For our purposes, an illness is defined as anything that takes a person out of a state of good health. Some illnesses prevent a Muslim from fasting. Other types of illness do not. It is important for Muslims to know the types of illness that justify a person breaking his or her fast in Ramadan.
A sick person for whom fasting would be injurious to his health may break his fast. On this basis, Ibn Qudâmah writes in al-Mughnî: “It is a matter of juristic consensus among scholars that it is, in general, permissible for the sick person to break his fast.”
The proof for this is the verse: “Whoever among you is ill or on a journey can make up the number from other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 184]
In this verse, Allah has given permission for the person who is ill to abstain from fasting in the month of Ramadan and to make up however many days he misses on account of his illness at a later date.
There are many types of illness:
1. Illnesses that make fasting unbearable
A person afflicted with such an illness can break his fast according to the opinion of all scholars, and this is backed up by a considerable amount of evidence.
“Allah does not burden a soul with greater than it can bear.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]
“…and do not burden us with what we have not the power to bear.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]
“And fear Allah as much as you are able.” [Sûrah al-Taghâbun: 16]
2. Illnesses that do not make fasting impossible but which can be aggravated and made worse by fasting
If it is determined by at least one reliable doctor that fasting will indeed aggravate a person’s illness, then it is preferable for that person to refrain from fasting. However, if that person insists upon fasting, the fast will be valid.
In this context, Ahmad b. Hanbal, when asked about fasting for a person beset by fever, gave the answer: “And what disease could be worse than fever?”
It is also related that Ahmad said: “A woman who fears for herself being beset by tonsillitis may break her fast.”
3. Illness that requires medication to be ingested during the day
A person who needs to take medication during the day may break his or her fast, especially if the consequences of delaying the medication could be serious, like a worsening of the condition or the loss of a limb.
4. Illnesses where breaking the fast will facilitate recovery
In cases where eating or drinking frequently is medically determined to facilitate or speed up recovery, then it is permissible to for the patient to refrain from fasting and make up the missed fasts after recovering.
Other Cases Where Fasts can Be Broken
A person who is on a journey may break his or her fast. “Whoever among you is ill or on a journey can make up the number from other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 184]
Also, a healthy person may refrain from fasting if he or she has well-grounded fears that fasting will precipitate illness, bring on severe difficulties, or place unbearable demands upon his or her person.
Ibn `Abbâs permitted breaking the fast for someone “…who suffers from severe and chronic thirst”. Some people suffer from chronic thirst and cannot go for long periods of time without water. Such people can break their fasts.
Ahmad b. Hanbal was asked about fasting for a very young girl who attains puberty and menstruates during the month of Ramadan. He replied: “She should fast, and if it is difficult for her, she should break her fast and make the missed days up later.”
Ahmad’s fatwâ takes into consideration the girl’s young age as well as her not being accustomed to fasting. It also takes into consideration that she may be beset by weakness in those circumstances.
Though Ahmad stated that she should make up her fast, his students did not mention that she had to do so in that particular situation.
And Allah knows best.