In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
1- Worship in Islam is not meant to impose hardship on people or to overburden them beyond their control. This is clearly manifested in the Qur’an in many verses, including the ones discussing the rules of fasting itself. For example, Allah Almighty says: “And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.” (Al-Baqarah 2:158) Allah Almighty also says: “Allah tasks not a soul beyond its scope.” (Al-Baqarah 2:286)
2- Times of disasters are abnormal times that call for flexibility on many issues facing people, regarding their daily life activities or religious observances. In light of this, people coping with the quake aftermath, who are faced with starvation, hunger, injuries, and weakness may temporarily break their fasting in Ramadan if they really can’t stand it. They are quite similar to those who are temporarily exempted from fasting such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as those diseased persons who may recover after some time but can’t fast for the time being. Thus, the people referred to in the question are temporarily exempted from fasting until they are physically able to stand it, and they should make up for the missed days after Ramadan.
Responding to the question, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and a cross-appointed faculty member in the departments of Religious Studies and Management, states:
Fasting involves self-control and discipline and it is challenging in itself under any condition. It is not, however, the purpose of fasting to endanger the people’s life, delay or jeopardize their recovery if they are ill, or to impose on them something beyond their ability.
That is why certain categories are exempt from fasting in Ramadan; some are exempt permanently such as the old and the weak persons or those with incurable illnesses who do not expect that they will be better in the future. In such cases, they are only required to pay a charity as fidyah (compensation) equivalent to two average meals for each missed day of fasting.
There are other temporary exemptions such as women during their menses or in the post-childbirth bleeding period or who are pregnant or breastfeeding and are worried about harm to themselves or to their babies, also those who are ill or on a journey. In these cases, they are allowed to make up for the missed fasting whenever they can.
In such major disasters where there are near starvation, weakness, and injuries, there may be cases that are analogous or similar to the above exemptions. If, for example, a person is saved from under the rubble and has not eaten for days and is in a state of dehydration, one cannot expect the person to wait until sunset.
A decision can be made on the basis of an Islamically trusted advice or the good judgment of each individual concerned. The Qur’an did not specify exact detailed criteria for illness, and it is up to the conscience of the individual to determine whether he or she finds it too hard to fast or not.
In addition, the eminent Al-Azhar scholar Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh adds:
Indeed, the reaction of those scholars who insist that those people afflicted by the earthquake should not break their fast, no matter what hardship, weakness, and hunger those people are facing, is stepping in the wrong direction and their opinion violates the basic Islamic rulings calling for mercy and easiness.
The Qur’anic verse states that “And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.” (Al-Baqarah 2:158)
Hence, it is permissible for the sick to break their fasting. People in the afflicted areas of the earthquake are suffering from real hunger and they have to face the very cold weather; hence they are forced to eat and drink to keep their lives and face many of the harsh living conditions they are currently experiencing.
Based on this, those people are exempted from fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan and they have to make up for the days they miss after Ramadan. Those people are not obliged to make up for the missed days in succession, but rather they should gradually try to make up for them to the best of their ability. What matters here is that they make up for the missed days regardless of whether they make them up all in succession or not.
Almighty Allah knows best.