Fasting in the days of Ramadan is obligatory (fard) on every Muslim. The one who does not believe it to be obligatory is not a Muslim, and the one who, without a valid excuse, does not fast in a day of Ramadan is a sinner.
"Fast" means "to refrain from eating, drinking and having sexual intercourse throughout the day, right from the break of dawn upto sunset, with a clear intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah." If somebody refrains from food, drink and sex for any reason other than seeking the pleasure of Allah, it cannot be called a "fast" in the terminology of the Shariah. It is thus necessary that there should be an intention which is called the "niyyah".
For the fasts of Ramadan it is advisable that the "niyyah" be made in the night, i.e. before the commencement of the fast. However, if a person had no intention of keeping fast before dawn, he can also make "niyyah" in the morning at any time before midday, i.e. about 11/2 hours before Zawal (noon). But this rule is applicable only for the fast of Ramadan and for the nafl (optional) fasts. As for fasts of qada' it is always necessary to make niyyah before dawn.
Since the niyyah means intention, it is an act performed by one's heart. It need not be pronounced in words. However, it is also permissible to express this intention in spoken words, but those who take it as 'necessary' to pronounce the words or "niyyah" are not correct.
Acts Nullifying the Fast
only nullify the fast, but also make one liable to both qada' and kaffarah. The number of these acts is only three, namely:
1. Eating something;
2. Drinking something;
3. Having sexual intercourse.
These three acts are liable to kaffarah when they are committed deliberately after one has started a fast, provided that the person committing them knows that they render the fast broken.
In such cases both qada' and kaffarah are obligatory on him. qada' means to keep another fast in lieu of the broken one. And kaffarah means to perform an act to expiate the sin of having broken the fast.
Kaffarah may be given in the following three ways respectively:
1. Freeing a slave;
2. Fasting for two months constantly without a break;
3. Giving food to sixty persons.
Since slavery has come to an end in our days, only the latter two ways can be adopted today. But the person who has strength enough to fast for two months constantly has been bound to fast. He cannot adopt the third way, i.e. giving food to sixty persons. If he is too weak to fast for such a large number of days, he can give kaffarah by giving food to sixty persons.
In the second place, there are some acts which nullify the fast, but do not make the relevant person liable to kaffarah. In such cases only qada' is obligatory. These acts are:
2. Eating or drinking under the wrong impression that the dawn has not yet broken, or the sun has set, while otherwise was true.
3. If someone eats or drinks while he does not remember that he is in a state of fasting, his fast is not broken. He should continue with his fast after he remembers. However, if he eats or drinks after he remembers, his fast will stand broken, and if this eating or drinking was due to his wrong impression that his fast stood broken by his first eating or drinking, he will be liable to qada' only.
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