We may divide actions that nullify the fast as two categories:

  1. Uncontrollable
  2. Controllable

Type 1: Uncontrollable

Menstruation or post-natal bleeding      ‘Is it not the case that when she gets her period, she does not pray or fast?’ (al-Bukhārī)

  • When a woman sees the blood of her period or nifās, her fast becomes invalid even if it is a few seconds before sunset.
  • If a woman feels that her period has started but no blood exits until after sunset, her fast is still valid.
  • If the bleeding of a woman who is menstruating or in nifās ceases at night and she has the intention of fasting, and then dawn comes before she does ghusl, her fast is valid by consensus.

Hormone tablets: A woman should avoid taking medicine that prevents her monthly cycle and should accept what Allah has decreed for her: to abstain from fasting during her period and to make up those days later. This is what the mothers of the believers and the women of the sahabah used to do. If a woman does take pills, however, and her period stops as a result, she can fast and her fast is acceptable.

 Type 2: Controllable

Concerning this type, there are three general conditions that must be met before we consider the fast to have been broken:

  1. Having knowledge of that which breaks the fast.
  2. Possessing desire and intent to do that which breaks the fast.
  3. Absence of coercion, i.e. doing it wilfully.

Eating and drinking       

If a person breaks his fast by eating/drinking for a valid reason, such as an illness or travelling. He need only make up his fast (without any extra expiation). There would be no sin on him in that case. However, if he breaks his fast by eating/drinking without a valid excuse, he has fallen in a great sin. Nonetheless, he should still make up those fasts.

If anything reaches the stomach via the nose, this is like eating or drinking.

The Prophet (s) said: ‘Snuff up water deeply into the nose (when doing wuḍūʾ), except when you are fasting.’ (al-Tirmidhī, 788)

If water reaching the stomach via the nose did not invalidate the fast, the Prophet (s) would not have warned those fasting against snuffing up water deep into the nose.

Anything that is similar to eating and drinking also breaks the fast.         

This includes:

  1. Transfusion of blood to one who is fasting – such as if he bleeds heavily and is given a blood transfusion. This invalidates the fast because blood is formed from food and drink.
  2. Receiving via a needle (as in the case of a drip) nourishing substances which take the place of food and drink, because this is the same as food and drink. Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn, Majālis shahr Ramadan, p. 70.

With regard to injections which do not replace food and drink, rather they are administered for the purpose of medical treatment – such as penicillin or insulin – or are given to energize the body, or for the purpose of vaccinations, these do not affect the fast, whether they are intravenous or intramuscular (injected into a vein or a muscle). Fatāwā Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm, 4/189. But to be on the safe side, these injections may be given at night.

Renal dialysis, in which blood is extracted, cleaned and then returned to the body with the addition of chemical substances such as sugars and salts etc. is regarded as invalidating the fast. (Fatāwā al-Lajnah al-Dāʾimah, 10/19).

Intentional vomiting     

Narrated by Abū Hurayrah: ‘Whoever intentionally vomits must make up [his fast] and whoever was overcome by vomit does not have to make it up. ’

Therefore, if vomit comes out without one’s choice, there is no harm in that and the fast is not broken. However, if he intentionally vomits his fast is broken, whether he intended to vomit by putting his fingers in his throat, by looking at something horrible in order to induce vomit, smelling something horrible in order to vomit or any other means of intentionally vomiting.

Cupping             

This is one of the individual opinions of Imam Ahmad where he differed from the other three Imams: he said that the one who is cupping and the one who is getting cupped both break their fasts by doing that. This is based on a ḥadīth:

“The one who cups and the one who is cupped have both broken their fasts.”

Other scholars differed and said that cupping does not break the fast of either the one who is cupping nor of the one who has got cupped. They argue that many scholars have declared this ḥadīth weak and say that other narrations indicate that cupping does not break one’s fast.

In al-Bukhārī it is narrated that the Prophet  got cupped while he was fasting and he got cupped while he was in the state of iḥrām.

There is a long difference of opinion on this matter and the stronger of the two views seems to be that cupping does not break the fast. However, in either case, one should avoid it.

Ejaculation with desire  The majority of scholars say that if a man touches or kisses his wife out of desire and that leads to him ejaculating, then this breaks the fast. Likewise, if a person ejaculates himself forcefully, this also breaks the fast. This is the opinion of the huge majority of scholars. They also say that if a person looks at something intentionally and that makes him ejaculate, then this breaks his fast.

However, if a person has a wet dream his fast is not broken.

Sexual intercourse        

If someone had intercourse during a day of Ramadan they would not only have to make up the fast, but also expiate for that act. The expiation is to free a slave. If one cannot do that, then he must fast two consecutive months. And if he cannot do that, he must feed sixty poor people.

This expiation is upon both husband and wife if they both did the act voluntarily. If, however, one party was forced (or forgot that it was Ramadan) then there is no sin on that party and they would not have to expiate. However, the sin and expiation remain on the other party.

A companion came to the Prophet (s) and said: ‘O Rasūl Allah, I am destroyed! I fell upon (was intimate with) my wife in Ramadan.’ So the Messenger said: ‘Can you free a slave?’ He said: ‘No’, He asked again: ‘Then can you fast two months consecutively?’ He replied: ‘No.’ So the Messenger asked: ‘Can you feed 60 poor people?’ He said: ‘No’ and then he sat down. Thereafter a basket of dates was given to the Messenger and the Messenger said: ‘Go and give this in charity.’ The companion replied: ‘Is there anyone between these mountains more needy than me?’ So the Prophet  laughed until his molar teeth showed and said: ‘Go and give this to your family.’ (al-Bukhārī, no. 1937, no. 6709, Muslim, no. 1111 and others)

Some matters that do not invalidate the fast 

  • Enemas, eye drops, eardrops, tooth extraction and treatment of injuries do not invalidate the fast if nothing goes down the throat
  • Medical tablets that are placed under the tongue to treat asthma attacks etc. so long as you avoid swallowing any residue.
  • Insertion of anything into the vagina such as pessaries, or a speculum, or a doctor’s fingers for the purpose of medical examination.
  • Insertion of medical instruments or IUD into the womb.
  • Anything that enters the urinary tract of a male or female, such as a catheter tube, or medical scopes, or opaque dyes inserted for the purpose of x-rays, or medicine.
  • Fillings, extractions or cleaning of the teeth, whether with a siwak or toothbrush, so long as you avoid swallowing anything that reaches the throat. 
  • Rinsing the mouth, gargling, sprays etc. so long as you avoid swallowing anything that reaches the throat. 
  • Oxygen or anesthetic gases
  • Anything that may enter the body via absorption through the skin, such as creams, poultices, etc. 
  • Insertion of a fine tube via the veins for diagnostic imaging or treatment of the veins of the heart or any part of the body.
  • Insertion of a scope through the stomach wall to examine the intestines by means of a surgical operation (laparoscopy).
  • Taking samples from the liver or any other part of the body, so long as that is not accompanied by administration of solutions.
  • Endoscopy, as long as that is not accompanied by administration of solutions or other substances.
  • Introduction of any medical instruments or materials to the brain or spinal column.