Ransom of the Fast

This research sheds light on the sadaqat al-fitr (fidya) that is given in Ramadan, corrects a widespread misconception about verse 2:184, and answers the following questions:

- Who needs to give the sadaqat al-fitr (fidya/ransom) for Ramadan fast?
- Can we choose ransoming instead of fasting?
- What does “taqat” mean?

The Glorified Allah commands:

أَيَّامًا مَعْدُودَاتٍ فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ فَمَنْ تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَهُ وَأَنْ تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ.

(Fast) for a certain number of days. Whoever among you is sick or on a journey, then (should fast) the same number on some other days. For those who are able to (fast) it, a ransom of feeding a desperate person (is required). Whoever does good with a willing heart, it is better for him. But to fast is better for you, if you only knew.” (Al-Baqarah /The Cow 2:184)

The expression ‘ وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ= wa ala allatheena yuteeqoonahu’ in the verse is a positive sentence and means, ‘For those who are able to it (fasting)’. However, most of the scholars assign a negative meaning to the sentence. It is quite a strange situation. Now let’s try to see the commands that derive from its original affirmative meaning, and the reasons and consequences of its transformation into negative form.
27.1 The Affirmative Meaning
If the expression ‘( وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ= those who are able to (fast) it)’ of 2:184th  is duly assigned its positive meaning, the pronoun ‘it’ refers to either ‘(the fast performed by the sick and the traveler) the same number on some other days’, or to ‘the fast’ (الصيام=as-siyam) mentioned in the verse 183.
27.1.1. The Pronoun Referring to the Fast ((الصيام))
 According to the scholars who claim that, the referent of the pronoun ‘it’ in verse 184 is ‘the fast’ in verse 183, fasting was an optional worship at the beginning , even for those who were not sick or on a journey. Those who desired used to fast; the other ones could feed a desperate. Later on, the verse “So, whoever witnesses that month, should spend it by fasting.(2:185) was sent down, and superseded and dismissed the previous case[1].
According to this, the meaning of verse 184 becomes:
Fast for a certain number of days. Whoever among you is sick or on a journey and cannot fast, then he shall fast the same number some other days. If those who are not sick or on a journey and don’t fast it, they need to give a ransom to feed a desperate man…”
So, at the beginning, although the sick and the travelers were obliged to fast the number of days they skipped after Ramadan, those who were able to fast were free to choose. If they didn’t fast deliberately, instead they could pay an amount as high as to feed a desperate man. This is controversial and there can be no controversy in the Book of God. This assertion may be criticized from three more respects:
a- The verse does not express ‘option’, but ‘obligation’. (وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ= wa ala allatheena yuteeqoonahu fidyetun taamu miskeen.) The sentence “For those who are able to (fast) it, a ransom of feeding a desperate person (is required).” is a nominal (nonverbal) sentence made up of a topic and a predicate. The predicate was dropped here. Nonverbal sentence expresses certainty and continuity.
Another verse, which has the same structure as the sentence above is about the sustenance of nursing mothers :
(وَعلَىالْمَوْلُودِ لَهُ رِزْقُهُنَّ وَكِسْوَتُهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ=ve ala al-mawludi lehu rizquhunna ve kisvatuhunna bi’l-ma’ruf.).
For the father the baby has been born for, the sustenance and the clothing (of the feeding mother).”(Al Baqara/The Cow 2:233).
There is no basis of assigning the meaning of ‘option’ only to verse 184, while giving ‘obligation’ meaning to this and all other verses with the same structure.
b- Supersession (naskh) cannot possibly be part of this discussion, because a verse supersedes another one only in two cases:  if the new one brings the equivalent of the previous command; or if it brings a command easier to accomplish. The Glorified Allah commands:
مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آَيَةٍ أَوْ نُنْسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا.
“If We supersede a verse or cause it to be forgotten, we bring a better one or an equivalent one. ” (Al Baqara/The Cow 2:106).
In this case, dismissing the permission not to fast during sickness or travels, would bring a command that is more difficult to accomplish. Such kind of a supersession is not possible. About the issue of supersession, you may read the article: http://www.islamandquran.org/research/abrogation-and-punishment-of-stoning.html.
c- This verse mentions the fasting of the sick and the travelers, who could not fast on Ramadan, the same number on other days. The grammatical rule in Arabic is that; a pronoun always refers to the noun that is at the closest position to it in the sentence. There must be a specific clue about the pronoun ‘it’ to refer to ‘the fast’ in the 183rd verse, but NOT to ’(the fast performed by the sick and the traveler) the same number on some other days’ which is in the very same verse with the pronoun. Wherever we read and search we cannot find the trace of such a clue. In our opinion, the clue might be the ‘sadaqat al-fitr’ that is decreed to be given at Eid al-Fitr. In that case the meaning of the verse becomes: “Those who are able to fast it (the Ramadan fast), should give a ransom to feed a desperate man.”
Ransom, in Arabic fidya, is a fee that should be paid in order to recompense a deficiency in the accomplishment of a worship[2]. According to Ikrima, based on the narration from Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet made the sadaqat al-fitr obligatory to be paid to needy people  for their feeding as a way of compensation and cleansing for the bad and avoidable words that came out from the mouth of the fasting person. Whoever gives it before the Eid prayer gains the reward of a satisfactory zekat. Whoever gives it after the prayer gains the reward of a charity like many others.[3]”
Abdullah b. Umar stated:
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.v.) made the fitre or the Ramadan donation obligatory to be given for every male, female, free person and slave as much as a sa’[4] of dates or a sa’ of barley. People evaluated it to be equal to half sa’ of wheat.[5]”
Fasting is compulsory for every Muslim; male, female, free or slave. The hadiths above have explained that, sadaqat al-fitr  is compulsory, as well. The expression “For those who are able to fast it” is in full compliance with this hadith.
27.1.2. The Pronoun Referring to ‘Fasting the Same Number on Other Days’
Those who consider the pronoun ‘it’ as referring to ‘(the fast performed by the sick and the traveler) the same number on some other days’ are divided into two groups:
1. The first view: The sick and the travelers are of two types; the first ones are not able to endure the fast, so that they fast later; while the other group can fast with not much trouble. The verse has given this second group a choice of fasting or ransoming. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi claims that no other view can be taken into consideration beside this one[6].
In our opinion, since the meaning of the verse expresses obligation, it cannot provide a choice.
According to Abu Hayyan, Imam Malik interpreted the verse as follows: “Those who left unaccomplished fasts due from previous Ramadan, although they were healthy enough to fast, should pay a ransom[7].”
Evidence is necessary to support this view; but no evidence has reached us.


2. The second view: Those who did not fast because they were sick or on a journey, must fast after Ramadan and at the same time they must pay the fee[8]. Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370 h.) ) is he who transmitted this view, but he neither explained whose view it is, nor did he provide us with any evidence or support.

In our opinion, this view is well-grounded. Because according to grammar rules of Arabic language, a pronoun refers to the noun which is closer to itself; in order to have a referent which is in a farther position needs a specific clue. The noun clause closer to the pronoun ‘it’ is ‘fasting the same number on some other days’, in other words ‘qada’ =  ‘fasting after Ramadan’. It complies with the meaning of ‘ransom’ (fidya) in the Qur’an, that the sick and the travelers pay a ransom only upon the fulfillment of the subsequent fast. The Glorified Allah commands:
Complete the Pilgrimage and the Umrah for God. If you are confined (by someone or something), then send a sacrificial animal and also do not shave your heads until the sacrificial reaches its place of slaughter. And whoever among you is sick or had a discomfort on the head and had to shave, then must fast or give charity or sacrifice (an animal) as ransom. ” (Al Baqara/The Cow 2:196)
Shaving the hair before the completion of Pilgrimage or Umrah is a deficiency of that worship. The verse above commands us to recompense this deficiency by paying a ransom. The command in the verse about the fast: “Fasting is better for you.” clearly shows that, not fasting in Ramadan due to sickness or travel impairs the goodness. Paying a ransom after late fulfillment of the fast makes up for this impairment/deficiency.
If the person cannot have a chance to complete the missed fast, then there is nothing else to be done.  It shouldn’t be forgotten that God does not impose upon anybody a duty above his capability. This command, at the same time, is a considerable obstacle in front of the justification of the reason for not accomplishing the worshiping as the shaving of the head or the fast left to be performed later on. So that, he who is not in a real difficult situation cannot use this option.
27.2. Those That Assign a Negative Meaning
Those who assign a negative meaning to the expression (وعلىالذين يطيقونه) in 2:184 are mislead by the incorrect meaning assigned to the word (الطاقة= at-taaqatu). Taqat (الطاقة) means power and strength. The word is same also in Turkish and Azari (and maybe other) languages and signifies the same meaning. In Qur’an we are advised to plea God as such:
رَبَّنَا وَلاَ تُحَمِّلْنَا مَا لاَ طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِ
“Our Master! Do not burden upon us what we have not the strength to bear…” (Al Baqara/The Cow 2:286).
The meaning of this verse is: “…do not burden upon us loads for which our taqat may not suffice.” in other words, “…do not burden upon us loads which we will difficultly achieve.”. It does not mean: “do not burden upon us what we are not able to bear”[9]because not imposing burdens upon people, which they are unable to bear, is already one of God’s principles. He decrees:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا.
God does not burden anybody beyond his capability.” (Al Baqara/The Cow 2:286)
But, Raghib al-Esfahani assigned such a meaning to the word  (الطاقة=”at-taqat”), that it even opposes his own claim :
الطاقة: اسم لمقدار ما يمكن للإنسان أن يفعله بمشقة
So that, ‘taqat’ has become ‘the noun for the amount/degree which human can difficultly achieve’. This is actually the description for ‘lacking the needed strength’, or ‘not being able to’. According to this description, those who have ‘taqat’ to fast, are those who have difficulties in fasting. While, those who lack the ‘taqat’ to fast are in fact those who fast easily.
According to this reasoning, the verse:
“Our Lord! Do not impose upon us that which we have not the ‘taqat’ for!”,  becomes:
“Our Lord! Impose upon us that which we have the ‘taqat’ for”.
And substituting ‘taqat’ with its assigned meaning:
“Our Lord! Impose upon us what we have difficulties in bearing”.
This is reversing the meaning of the sentence! In other words, attributing the meaning ‘the degree which human can difficultly achieve’ to the word ‘taqat’ is wrong. Because, having the required ‘taqat’ in fact means ‘fasting without difficulties’.
In our opinion the source of this error is either misinterpretation of al-Esfahani, or a mistake by one of the people who carbon-copied this book. The original and correct version of the previously mentioned expression should be like this:
الطاقة: اسم لمقدار ما يمكن للإنسان أن يفعله بدون مشقة

So, ‘taqat is a noun standing for ‘what a person can support or achieve with no difficulty’. Reason for the error was absence of the word (دون = dun) in this sentence. It can easily be understood without corrupting the integrity of the sentence. Starting from this point, the expression (يطيقونهالذين وعلى) has been assigned the meaning: ‘who fast with (considerable) difficulties’.

In one of the most famous commentaries, Tafsir al-Jalalayn it is written about this verse:
“For days (ayyāman, ‘days’, is in the accusative as the object of al-siyām, ‘the fast’, or of an implied yasūmū, ‘he fasts’) numbered, few or specific in number, that is, those of Ramadān, as will be mentioned below; God has specified a small number as a way of facilitating matters for those under the obligation; and if any of you, during the month, be sick, or be on a journey, in which prayers are shortened, or if one is strained by the fast in both cases and breaks it, then a number of other days, equal to the ones during which he broke his fast — let him fast them instead; and for those who are, not, able to do it, [to fast] on account of old age or chronic illness, a redemption: which is, the feeding of a poor man, with about the same amount one consumes in a given day, that is, one mudd measure of the principal food of that town each day (a variant reading has [genitive] fidyatin as an explicative clause. It is also said that the [lā] negation of the verb [yutīqūnahu] is not actually implied, because at the very beginning of Islam, they could choose between fasting or offering the redemption; but later on this was abrogated by fixing the Fast [as an obligation], where God says, So let those of you, who are present at the month, fast it [Q. 2:185]: Ibn ‘Abbās said [by way of qualification] ‘Except for the pregnant one and the one breastfeeding, if they break their fast out of concern for the child; in the case of these two, the verse remains valid and has not been abrogated’). For him who volunteers good, by offering more than the minimum amount mentioned for the redemption; that (volunteering) is good for him; but that you should fast (wa-an tasūmū is the subject) is better for you (khayrun lakum is its predicate), than breaking the fast and paying the redemption, if you but knew, that this is better for you, then do it.”

A similar comment is in the edition “The way of Qur’an, Translation into Turkish and Commentary” published by Religious Affairs of Turkey. Given interpretation is:

“For those who have difficulties in fasting, recompense equal to the money needed to feed a poor man (for every day) is sufficient.[10]”
This is explained as follows in their references:
“Due to grammatical usage of the verb ‘yuteequna’, or due to numerous meanings it can be assigned, the expression we translated as “those who have difficulties in fasting” from a number of scholars has been understood and of course translated as “those who are able to fast”. In compliance to this idea, at the beginning till the time the believers got used to fasting, those who were in the condition of fasting could fast or were allowed to accomplish this worshiping by paying the fee. Later, this permission was suspended and every person, who is in the condition of fasting, has been seen necessary to fast.
According to our opinion and translation of what we grabbed, those, who fast with considerable difficulties because of their physical conditions or as a result of their circumstances and situation, who has difficulties in fasting, who if continues to fast is afraid of becoming sick or of not being able to fulfill the job he is inescapably responsible of, instead of fasting can pay the fee for every day. In the past, people weak from age, pregnant women and women nourishing babies have been mentioned as examples to the category of ‘those who have difficulties in fasting’. It has been agreed that elders instead of fasting could pay the fee. While for the other two groups according to the Shafi and Malik sects they are supposed to pay the fee and fast the same number of days, after having overcome the excused period. According to the Hanafi sect, these two groups don’t pay the fee, but fast after their excused period is over.
Most theologians agree that workers of heavy labor, like the labors in mines, excavation, and betony, workers in road buildings, weight carriers fall under the category of ‘those who have difficulties in fasting’, too. This group too can pay the compensation fee instead of fasting if they encounter troubles with fasting[11].”
If the translation and comments above are recognized as correct, number of the people who would call themselves as “fasting with difficulties” increases day by day, and many people tend to pay a ransom instead of fasting. This is a huge mistake, which must be avoided!
Since the real meaning of the expression “وعلى الذين يطيقونه” is ‘those who are able to fast’, the translation ‘who are able to fast with difficulty’ is incorrect. Except for the mistake in Esfahani’s glossary, they have no supporting evidence. God decrees about the permission given to the sick and the travelers to fast the skipped days after Ramadan:
يُرِيدُاللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ
God desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you difficulty” (Al Baqara/The Cow 2:185).
So, only these are included in the people ‘who have difficulties while fasting’.
This is a valuable example that shows how the mistake of an earlier scholar led the later ones to greater mistakes.
Consequently, those who are able to fast are also required to pay the ‘fitra’ in order to ransom the deficiencies they may have caused to their fasts.

[1] Abu Hayyan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Gharnati al-Andalusi, (654 – 754 h.), al-Bahr al-Muhit fi al-Tafsir, Beirut 1412/1992, v. II, p. 189.
[2]Raghib al-Esfahani, Mufradat, art. فدي
[3] Abu Dawood, Zakat, 18
[4] Sa’ is a unit of weight that is equal to 3920 gr.
[5] Bukhari, Zakat, 77
[6] Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, (d: 606 h.), at-Tafsir al-Kabir, Lubnan, 1420/1999, The commentary of Al Baqara 184
[7] Abu Hayyan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Gharnati al-Andalusi, (654 – 754 h.), al-Bahr al-Muhit fi al-Tafsir, Beirut 1412/1992, Commentary on Baqarah 184
[8] Ebubekr Ahmed b. Ali er-Râzî el-Cessâs, Ahkâmu’l-Kur’ân, ö. 370 h. İstanbul 1335, c. I, s. 176
[9] Müfredât (الطوق) mad; Firuzabadî, Besâir, c. III, s. 524, 525.
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Date: Jun 15, 2016
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