Acts of Worship

Ramadan, Fasting, and Mental Illness

ramadan fasting mental illness

Health is a blessing and our bodies are a trust from Allah that we are accountable for looking after. Prophet Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, said,

“Whoever among you wakes up in the morning secured in his dwelling, healthy in his body, having his food for the day, then it is as if he acquired the whole world.” (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)

“There are two blessings which many people do not appreciate: health and free time.” (Bukhari)

While the religious texts of Islam are concerned with spiritual healing, physical healing is also advanced. Our Prophet said,

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy.” (Bukhari)

“… ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Should we seek medical treatment for our illnesses?’ He replied: ‘Yes, you should seek medical treatment, because Allah, the Exalted, has let no disease exist without providing for its cure, except for one ailment, namely, old age.'” (Tirmidhi)

Health has physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components. Ramadan boosts a Muslim’s spiritual health, but what if fasting adversely affects the physical or mental health? Is it piety to fast in such a case? Are there any guidelines for a Muslim to determine when not to fast due to illness, specifically mental illness?

Mental illness, like physical illnesses, is on a continuum of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe. While there are over 200 classified forms of mental illness, the five major categories of mental illness are: anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, dementias, and eating disorders. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these.

A Muslim should see if the illness that is affecting him permits him to fast. A doctor can help in determining if he is able to fast or not. If he cannot, then his illness allows him to break the fast of Ramadan. Allah said,

“Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by later days. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (Baqarah 2:184)

Majority of Islamic scholars are of the opinion that an illness that is affected by fasting permits breaking the fast.

Sickness and fasting are related in three ways:

  1. Fasting will make you ill. This may be applicable to people who have to eat food as a form of medicine or have to take medicine during the day.
  2. Fasting will delay the healing or the cure. If cure will be delayed by fasting, a Muslim is allowed to break the fast.
  3. Fasting will increase the severity of the illness.

In all three cases, a person is allowed to break the fast of Ramadan after discussing his condition with a physician.

It is not piety to fast in this condition. Such a person may be included in the statement of the Prophet that, “It is not righteousness that you fast on a journey” (Bukhari) and the same applies to sickness because breaking fast in a state of sickness is a concession.

At the same time, if your physician can alter the treatment plan (for example: adjusting the medications so you take them before suhoor or after iftaar), then you should consider fasting.

Making a unilateral decision to fast, without doctor approval is irresponsible. You should try to seek the opinion of a reliable Muslim physician as they will better understand how to balance your religious duties and preserving your health. According to Sh. Ibn Uthaimeen, one may follow the opinion of a skilled and competent non-Muslim physician as well.

In cases of chronic mental illness where a Muslim is not likely to recover and the condition will be lifelong, a poor person has to be fed at least 750gm of the staple food consumed in the society for every missed day of Ramadan.

In conclusion, “ask Allah for pardon and security. Certainly, after (religious) conviction, no one has been given anything better than security!” (Tirmidhi)

Every Muslim should make a habit of saying the words that the Prophet of God used to repeat every morning and evening,

“O Allah, I ask You for security in this world and in the hereafter.

O Allah, I ask You for forgiveness and security in my religion and my worldly affairs, in my family and my property.

O Allah, conceal my faults, and keep me safe from the things which I fear.

O Allah, guard me in front of me and behind me, on my right hand and on my left, and from above me.

I seek refuge in You from being taken unaware from beneath me.” (Abu Daud, Ibn Majah)

And Allah knows best.

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