When a New Muslim Fasts Ramadan from Sunrise to Sunset
  • Tue, 07/17/2007
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As Ramadan approaches, it is high time to address a problem that many new Muslims face each year. There is a general misconception among non-Muslims that a Muslim fasts from “sunrise to sunset”. Because of this widely held notion, new converts to Islam often observe their first Ramadan fasts from sunrise. Later on, when they find out that fasting begins at dawn, they are crestfallen. Fasting their first Ramadan fast is often a difficult, though highly significant, experience for them – and one that they are singularly proud of.

The first thing we need to know is that a person who is new to Islam is not held accountable for the legal rulings that he or she is ignorant of. A new convert who acts upon the assumption that the fast starts at sunrise is, therefore, completely blameless.

As for the question of whether a new convert has to make up those fasts due to the mistake, this is a question that has not been addressed directly by the earlier legal scholars.

Nevertheless, there is a comparable question that those scholars discuss: the question of whether someone who eats after dawn mistakenly – but not out of forgetfulness – has to make up the fast. This is a matter about which scholars have expressed two differing opinions:

A. The majority of jurists are of the view that such a person must make up the fast, since eating after dawn invalidates the fast, though the person incurs no sin for the mistake.

B. The second view held by Muslim jurists is that the fast is valid and does not have to be made up. This view was held by a number of scholars from among the students of the Companions, among them Mujâhid and al-Hasan al-Basrî. It was also the view adopted by al-Shâfi`î’s preeminent student al-Muzanî. Ibn Taymiyah also adopted this view.

This opinion is also the one that Sheikh al-`Uthaymîn has adopted. He writes.
A fasting person does not invalidate his fast if he does something to break his fast either in ignorance or out of forgetfulness.

It is not related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered the Companions to make up their fasts on the occasions that they erred. Therefore, if someone eats on a day of fasting believing that dawn has not yet arrived and then realizes that it has, his fast will be valid and he will not have to make up that fast on another day.

[Source: Majmû` Fatâwâ wa Rasâ’il Fadîlah al-Shaykh Muhammad b. Sâlih al-`Uthaymîn (19/24)]
This view is supported by the following evidence:

1. We have the general meaning of the following verse where Allah says: “There is no blame on you for what you do by mistake, but only for what your hearts have deliberately resolved upon.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 5]

2. We also have the general meaning of the verse: “Our Lord! Do not take us to task if we forget or make a mistake.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

In a hadîth discussing this verse, it is related that Allah says: “And indeed I have not.”

3. We find in Sahîh al-Bukhârî where Asmâ’ bint Abî Bakr said: “We broke our fast on one overcast day in Ramadan during the time of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), then the Sun reappeared.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1959)]

It is not mentioned in any source that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered them to make up their fast on this occasion.

4. Most importantly, we find in Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1783) and Sahîh Muslim (1824) that `Adiyy b. Hâtim said:
When the verse was revealed:

“And eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

When this verse was revealed, I took a black string and a white string and placed them under my pillow. At night, I would look at the two strings and started fasting when (it was bright enough) for me to make out the difference between them.

The next morning, I went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him what I had done.

He explained: “This is only referring to the black of the night and the white of the day.”
`Adiyy, moreover, was not the only person to make this mistake. There were a number of other Companions who would “continue to eat and drink until they could make out the color of the two strings.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1784) and Sahîh Muslim (1826)] Though `Adiyy and others, because of their misunderstanding the verse, started fasting well after the arrival of dawn, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not command them to observe their fasts over again. He simply explained to them their mistake.

This final hadîth is the decisive piece of evidence for the question at hand. `Adiyy’s situation is virtually identical to the case of a new Muslim who believes that fasting starts at sunrise. In both cases, the person misunderstands when the time of fasting actually begins.

Since `Adiyy did not have to make up his fast because of his misunderstanding, a new Muslim who believes that fasting starts at sunrise will not have to make up those fasts.

And Allah knows best.