Fasting gets harder on the body as we get older. However, the elderly are not the only age demographic who may find fasting difficult in Ramadan. Around 40% of children in the U.S. have chronic illnesses.1 Considering this scenario, Muslim families may be experiencing their young and old finding it difficult to fast more so than previous generations. With the increase in health issues in all age demographics, many of us may need advice on how to attain the full rewards of the blessed month of Ramadan if we cannot fast ourselves.
My parents are in their 70s with multiple ailments, however, their conviction for fasting in Ramadan is undeterred every year. My siblings and I worry a lot but are not able to convince them to go easy on their bodies. However, we know that eventually, they’ll have to let go, not knowing if it is going to be this Ramadan or next. They’re holding on, stubbornly. And we may have to have “the talk” sooner than later. They do realize the ramifications of insisting on fasting but cannot let go of that feeling of closeness to Allah that comes from hunger, increased worship, and charitable actions.
A friend of mine has children with multiple chronic ailments. She worries that her children are missing out on the experience of Ramadan by not being able to fast. Another friend who is not able to fast due to a chronic reflux health issue is sad during Ramadan and yearns for the experience. Yet another young pregnant sister is feeling guilty for missing her fasts. When I speak to the elderly, unable and ill, they cite sadness, fear, guilt, and anxiety as the foremost emotions they experience in Ramadan when not fasting. They fear losing out on the barakah or blessings. They are anxious about not earning enough rewards and forgiveness from Allah. They feel guilty for not participating and are sad for feeling left out. Allah says in the Quran:
“So whoever sights (the new moon of) the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185)
Our bodies are a gift from Allah and we are entrusted to keep them in good shape not just for ourselves but also for the people we take care of, our families, friends, and neighbors. They also have rights over us, to be healthy so that we can dispose of our duties towards them in a manner pleasing to Allah.
It is a favor of Allah upon us when he excuses us from fasting. He is the one who designed our bodies and decided for us to have the health that we do. Therefore, we should feel grateful when He favors us by excusing us from fasting as it would bring more harm than good. Think of it this way, maybe He wants us to earn the blessings of Ramadan in other ways we are capable of. This is special and when we obey, we answer his call.2
Rewards Equivalent to Fasting in Ramadan
There are ways that the elderly and ill can still enjoy Ramadan’s blessings and feel connected to Allah including:
- be more charitable
- participate more in taking care of the fasting family members
- volunteer time to help community members
- provide childcare for a family friend
- help with transportation
- cook and/or deliver food
- volunteer to teach young and old Quran recitation/reading
- attend the activities in the local masjid
- help serve suhoor/iftar at the masjid.
Here are the proofs from the hadiths or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that mention other activities also have the same or equivalent rewards to fasting during the month of Ramadan.
1. Thank Allah after eating.
“A person who is thankful (to Allah) after eating gains the equivalence in reward to a patient fasting person.”
( Sunan Ibn Majah #1836)
2. Feed a fasting person.
“Whoever gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will have a reward like theirs, without that detracting from their reward in the slightest.”
(Sunan Ibn Majah #1736)
3. Exercise good manners.
“By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day.”
(Sunan Abi Dawud #1394)
4. Take care of widows and orphans.
“One who makes efforts (for learning to be spent) on a widow and the poor is like (gaining the reward of) a Mujahid in the cause of Allah, and I think he also said: He is like one who constantly stands for prayer (without getting tired) and observes fast without breaking it.”
(Sahih Muslim #2968)
5. Prepare for and walk to Friday Prayers.
“Whoever washes their hair and performs Ghusl on Friday, and goes early (to the Masjid), arriving early, gets close and listens (to the Khutbah) and is silent, there will be for him in every step he took the reward of a year of fasting and standing (in Tahajjud prayer).”
(Sunan at-Tirmidhi #496)
Deciding about the Safety of Fasting during Ramadan H2 Header
There are common ailments that exempt people from fasting. These include major illnesses and chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, severe nutrient deficiencies, and more. These are all severe conditions and may require shots of nutrients, insulin, chemotherapy, steroids, etc. Persons with such ailments should focus on keeping healthy by not fasting.3 Vaccines and inhalers are considered to carry no nutritional value and are generally allowed by scholars to be taken during the fast. It is best to consult and follow your imam who also has good understanding of health-related sciences, about medications that are taken as shots or are vaporized (inhalers).4
So how do we go about convincing our loved ones who are feeling sad, anxious, guilty, and afraid?
1. Have a heart-to-heart conversation.
Discuss the ramifications of fasting in their poor health condition. Let them know how you feel and listen to them as they explain their desire to fast. Ask them to consider the consequences of their fasting not only on them but also how it also affects their loved ones. For example, fasting can disrupt their daily and regular prayers and/or may cause hardships for the family. Remember to discuss these in a diplomatic and gentle way.
2. Convince them to consult and plan with a doctor before Ramadan begins.
Help them make an appointment and share all the necessary information with the doctor about the requirements of fasting, duration, and the number of days. A doctor’s consultation should be the deciding factor in pursuing fasting.
3. If the doctor approves, make a detailed plan.
Be sure to:
- Educate yourself and your other family members about dehydration, abnormal fatigue or any other ailment-related symptoms that may result due to fasting. Establish an understanding for recording or keeping checks/tabs on any unusual appearance of symptoms and keep tabs diligently.
- Plan nutritious meals that are suitable for the health condition. For example, my son has a gluten allergy and our suhoor/iftar meals always have gluten-free options. There are many delicious options available.
- Make sure not to miss suhoor/sehri (pre-dawn meal).
- Start adjusting the medication schedule before Ramadan, and under a very watchful eye of the doctor.
- And foremost, ask them to make lots of dua for you!
In conclusion, letting go of fasting for the elderly is not an easy decision. It is a lifetime of dedication that they must let go. So goes for the ones who are younger but in ill health, wanting to establish their practice of fasting but not able to enjoy the experience that only comes from fasting. For this, they need help from family and friends. We can help them be part of the Ramadan experience and bask in the Divine energy of this blessed month together.
“Allâh is He Who created you in (a state of) weakness, then gave you strength after weakness, then after strength gave (you) weakness and grey hair. He creates what He wills. And it is He Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Powerful.”
(Surah Ar-Rum, 30:54)
End Notes and Further Reading
Tayaabah Qazi has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, an AdminI/II Certification from the State of Maryland Education Department, and a Secondary Teaching Certification in Chemistry as well as a CPP certificate. She has served in the education field as a teacher and an administrator of schools. Recently, she served at Community College of Baltimore County as a Coordinator of Adult Basic Education program. Currently, Tayaabah is the Program Manager at the Office of Workforce Development at Maryland Department of Labor. She has been a long-time resident of Maryland for 17 years, with her family, but hails from Southern California. She is also a staunch believer of the 4 Cs: Compassion. Commitment. Conversation. Cultivation.