Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 184

أَيَّامًا مَّعْدُودَٰتٍ ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۚ وَعَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُۥ فِدْيَةٌ طَعَامُ مِسْكِينٍ ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُۥ ۚ وَأَن تَصُومُوا۟ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] - a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers good [i.e., excess] - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Fasting is prescribed for a specific number of days. It is not required the whole year round. Nevertheless, those who are ill or travelling are exempt from fasting until they recover or return home.

On the face of it, the type and extent of the illness and the travel to which the exemption applies are left unqualified. Therefore, any kind of illness or travel would exempt one from fasting, provided one makes up for it at some other time, after one has recovered or returned home. This would seem to be the most appropriate interpretation of the Qur’ānic statement, truly reflecting the overriding Islamic objective of mitigating hardship and relieving discomfort. The concession is not conditional on either the severity of the illness or on how arduous the journey is, because in all cases people should not have to undergo any undue strain as a result of fasting.

There could be other considerations, known only to God, for leaving the conditions so general. Fasting during illness or in the course of a journey could result in hardship or adverse effects that human beings cannot foresee or predict. We take the ruling as it is stated, in the certain belief that there are valid reasons behind it.

Some people may fear that such a view may encourage a more lax attitude that could lead to abuse of such concessions, rendering them an easy excuse for neglecting religious observances and practices. This concern is said to account for the strict terms set by Muslim scholars on the use of these concessions, but it should not, in my view, justify the need to restrict an unqualified Qur’ānic ruling such as the one under discussion.

Islam does not lead people to obedience by force. It guides them through their consciousness of God, which is the ultimate objective in this particular case. Those who use concessions to evade religious obligation merely bring their own faith under suspicion, because their attitude negates the very purpose of the obligation.

Above all, it is important to keep in mind that Islam is a religion laid down by God not by man, and He is best aware of how much tightening or relaxation is prudent in fulfilling its obligations. It must be the case, then, that a concession can under certain circumstances serve a particular purpose far more effectively than would strict adherence to the rule. From this we find that the Prophet Muĥammad instructed Muslims to avail themselves of the concessions and exemptions God has allowed them.

If it so happens that in certain generations people’s behaviour tends to become corrupt, reform will not be achieved through a stricter application of religious rules. A better chance of reform would come through enlightenment, education and motivation in order to instil the quality of fearing God in people’s hearts.

At times of social decline, a stricter application of religious rules would, indeed, be desirable as a deterrent in matters relating to public or collective behaviour. But the fulfilment of personal religious obligations is largely a matter between God and each individual, with little or no direct influence on the public interest. In public duties — unlike personal religious duties which are based on faith — appearance and form have considerable significance. Once taqwā, or the fear of God, takes its roots, one would not resort to concessions except when absolutely necessary, and with a clear conscience. A concession is thus exercised only when one is fully satisfied that it is conducive to achieving a higher degree of obedience to God.

Strictness in the application of the rules relating to acts of worship generally, and the tendency to restrict unqualified exemptions, can be counter-productive. Besides causing hardship and discomfort, they have little effect in dissuading those who want to evade the rules. It is far more appropriate to approach Islam and understand it within the terms and the framework in which it is presented by God, who is wiser and more aware of all the advantages to be gained from fulfilling its obligations.

Exemption from Fasting when Travelling

A number of reported incidents illustrate the Prophet’s attitude towards the exemption from fasting in Ramadan while travelling. These give us a glimpse of how the early Muslims received and implemented such rules, long before scholars introduced legal technicalities. These reports reflect a realistic and dynamic approach to Islam which gives it, and life under it, a vigorous and agreeable meaning.
1. Jābir reports that it was in the month of Ramadan that the Prophet left Madinah for Makkah, the year it fell to Islam. He observed the fast until he reached Kurā` al-Ghamīm, and so did those who marched with him. Then he called for a glass of water, raised it for everyone to see, and drank from it. Later he was told that some people continued to fast. He said, “They are disobedient! They are disobedient!” [Related by Muslim and al-Tirmidhī]

2. Anas reports: “A group of us were once travelling with the Prophet in Ramadan. Some of us were fasting and some were not. On a hot day, we stopped to rest, with little or no shade available. The one who had maximum shade was a person who had a shirt to cover himself. Some used their hands as a cover from the sun. Those who were fasting collapsed of exhaustion while those who were not pitched the tents and gave water to the animals. Commenting, the Prophet said: “Those who are not fasting have run away with the whole reward today.” [Related by al-Bukhārī, Muslim and al-Nasā’ī]

3. Jābir reports: “Once on a journey, the Prophet saw a group of people gathered to shade a fellow traveller. When he enquired what was wrong with him, he was told that the man was fasting. The Prophet said, “It is not righteous to fast while on a journey.” [Related by Mālik, al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd and al-Nasā’ī]

4. `Amr ibn Umayyah al-Đamarī reports: “On arriving from a journey, I reported to the Prophet who invited me to stay for lunch. I apologised because I was fasting. The Prophet said, ‘Then let me tell you about the traveller: God has exempted him from fasting and half his prayers.’“ [Related by al-Nasā’ī]

5. A man from the clan of `Abdullāh ibn Ka`b ibn Mālik, called Anas ibn Mālik, quotes the Prophet as saying, “God has reduced the prayer for the traveller by half and exempted him from fasting. He has also exempted from fasting the nursing mother and the pregnant woman if they fear for their babies” [Related by Abū Dāwūd, al- Tirmidhī, al-Nasā’ī and Ibn Mājah]

6. `Ā’ishah reports that Ĥamzah ibn `Amr al-Aslamī, who was frequently fasting, once asked the Prophet about fasting while travelling, to which the Prophet replied: “You may fast if you wish, or you may not.” [Related by Mālik, al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dāwūd, al-Tirmidhī and al-Nasā’ī] Another version of this ĥadīth describes the man as ‘one who had no difficulty with fasting’.

7. Anas reports: “A group of us were travelling with the Prophet: some were fasting and others were not. No fasting person criticised anyone for not fasting, nor did any criticise others for fasting.” [Related by Mālik, al-Bukhārī, Muslim and Abū Dāwūd]

8. Abū al-Dardā’ reports: “We travelled with the Prophet one very hot day in Ramadan. We would even cover our heads with our hands because of the intense heat. None of us was fasting except the Prophet and Ibn Rawāĥah.” [Related by al-Bukhārī, Muslim and Abū Dāwūd]

9. Muĥammad ibn Ka`b reports: “I went in Ramadan to see Anas ibn Mālik as he was about to leave on a journey. When Anas was dressed and had his horse saddled and ready, he requested some food and ate. I asked whether this was the practice of the Prophet. Anas said, ‘Yes.’“ [Related by al-Tirmidhī]

10. ‘Ubayd ibn Jubayr reports: “I was travelling from Fusţāţ by boat during Ramađān with Abū Başrah al-Ghifārī, a Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). As he set off on his journey, Abū Başrah asked for lunch to be brought to him. He said to me, ‘Come and join me.’ I said, ‘We can still see the buildings on the shore,’ (meaning they had not gone past the city, the Nile). Abū Başrah said, ‘Are you unwilling to follow the Prophet’s example, or Sunnah.’ He then started eating and I joined him.” [Related by Abū Dāwūd]

11. Manşūr al-Kalbī reports that Diĥyah ibn Khalīfah, a Companion of the Prophet, was travelling a distance of about five kilometres from a suburb of Damascus during Ramađān. Neither did he fast, nor did many of the people with him. Some, however, were reluctant to break the fast. When he returned to his home village, Diĥyah said, “By God, I have today seen something I thought I would never see: people unwilling to follow the example of God’s Messenger and his Companions. My Lord, gather me to You!” [Related by Abū Dāwūd]

Taken together, these reports support the view that the option of not fasting while on a journey ought to be taken unconditionally to alleviate hardship. This is particularly clear in the last two reports. The incident reported by Abū al-Dardā’, which relates that the Prophet and only one of his Companions continued to fast despite the severe heat, should be taken as an exceptional case. In certain religious matters, the Prophet was known to commit himself to a much more rigorous discipline than he would recommend to his Companions. He, for example, ordered that no one should fast two days running without the normal night break. Yet, he did so on some occasions. When he was asked about that, he said: “I am not like you; my Lord feeds me and gives me to drink.” [Related by al-Bukhārī and Muslim] The first report cited above clearly shows that the Prophet broke his fast and described those who continued to fast as ‘disobedient’. The incident happened around the time of the conquest of Makkah, which occurred towards the end of the Prophet’s life. Hence, this ĥadīth is a better pointer to the option preferred by the Prophet.

The common thread in all these incidents is that in issuing any directive, mitigating circumstances are always taken into account. This is so whenever several aĥadīth referring to the same subject seem to point in different directions. The Prophet Muĥammad was a leader and a teacher dealing with real situations and giving practical rulings and solutions in each case.

As far as fasting while travelling is concerned, one gets the distinct impression that the ruling is strongly in favour of exemption from fasting without restricting the exemption to cases of hardship. As for the licence to break the fast during illness, apart from the different opinions of scholars, it also seems to be granted unconditionally and without qualification. Implicit in this ruling is the requirement that the missing days must be compensated for at a later date, with no requirement to make the compensatory fasting days consecutive.

The purpose of this detailed discussion and quotations is not to get involved in any legal discussion, but to highlight two important aspects in understanding rulings relevant to matters of personal worship. A paramount objective is to create a healthy attitude, in order to cultivate the worshipper’s conscience, improve his performance, and raise the standards of his behaviour in life generally. Another consideration is that Islam must be adopted in its totality and as God has intended. All its instructions, the hard as well as the lenient, must be accepted in equal measure. They should be taken in total confidence in God’s mercy and wisdom, always aiming to enhance our God-fearing sense.

Obligatory Fasting

Fasting was made obligatory for Muslims in the second year after the Hijrah, i.e. the Prophet’s migration from Makkah to Madinah (which was to become the start of the Islamic lunar calendar). Thus, the obligation of fasting was decreed shortly before the ordinance of jihād, or striving for God’s cause. As a new duty, fasting was at first hard for the Muslims to observe. Those who found it too strenuous were, therefore, given a concession, requiring them instead to feed one needy person for every day of fasting they miss. A general recommendation to feed the needy is then made, either as a voluntary act in itself or by feeding more than the minimum number of needy people in lieu of fasting. “He who does good of his own account does himself good thereby.” This is 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: “For to fast is to do good to yourselves, if you only knew it.” There is here an obvious element of education and training of will-power to enable Muslims to make the effort to fast. This also highlights the health benefits of fasting, in spite of the strain, all of which are important factors in the Islamic self- education process.

These recommendations were a step towards the withdrawal of the exemption for non-travelling 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.

Imām Mālik reports that Anas ibn Mālik, a Companion of the Prophet Muĥammad, lived to a very advanced age and was not able to keep the fast. He used to compensate by feeding poor people instead. `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās, a cousin and learned Companion of the Prophet, was of the opinion that the exemption has not been completely abrogated by the ruling of verse 185; it remains applicable to the elderly who are not able to keep the fast.

Ibn Abī Laylā, a prominent scholar, says that he visited `Aţā’ one day in Ramadan and found him eating.” (`Aţā’ told me that, according to Ibn `Abbās, the ruling of verse 185 superseded that of the one before it with respect to healthy non-travelling people, but the elderly were free not to fast if they fed instead one needy person for every day.

Fasting was made more appealing due to the fact that it is observed in Ramadan, the month in which the Qur’ān was revealed. This could be a reference to the fact that it was first revealed during Ramadan, or that most of it was revealed in it. It is a significant distinction since the Qur’ān is the definitive and timeless Book of the Muslim community, its guiding light, the source of its strength and security, from which it has drawn all the enduring qualities and elements that have made it great. Without the gifts that the Qur’ān has given the Muslim community, it would have become forgotten history long ago. As a token of gratitude to God Almighty, Muslims observe the fast in the month of Ramadan during which the Qur’ān was revealed.

Practical Implications

  • تعاهد نفسك بصيام ثلاثة أيام من كل شهر ولو متفرقة؛ لأن ذلك ضرورة لصلاح القلب ونماء التقوى فيه، ﴿ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ [Be the first to translate this....]

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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The scholars are unanimous that Surah al-Baqarah is Madani and that it was the first Surah revealed in Madinah. [Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Fath al-Bari no. 160/8].

Despite it being the first Surah to be revealed in Madinah, it contains Ayaat from a later period also. In fact, according to Ibn Abbas [as mentioned in Ibn Kathir] the last Ayat revealed to the Prophet was Ayat no. 281 from Surah al-Baqarah and this occurred 8 days or so before his death [which corresponds to the year 11 Hijri].

8. Reasons for Revelation

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In order to understand the meaning of this Surah, we should know its historical background:

1. At Makkah, the Quran generally addressed the polytheist Quraysh who were ignorant of Islam, but at Madinah it was also concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed of Monotheism, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter and Angels. They also professed to believe in the law which was revealed by God to their Prophet Moses, and in principle, their way was the same (Islam) that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad. But they had strayed away from it during the centuries of degeneration and had adopted many un-Islamic creeds, rites and customs of which there was no mention and for which there was no sanction in the Torah. Not only this: they had tampered with the Torah by inserting their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame of rituals. Consequently their beliefs, their morals and their conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition but loved to cling to it. Besides this, they had no intention or inclination to accept any kind of reform. So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them the Right Way and did their utmost to defeat every such effort. Though they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They had forgotten and forsaken God and begun to serve material wealth. So much so that they had even given up their original name “Muslim” and adopted the name “Jew” instead, and made religion the sole monopoly of the children of Israel. This was their religious condition when the Prophet went to Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That is why more than one third of this Surah has been addressed to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history, their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has been made. Side by side with this, the high standard of morality and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and formalism, and the essentials and non-essentials of the true religion.

2. At Makkah, Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers. But after the migration of the Prophet to Madinah, where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the ‘local supporters’ (Ansar), naturally the Quran had to turn its attention to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal problems as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes of the Surahs revealed at Makkah and those at Madinah. Accordingly about half of this Surah deals with those principles and regulations which are essential for the integration and solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems.

After the migration to Madinah, the struggle between Islam and disbelief (Kufr) had also entered a new phase. Before this the Believers, who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes, had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions had changed at Madinah, where Muslims from all parts of Arabia had come and settled as one community, and had established an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the survival of the Community itself, for the whole of non-Muslim Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence the following instructions, upon which depended not only its success but its very survival, were revealed in this Surah:

a. The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible number of people.

b. It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering to an absolutely wrong position.

c. It should infuse in its members (the majority of whom were homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies) that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly.

d. It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed menace, which might come from any side to suppress and crush their ideology, and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources of its enemies.

e. It should also create in them that courage which is needed for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment of the Islamic Way instead. That is why God has revealed in this Surah such instructions as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects.

At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah, all sorts of hypocrites had begun to appear. God has, therefore, briefly pointed out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest, God sent detailed instructions about them. [REF: Mawdudi]

9. Relevant Hadith

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10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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