Usable Medications During Fasting: Learning the Quran [Archives:2001/50/Health]

December 10 2001

Prepared by: Ismael al-Ghaberi
Yemen Times
At the beginning of the month of Ramadan, certain questions are always asked. This is a good sign, because people want to be sure of what they can or cannot do while fasting. They want their worship to be complete and acceptable to God. At the same time, there is an element of being too particular when the same person keeps asking the same question year after year. Yet, I can appreciate the eagerness to make sure that what one is doing is right. People who are entitled to use a concession is acceptable. Even someone with a chronic illness who must not fast because fasting is likely to aggravate his condition, wants be certain every year that using the concession of feeding a poor person for every day of Ramadan is equivalent to fasting. Yet, such a person reads the Quranic statement which makes that absolutely clear.
What we must understand is that in case of illness, a patient should use the concession granted to him by God. He does not need to fast until he has recovered. He compensates later by fasting one day for each day of Ramadan he did not fast.
If his illness is incurable and he cannot fast at all, then he feeds a poor person for every day of Ramadan, giving that poor person twice as much as the average meal he eats at home.
Now, there are medical conditions which require medication that may be taken during the day, but they do not prevent a person from fasting or doing his work in the normal way. They are controllable by the use of certain medications, which may be given in forms that do not need to be swallowed. The clearest example is asthma, which is an allergy that causes difficulty in breathing.
The difficulty may be very serious. However, the condition is easily controlled with the use of inhalers that give instant relief. The question arises whether the use of a mouth inhaler breaks the fast or not.
When asked, a few scholars will still give the opinion that it is better for an asthmatic person who needs to use his inhaler not to fast. However, the question is more important than that, because there are many conditions that can be treated with medication that does not need to be swallowed. Hence, it is important to know which medication is acceptable to use during the day of fasting. For this reason we need to remember that God has forbidden us to eat, drink and to have conjugal relations while we are fasting.
What does not fall into the category of any of these is not forbidden and does not invalidate fasting. In this light, medication such as an inhaler, whether oral or nasal, does not invalidate fasting. It may be used as and when required during fasting without any effect on the quality or validity of fasting. Similarly, nasal, ear or eye drops may be used when required without invalidating the fast. All injections, whether intramuscular or intravenous, and intravenous dripping, may also be used in the day of fasting without having to break the fast.
A suppository or enema is similarly usable during fasting. None of these forms of medications or treatment breaks the fast, should they be needed by a fasting person. A whole range of medical treatment may be resorted to during the day without difficulty. The help that this gives to people who suffer from different conditions is vital, and they can carry on with their fasting if they are able to fast. In the case of asthma, which has been rapidly increasing in all parts of the world, millions of people can continue to fast, because once they have controlled their breathing difficulty, they are able to fast and do their work normally. But that does not mean that a person who is ill should fast if such treatment is available. The concession for those who are ill remains valid and may be exercised when needed.
What we are saying is that conditions that are not made worse by fasting and can be treated or controlled by any of the above types of medication should not stop a person from fasting.
The scholars who continue to argue that such medications break the fast rely on what scholars of past generations say. Those scholars state that whatever enters the inner cavity in the body invalidates fasting. They consider the eye, ear, and the anal passage as openings that lead to the inner cavity. That was that those scholars knew about the human anatomy, and they made their verdict accordingly. Now we have a totally different knowledge. There may be certain cavities in different parts of the body.
If we take the stomach as the part of the body they may mean, then we realize that nasal drops are hardly likely to reach the stomach, and if that happens, then only in infinitesimal amount. An ear or eye drop will not reach there, nor certainly would a suppository or enema. As for inhalers, they only discharge a spray that goes directly to the lungs, and the passage to the lungs is different from the one leading to the stomach. Hence, to maintain this old position is not justified. These scholars should look at this question in the light of the knowledge available today.
It is often stressed that responsibility is individual, and so is reward. On the day of judgment, we stand before God, each on his or her own. No one can avail another person anything. That is certainly true, but human relations being what they are, we have an influence on one another, none more so than parents on children. Hence, when a child grows up as a God-fearing person, his or her upbringing may well be an important factor in this.
Much reward is kept in store for a person who learns the Quran by heart, recites it very often and acts on its instructions. Such a person normally memorizes the Quran when young, with much encouragement by his parents, and he does so after their death. His supplication is one of the ways his parents receive reward after his death. Therefore, such an upbringing and such great learning and equipment is bound to have bearing on the destiny, not only of the son or daughter who learns the Quran, but also on the destiny of their parents who benefit a great deal by their childrens achievement and actions.
However, it is not true that if the child learns the Quran by heart, he ensures that his parents or seven members of his family are admitted to heaven on account of his own actions. That does not fit with the principle of individual responsibility.
The same reader asks a question about the advice given by the Prophet to young men who feel the sexual urge very strongly, yet they cannot get married. The Prophet recommends that they fast. He cites the case of a disabled person, or one on medication who cannot fast, and asks about an alternative to fasting.
Fasting is recommended by the Prophet as a way to reduce the intensity of the natural urge, particularly for young, vigorous men who are unable to get married. Fasting has the double benefit of moderating all physical desires because of the air of serenity which it extends as a result of a whole day, and drawing a person from food and drink for a whole day, and drawing a person closer to God as he feels that he fasts to earn Gods pleasure. The case cited by my reader could not have the same intensity, particularly if the young man in question is ill, or severely handicapped as he says. If he cannot fast, then he should try other methods of worship which are bound to heighten his physical desire.
The reader also asks about the practice of a person who buys his own burial wraps in preparation for his death. That is a good practice, because the person concerned keeps himself aware of the approach of his death, which is one of the best ways to avoid sin. It also ensures that when he dies, no one would have to pay the expenses of his burial. He is no burden to anyone.