It is established and agreed upon in Islamic law that a person who is on a journey in the month of Ramadan is exempted from fasting and has to make up the missed days later. This is because Allah says in the Qur’an: “But if anyone is ill or on a journey, then (let him fast the same) number of other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 185]
However, what about a person who starts the day in Ramadan at home, but then starts on a journey during the day? Should that person fast for the whole day or break the fast when embarking upon the journey?
There is no problem of a person embarks on a journey at night during the month of Ramadan. That person is permitted to refrain from fasting on the following day as long as he or she is still on the journey when morning arrives. This is the opinion of the vast majority of scholars from the Companions, the Successors, and the jurists, including the scholars of the four schools of thought.
It is also agreed that it is not permissible to refrain from fasting or break one’s fast before embarking upon a journey, even if one intends to embark on a journey later on during the daq.
However, what happens when that person starts on the journey during the day? Must the person remain fasting or is it permissible to break the fast at that time? This is a matter about which scholars are divided. There are two opinions:
1. The first opinion is that the person is permitted to break the fast for the remainder of the day in which he or she starts the journey. This is the well-known opinion of Ahmad b. Hanbal as well as the view of al-Sha`bî, Ishâq, Dâwûd al-Zâhirî, Ibn al-Mundhir, and a good number of other jurists.
Allah says: “But if anyone is ill or on a journey, then (let him fast the same) number of other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 185]
A person who starts traveling during the day is indeed on a journey, so the verse is applicable.
Also, there is the hadîth related by Jâbir that the Prophet (peace be upon him) broke his fast.
2. The second opinion on this matter is that the traveler is not permitted to break the fast during that day that he or she started off fasting. The traveler must complete that day’s fast. This is the view of the majority of jurists, including al-Zuhrî, al-Awzâ`î, Abû Hanîfah, Mâlik, and al-Shâfi`î.
They argue that the person’s initial residency is the predominant consideration. During that day, both residency and travel have taken place, so the person's initial residency and the prohibition of breaking the fast for a resident are the considerations that must be given priority. Therefore, this person must complete the fast.
They also argue that the person has entered into an obligatory act of worship with the intention to carry it out; therefore it is impermissible to break the fast just as it is impermissible to break off an obligatory prayer after beginning to offer it.
The first of these two opinions – that it is permissible for a traveler who starts a journey during the day to break the fast – is the strongest. It is more in conformity with the fact that permission not to fast is a concession for the traveler to make things easier.
However, the traveler should not break the fast until he or she has at least departed from the area of habitation where he or she is residing. In other words, the traveler should remain fasting until he or she has cleared the populated area and its buildings.
It is related that Anas b. Mâlik broke his fast while still at his city of residence because he intended to travel. The same is related about al-Hasan al-Basrî. However, this opinion is weak for a number of reasons:
1. Allah says: “But if anyone is ill or on a journey...” Scholars of the Arabic language tell us that the phrase “on a journey” implies actually being upon one’s means of conveyance. A person at home who intends to travel that day cannot be described as having gotten upon his or her means of conveyance. Such a person is not yet “on a journey.”
2. Allah says: “Whoever among you is present during the month should fast it.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 185]
This person, being a resident, comes under this description of being “present during the month”, so he or she must fast.
3. The concession not to fast is tied in with the act of travel itself, and not with the person’s intention.
4. If a person can break his or her fast simply because of an intention to travel, it can lead to a situation of frivolity and confusion. Someone can break the fast at home and simply say: “Well, I had intended to travel.”
Admittedly, a person who is at home may start the day with a sincere intention to travel. However, he that person can still change his or her mind and stay home, even though he or she would already have broken the fast.
Therefore, the correct position on the matter is that a person who intends to travel during the day in Ramadan may not break the fast until he or she has actually started to travel and departed the buildings of his or her town of residence. Only then may the fast be broken.
And Allah knows best.