بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
As I begin to write this post, to say that I feel overwhelmed with gratitude to Allah – an intense gratitude that is tinged with incredulous wonder at His benevolence – would perhaps be an understatement. You see, 28 days, ago, I was faced with a challenge – a challenge that seemed so arduous and daunting at the time that I seriously doubted whether I was even sane or wise for attempting to take it on.
The thing regarding pregnancy is that it is different for every woman. Some women have very easy pregnancies, so much so that they rave about how they “were born to be pregnant”, or how much they “enjoy being pregnant”. For others, the family way is a very tough experience that leaves them unnerved and shaken; making them downright scared of going through it again.
However, the one common factor I have witnessed among all the Muslim women with whom I have interacted – both older ones, those my age, and younger ones – is that the idea of fasting the 29-30 fasts of Ramadan whilst pregnant elicits responses of jaw-dropping shock, disbelief and horror, to put it mildly.
I got my first glimpse of this reaction when I started expecting my first baby back in 2004, and was in my third month of pregnancy when Ramadan rolled around in October-November. I remember how aghast any woman would be when she’d find out that I had plans to fast during Ramadan, especially since I was vomiting a lot and experiencing the other typical pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and dehydration.
When I started to find out what Islam says about a woman fasting whilst pregnant, I came up with no “نص” – clear-cut, authentic, Islamic scriptural text – prohibiting or even warning a woman against fasting, except this hadith:
It says that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Allah has relieved the traveller of half of the prayer and of the duty to fast, and He has relieved pregnant and nursing mothers.”
[Narrated by Abu Dawud, 2408; al-Tirmidhi, 715; al-Nasa’i, 2315; and Ibn Majah, 1667]
Further, when I consulted my own obstetrician-gynaeocolgist and searched online medical advice given by qualified healthcare professionals, none advocated Ramadan fasting as a potential “threat” or “risk” to a pregnant woman’s health or to that of the baby in her womb.
I was left bewildered then, about the fact that almost all the women I interacted with warned me against fasting nonstop during Ramadan whilst pregnant. I can understand that their primary reason for doing so was concern, but nevertheless, I wondered that when Allah has not classified or even hinted Ramadan fasting as detrimental to the health of an adult Muslim (I challenge you to tell me of even one Muslim who died or fell ill solely due to fasting in Ramadan!?), then who are we to claim with so much confidence that it is best to “avoid” fasting during pregnancy?
Let’s consult the scripture
Let’s see what the Quran has to say about fasting during Ramadan.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“O you who have believed! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of Allah.”
أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (with hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that you fast, if you all only knew.”
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَى وَالْفُرْقَانِ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ يُرِيدُ اللّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُواْ الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُواْ اللّهَ عَلَى مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful.”
The word in the Quran that Allah has used to allow a Muslim to temporarily forego Ramadan fasts and make them up later, is “مَرِيضًا”. The same facilitation or “رخصة” is given to the Muslim who is traveling or “عَلَى سَفَرٍ”.
So I suppose that, on the same token, a pregnant woman is advised to take care and see whether her fasting during Ramadan adversely affects her health or not i.e. does it classify her as “مَرِيضًا”?
The answer to this question will vary from woman to woman, because according to the verse of the Quran above, the rule or condition that would make it permissible for a pregnant Muslim woman to forego fasting during Ramadan and make them up later, would be that her condition classifies her as مَرِيضًا – ill, diseased, distempered, disordered or sick.
Pregnancy per se is not an illness; it is a special physical condition in which a woman carries a burgeoning life inside her. In this condition, she might experience symptoms of illness, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and of course, in the latter months, increased levels of fatigue and hunger that necessitate frequent meals.
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was also asked in Fatawa al-Siyam (p. 162) about a pregnant women who fears for herself or her child, and does not fast – what is the ruling?
He replied by saying:
“Our answer to this is that one of two scenarios must apply in the case of a pregnant woman.
The first is if she is healthy and strong, and does not find fasting difficult, and it does not affect her foetus. In this case the woman is obliged to fast, because she has no excuse not to do so.
The second is where the pregnant woman is not able to fast, either because the pregnancy is advanced or because she is physically weak, or for some other reason. In this case she should not fast, especially if her foetus is likely to be harmed, in which case it may be obligatory for her not to fast. If she does not fast, then like others who do not fast for a valid reason, she has to make up the days when that excuse no longer applies. When she gives birth, she has to make up those fasts after she becomes pure from nifas.
But sometimes the excuse of pregnancy may be lifted but then immediately followed by another excuse, namely breastfeeding. The breastfeeding mother may need food and drink, especially during the long summer days when it is very hot. So she may need not to fast so that she can nourish her child with her milk.
In this case we also say to her: Do not fast, and when this excuse no longer applies, then you should make up the fasts that you have missed.
Shaykh Ibn Baz said in Majmoo’ al-Fatawa (15/224): “With regard to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, it is proven in the hadith of Anas ibn Malik al-Ka’bi, narrated by Ahmad and the authors of al-Sunan with a sahih chain, that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) granted them a dispensation allowing them not to fast, and he regarded them as being like travelers. From this it is known that they may not fast but they have to make up the fasts later, just like travelers.
The scholars stated that they are only allowed not to fast if fasting is too difficult for them, as in the case of one who is sick, or if they fear for their children.
And Allah knows best.
It says in Fatawa al-Lajnah al-Da’imah (10/226): “The pregnant woman is obliged to fast during her pregnancy, unless she fears that fasting may affect her or her foetus, in which case she is allowed not to fast, and she should make up the fasts after she gives birth and becomes pure from nifas.”
[End quote IslamQA.com, Question No. 50005]
They asked me, “Why are you fasting in pregnancy?”. I asked them, “Why ever NOT?”
Yes, why should I not fast whilst pregnant?
The first time when I fasted Ramadan during pregnancy, I was hardly eating or drinking anything much already because of acute nausea and vomiting. I’d spend most of the day lying down anyway, so it made more sense to me to spend the days in this manner in the state of fasting my obligatory fasts rather than by missing them on the presumption that I won’t be able to fast.
Here is what my obstetricians said about this, when I consulted them about fasting during pregnancy. Please note that both are believing Muslim women, and are very well-known names in Karachi’s maternity scene.
The first one was consulted back in 2004 when it was my first trimester. Here is what she said:
Me: “Will my fasting during Ramadan harm the baby?”
Ob-Gyn (with a firm shake of the head): “No.”
Here is what my current obstetrician said, when I informed her that I intended to fast during Ramadan again this year, when I was in the latter part of my second trimester:
(Nodding) “If Ramadan fasting were harmful for a pregnant woman or her unborn child, it would have been made outright forbidden in Islam, but it wasn’t.
This means that whether a woman should fast or not depends on each individual case. In your case, you will have to be careful about 2 things if you fast: that you continue to feel the same level of fetal movement every day throughout the month, and that you ensure that your liquid/fluid requirement is fulfilled during the night. This is to ensure that the amniotic fluid requirement remains fulfilled.
In case you feel that the baby’s movements are not as many as they were before Ramadan, or you start to feel faint, you will need to stop fasting for the sake of the baby.”
I took her advice very seriously and alhamdulillah, by the Grace of Allah, I have been able to fast throughout this month without missing a single day – مَا شَاءَ اللهُ لا قوَّةَ اِلّا بِاللهِ.
I even asked her the exact amount of water in liters that I had to drink every night, and bought a vacuum flask with the right designated volume/capacity to help me drink that exact amount!
Not to mention, I begged Allah to grant me the blessings of late night prayer – qiyaam al-layl – before sehri/suhoor every night, and He guided me to wake up for it throughout the month as well.
I deliberately forewent praying taraweeh in congregation, because I knew that going out every night would tire me out and put an extra strain on me.
What else helped
You have to tie the camel first, then trust in Allah, right?
I took my family into my plans.
Since I homeschool my two children, I knew that having them around all day might test my patience more during the 30 long, hot summer fasts. Hence, I gave them a full tutorial about what Ramadan this year would entail (“I’ll be more hungry and tired, so I might shout quickly at you if you misbehave!”), so I requested them to be more patient with me for the whole month.
I also informed them that there would be no entertainment excursions, no outings, and no social calls at other people’s homes (yes, I have not been to anyone’s home throughout Ramadan! Not even my parents’). I informed them that they would probably see me lying down more, because Baba and I would not be eating anything from dawn to dusk. They were thrilled about the fact that their Baba would be coming home earlier in the afternoons.
Also, alhamdulillah, Allah granted me my benign husband’s complete support. I made a deal with him: I would be wholly responsible for preparing the suhoor meal, but might be too drained and tired at iftar time to prepare a meal then, especially the deep-fried kind. He wholeheartedly supported me and took the evening meal preparation/purchase upon himself.
Setting our priorities
As the regular readers of this blog probably know by now, my husband and I don’t do the whole over-rated, home-cooked food bit viz. the wife slogging at the stove every day just to put a 100% home-made meal that she has prepared only with her own laboring hands before her husband (who waits to be served at the table) and her kids thrice a day.
I do not think, for example, that serving my family readymade, commercially available, frozen paratha’s – not ones I have made myself – puts even the slightest dent on my worth as a wife. 😉
However, just for the record, when people started to assume that I have gone to the other extreme and refuse to cook at all, I had to put up a widget with a Flickr photo feed (you can see it on the right-side panel of this blog) just to provide proof that I can – and do. *Sigh* Can you ever win ’em all?
Anyway, we as a family take many liberties with food and use many alternatives when we need to fill our stomachs. In this particular case i.e. with my being pregnant during Ramadan, we knew that every sacrifice we were making was for the sake of my being able to worship Allah during this blessed month: by fasting, reciting Quran, and praying tahajjud at night – so that the imminent new member of our family would benefit from their mother’s remembrance of and worship of Allah, just like Maryam Bint `Imran did when her mother dedicated her to Allah when she was still inside the womb.
Its all about what a family’s priorities are. In most families, it is a mandatory cultural requirement for a wife to put fresh home-made food on the table for her family; considering this one of the loftiest good deeds that she can do during Ramadan (and it probably is….for them).
For this goal, wives sometimes delay praying obligatory prayers on time (e.g. in order to give the Chicken Biryani just the right amount of ‘dum’) or forego making earnest, lingering dua just before breaking the fast (e.g. to ensure that the spring rolls, samosa’s and pakora’s served at iftar are piping hot and perfectly crisp for their family’s gastronomical pleasure).
Please note that you can get the reward for breaking a fasting person’s fast by even putting a bowl of chopped fresh fruit before them, but the emphasis in our culture is more on how much effort the lady of the house has made in preparing the meal, and of course, in just how perfect it tastes according to our age-old traditions and culinary standards. A wife’s perfect tajweed (Quran recitation skill) holds little court before her dexterity at preparing the perfectly round hot chapati that puffs up like a ball, eh?
Also, anyone who has lived in Karachi for even a few years would vouch for how, come Ramadan, the city’s innumerable vendors and shops literally overflow with a wide array of affordable tasty delights, mouth-watering culinary offerings and economical meal-deals, so much so that the locally available food is one thing that overseas Pakistanis miss the most during Ramadan. More and more magazine articles and websites are popping up to rave about the variety of our city’s food. Enough said.
Life is all about choices, and this is something I refuse to compromise on i.e. letting my so-called kitchen ‘duties’ or homemaking ‘obligations’ adversely affect my or my husband’s rituals of worship.
So yes, to say that my family tried a large variety of edible treats from different shops and vendors this Ramadan would be putting it mildly. Were they complaining, though? No, not at all.
In fact, iftar every day resembled more of an indoor picnic, one that I was usually not a part of, willingly, as I would be lying down till the end of the fast due to tiredness. As it is, I prefer to break my fast on the musallah (prayer rug) in my room, with just a date and a glass of water before praying maghrib, so I avoid the whole festive, party-like, chattery aura while breaking the fast with everyone at the dinner table.
Go ahead, kill me for being the kill-joy. 😛
Was it easy?
Headaches, thirst, fatigue (especially during the last 3 hours of the fast), and the knowledge that I was restricted at home due to the risk of getting dehydrated if I ventured out anywhere, overwhelmed me tremendously at first.
I cried often due to my mood swings during those first days, wondering each day if I would really be able to pull off this holy, blessed month’s challenge of fasting and praying tahajjud late at night. I knew that only Allah’s help could pull me through. The first 7-9 fasts, in which my body was adjusting to the new eating and sleeping routine, were especially difficult. I kept praying to Allah for ease, for making my worship easier and my efforts in His path more blessed.
Alhamdulillah, He answered my dua’s and His help came after the first week of Ramadan. By then, my body and mind had adjusted itself to the new changed routine, and my Quran recitation after Fajr had taken on a steady tempo/momentum. I was all set! لا قوَّةَ اِلّا بِالله!
At this point in time (today we fasted the 28th fast), I am actually feeling sad to see Ramadan go. 😦
So why do it?
Making up missed fasts is not easy
Tell me of one Muslim girl or woman you know directly – just one – who left her Ramadan fasts due to pregnancy or breastfeeding and has made them all up. I would really love to know of someone real like that, because to date all the ladies I know, including the ones who were the most ardent in trying to convince me to forego fasting during pregnancy (especially when I fasted my first Ramadan while pregnant back in 2004), have not yet made up the Ramadan fasts they missed due to each of their children’s pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Making up missed fasts is a matter most Muslim women take lightly. At least that is what I have seen, because somehow Shaitan convinces them that it is just too difficult to do. So, whereas they might have paid the fidyah for the fasts they missed, they assume over time that they are absolved from the burden of having to make up so many missed fasts, especially if the number of fasts they need to make up exceeds one hundred.
Also, they assume that since they had a valid “excuse” to forego fasting (i.e. pregnancy or breastfeeding), they are not required to make up the fasts. I would just like to remind all such Muslim women that they still need to make up their missed fasts – because Allah calls Ramadan fasts “أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَاتٍ” (counted days), and mentions the days to be made up specifically: “فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ” (“So a count from days besides Ramadan”) and goes on to say “لِتُكْمِلُواْ الْعِدَّةَ” (“So that you complete the count”). Conclusion: you need to make up those missed but countable days of Ramadan in your life, my sister.
Simply put, I fasted to benefit my unborn babies spiritually
The most important reason why I chose to take on the difficult challenge of fasting the 30 days of Ramadan during 2 of my 3 pregnancies, was to garner the innumerable blessings and benefits of this holy month’s increased, more intense, bodily worship for my unborn child.
I think that when a baby is in its mother’s womb, it has an exclusive connection with her that is over at childbirth. If the expectant mother is fasting with her body, reciting more Quran, and praying more intensely with the baby inside her, it is bound to positively impact the baby, insha’Allah– for life.
When a pregnant woman recites the Quran loudly, the baby listens to her voice and can feel the sound waves around itself in the amniotic fluid that envelops its being. Anyone who has swum in a pool and tried to talk underwater to someone else in the pool, would know that sound travels well through water and reaches the hearer with a greater “echo” or impact.
Imagine how much the noor of the Quran would affect the baby, especially if the expectant mother was fasting whilst reciting it!
This method of “bonding” with the unborn baby is now being endorsed by hospitals as doctors encourage mothers to not just talk to their babies from the second trimester onwards, but to also “sing” to them and – *cough* – make them listen to music, because, they say, “The baby’s auditory system is one of the first things to develop and there’s a lot of physiological evidence that singing helps with language development.”
They may choose to engage the fetus with music, we should instead do it with the best “melody” that could ever exist: the word of Allah, the Glorious Quran!
Now that the end is in sight…
Eid Al-Fitr has already been announced in Saudi Arabia as I type the end of this post. This means soon I shall be having suhoor for my last Ramadan fast, insha’Allah.
I feel like the tired mountain climber who just craned his neck upwards and spotted the mountain peak for the very first time. Make any sense?
My feelings are swinging between sorrow at knowing that my worship will now go back to “normal”; that life will resume its craziness, and that the chance Allah gives us sinners every year to return to Him and to sincerely repent will be gone for another eleven months.
However, at the same time, I feel excited about celebrating Eid with my family soon and about seeing everyone again after a whole month! Not to mention, the incredible gratitude towards my Lord that is surging inside me at the knowledge that He granted my dua’s, enabled me to fast all the Ramadan fasts, and made His worship during this holy month easy for me.
May Allah accept all the good deeds that we did during Ramadan, and prevent us from slightly wasting even one of them.
I sincerely wish you a hearty, happy Eid!
تقبل الله منا ومنكم