Q.1. Verse 184 of Surah 2 allows certain compensation for not fasting when one is able to fast. This makes fasting a matter of choice. The following verse requires compensation by fasting later, if one is compelled by illness or travel not to fast in Ramadan. There seems to be a conflict here which God’s book should be free of. Please comment.
Altaf Ahmad, Dhahran
A.1. There is absolutely no contradiction between the two verses to which the reader refers. Let us first of all render in English these two verses and the one that comes before them in order to bear them in mind as we discuss the point in question.
Believers, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may be God-fearing. (Fast) on a certain number of days. But whoever of you is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on. Those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear may compensate for it by feeding a needy person.
He who does good of his own account does himself good thereby. To fast is better for you, if you only knew it. It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed: a guidance for mankind and a self-evident proof of that guidance and a standard to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, whoever of you is present in that month shall fast throughout the month; but he who is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on. God desires that you have ease. He does not desire that you be afflicted with hardship. You are, however, required to complete the necessary number of days and to extol and glorify God for having guided you aright and to tender your thanks.
The first of these 3 verses is concerned with the duty of fasting in general, making clear that fasting is part of God’s faith in its previous forms as well as in its final Islamic form. With regard to the second verse, the late Sayyid Qutb writes in his invaluable book, In the Shade of the Qur’an: “Fasting was made obligatory for Muslims at some time during the second year of Hijrah, the emigration from Makkah to Madinah (c. 623 A.D.), shortly before the ordinance of jihad, or striving for God’s cause. As a new duty, fasting was at first hard for the Muslims to observe. Those who found it strenuous were, therefore, exempted and were required instead to feed one needy person for every day they missed of Ramadan. A general recommendation to feed the needy was then made, either as a voluntary act in itself or by feeding more than the minimum number of needy people in lieu of fasting.
This was followed by the recommendation that, apart from cases of illness or travel, fasting would be more beneficial and preferable despite the hardship or discomfort it might cause. There is here an obvious element of education and training of will-power to enable Muslims to make the effort to fast.
“These recommendations were a step toward the withdrawal of the exemption for non-traveling healthy people and making fasting in the month of Ramadan obligatory, as given in verse 185. The concession remained valid for elderly people who find fasting in Ramadan too strenuous and are not expected to be able to fast at a later date.”
“This verse, 185, establishes fasting in Ramadan as obligatory for all healthy non-traveling Muslims, with no concessions except for the elderly, as pointed out above. With the exception of the sick or those on a journey, it has thus become binding on all Muslims who either see the new moon of the lunar month of Ramadan themselves, or learn of it by any other reliable means, to observe the fast in Ramadan — To complete a whole month, sick people or those on a journey are required to make up for days missed in Ramadan by fasting an equal number of days at a later date in the year.”
This clearly means that the concession given to healthy Muslims in the second verse, which remained in force for sometime, was withdrawn later. That concession made it possible to compensate for non-fasting by feeding a needy person two meals for every day of fasting one misses. Such compensation is no longer available except in the case of elderly people who are too weak to fast or those who have a chronic illness and who are unlikely to recover. It is also open to pregnant and breast-feeding women in certain situations.