Q. I am asthmatic and I have to use my inhaler to help my breathing every few hours. If I do not, I suffer great difficulty in breathing and I cannot do anything properly. Some people say that an inhaler can be used during the day of fasting, while others say that I should not fast, as long as I have this condition. Please comment.
(Name and address withheld)
A. There is no doubt that a person who suffers from illness may avail himself of the concession granted by God which means that he or she need not fast during illness. Indeed to use the concession is better than not to use it, because it is something granted by God, and we should be grateful for it. However, there are certain conditions which represent no trouble to a person if he or she fasts, provided they take the necessary medicine to either treat or control them. One of these is asthma, which is a chronic, non-infectious disease of the lungs. There are other conditions that may be treated with localized medicine, such as nasal, ear or eye drops, and others which are treated with injections or enema. Could a person take such medicines during the day of fasting? If so, will they invalidate his fasting?
The answer to these questions should look first at what is forbidden during the day of fasting. When we look at that, we conclude that fasting is an abstention from actions that satisfy the two strongest desires of preserving ourselves as individuals and as a species. These are eating, drinking and sex. The first two maintain the individual and the third maintains the human kind. How does taking any of the medicines mentioned above relate to either type of action?
Imam Ibn Hazm says: “We have never heard of anyone eating or drinking through nose, ear, eye or genital.” This is absolutely true. When we see a person taking nasal or eye drops, does it occur to any of us that he is drinking? Besides, when scholars of old said that taking anything through any passageway into the body invalidates the fast, they were not fully aware of the anatomy of the human body. They thought that whatever we take through the nose, eyes or ears ends up in the stomach. But our scientific knowledge today makes us certain that this is not true. Hence, we could say without fear of contradiction that none of these medications invalidates fasting. One may take nasal, ear or eye drops, nasal or mouth inhalers, intra-muscular or intravenous injections, suppository or enema for medical reasons without invalidating his or her fast.
This gives us the added advantage of enabling many people to fast while controlling or treating their conditions. The reader will have no difficulty in observing the fast, if he takes his inhaled medication when it is needed. The inhaler does not give him any food or drink to quench his thirst or alleviate hunger. He may take it and maintain his fast, hoping to receive God’s reward for that.
If we were to say that any such medicine invalidates fasting, we actually prevent millions of people from fasting, who will have no trouble observing this duty if they take the right medication. That is something very serious.