, has a clear adverse effects on him, he must end his fast and compensate by fasting at a later time. If he takes one or two days at a time off work, he fasts on these days. As I say, if compensation is to be made, then it must be in the form of fasting a similar number of days, whenever that is possible. If again fasting is not possible, then compensation can take the form of feeding a poor person. A person in such a situation may also think of taking his annual leave in Ramadhan. If this is practical, then it provides him with a chance of fulfilling Allah's orders in a relaxed way. Perhaps I should add a word that in Muslim country, a case like the one you have mentioned should be treated as a case for the factory and its workers. The labor force should discuss the conditions of work with the management before the approach of Ramadhan. Options may be considered, such as doing the work at night only, or reducing work hours so as to allow people to fast, or closing the factory altogether in Ramadhan. If any of these options is practical, it should be put into effect. When the management helps the work force to fulfill their religious duties, the benefit is mutual. An Islamic government will look into such a matter favorably. No one in an Islamic society should hesitate in providing a good and practicable solution for such a problem. Having said that, I realize that fasting is an individual duty and every person should deal with it according to his own situation. A person whose work makes it absolutely necessary for him to have a frequent intake of water, because of the immense heat at the place of work, cannot endure fasting for 15 or 16 hours each day, especially if he spends six or seven hours in such a place. I have outlined the solution at the individual level, but a solution at the level of the factory as a whole may be quite possible. It should not be overlooked.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )