In recent decades many developments in medical testing and treatment have posed fiqh challenges and raised original legal questions for Muslim jurists across nearly all the sub-disciplines of Islamic Law. But this has been particularly true with regard to siyam, or fasting—especially in the fiqh of what is termed fasting’s “nullifiers,” or “invalidators,” that is, “things”—meaning substances or objects—that break one’s fast.
While a collective of contemporary scholars of the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly dissected and defined a number of these new issues, for the most part it is the accumulation of fatawa from individual mujtahids, or fiqh practitioners, that have constituted, or reconstituted, this branch of our current Shari’ah understanding. A number of these discussions have found their way to publication in general works on the ahkam, or rules, of fasting. But I know of no book or independent study that has collected and classified these fasting nullifiers in a single volume. That is what I have attempted in my own recent work: To itemize and explain in a systematic investigation all of the categories of siyam invalidators (at least as they have been thus far clarified) in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and in view of the authenticated opinions of the earliest Muslim fuqaha or jurists, may Allah’s mercy be upon them all.
This is a subject of central importance, for it touches almost every Muslim individual and home.Yet it is also an expansive one, far too extensive to receive full discussion in this forum. Still, a brief introduction to the emerging fiqh conception of modern medical fasting nullifiers is certainly valuable—indeed, necessary—and that is our purpose here: To give one an idea of the major concepts at issue in the discussion of our jurists, along with an understanding of how complex the application of juristic theories about fasting invalidation can become when a scholar attempts to wed that theory to the new tremendously intricate reality. So with this in mind, I think it is important for us to look at, first, the basic juristic notion of what is termed ‘al-jawf,’ or the meaning and limits of the “inside” of the human body. Then we can illustrate how that understanding impinges on opinion through a look at two instructive examples of “fasting nullifiers.”
Fasting Nullifiers (Al-Mubtilaat)
Al-mubtilaat of the siyam is the specialized Arabic term for what we’ve been translating as “fasting nullifiers.” It refers to those acts that once committed by the faster, or that happen to him or her, render one’s fast legally invalid. To cite three well-known nullifiers, virtually all Muslims are aware that there is unanimous agreement (ijma’) among the fuqaha over the following universal mubtilaat: Eating, drinking, and sexual union. The legal proof for each of these is inferred from this verse of the Qur’an,
So now, have relations with them (your wives or husbands) and seek whatever (offspring) Allah has decreed for you. Moreover, you may (now) eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread of (night). Then complete the fast until the night (i.e., sunset). [Surat al-Baqarah, 2:187]
Menstruation is a fourth well known and agreed upon fasting nullifier for women. Legal evidence in support of this claim is found in the hadith of Bukhari which was narrated by Abu Saeed Al-Khudri, who reported that Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said,
“Is it not true that a woman does not make salah and does not fast when menstruating?”
All other fasting nullifiers are directly or indirectly related to these four elements. Importantly, both early and contemporary fuqaha name and categorize these nullifiers in terms of (a) how they impact the faster, and (b) where in his or her body their effect eventuates. Both of these qualifiers, but particularly the second, impinge directly upon the concept of al-jawf, or the person’s inner body or “inside.” In fact, most of the differences in the opinions of the jurists are directly related to their varying views regarding what delineates and constitutes the “inside” of a person, one’s jawf, and specifically as this concept coincides with the questions of how and where they nullify one’s fast. Let us look, then, at how the view of the jawf varies among our celebrated four schools of fiqh (al-mathaahib al-arba’).
Al-Jawf: Physical Designation and Meaning Formulation
Each of the schools commences their discussions of al-jawf with an analysis of the various forms by which physicians introduce medicine, treatment, or tools “inside” the human body: Cutting, piercing, inserting, imbibing, etc. It is essential to understand that the main reason why scholars differed in designating al-jawf or the “inside” is the fact that the Arabic aljawf is a mushtarak word—a noun shared in by several meanings, an Arabic homonym of sorts. Thus it is open for interpretation.
Based on this, there are, for our purposes, two important technical Arabic terms to keep in mind: (1) Al-ja’ifah, an adjectival form of the word al-jawf, which is any area where an incision can be made to reach one’s inside, specifically the chest, back, abdomen, sides and the perineum (the area between the anus and scrotum (in a male) or between the anus and vulva (in a female).There is, therefore, no ja’ifah in the hands, legs, neck, and the mouth because an incision can’t lead to the “inside,” in the sense of aljawf; and (2) Al-ma’moomah, something that strikes the forehead, and, for our purposes, makes an incision into it, including any substance it carries into it with it.
They explained their interpretation of the “inside” with reference to ‘al-ja’ifah’: Thus, according to Hanafis, the inside is not just the stomach. It is the stomach and all other organs in the abdominal area.
As to the throat, they hold that “things” entering it also nullify the fast by virtue of the fact that the throat is a “passageway” to the jawf. Similarly, they rule that substances or objects entering the cavities in the head nullify fasting for they too are “passageways” to the “inside.” In fact, they deem that anything that enters any passageway to the jawf—including through the anus, urethra, and vagina—are nullifiers because they pass through them to the inside.
In sum, the Hanafis, for the purpose of defining what nullifies the fast, consider the body in two ways: (1) Areas designated as jawf, and (2) channels specified as passages to the jawf. All things that enter the first, or reach it through the second are classified as nullifiers.
Maliki scholars define the jawf, or the “inside,” as the full abdominal area and not just the stomach. This is clear in many of the statements of their prominent scholars, from the early Abdurrahman al- Qasim in his work Al-Mudawwanah, to the more recent Muhammad Al-Kharashi in his Commentary on the Compendium of
Khalil, to Abdul Baqi in his Commentary on the Muwatta of Imam Malik. They further state that “things” nullify by way of the throat—but not by going through it, but even by the mere reaching of the (beginning of the) throat, the pharynx— even if they do not pass through the pharynx and the esophagus all the way to the stomach.
They differed among themselves, however, with respect to what enters through the head cavities; that is, some deem them as nullifiers while others don’t. As for the remaining body cavities, they have stipulated as a necessary condition that “things” that enter them only become fasting nullifiers when they reach the “inside,” al-jawf (for them, the full abdomen area).