Striking the balance between the objectives of worship and keeping things easy
Scholars have different views about whether a traveller in Ramadan should fast or not. There are Hadiths which appear superficially contradictory, as they state that on certain occasions God’s messenger (peace be upon him) observed the fast when travelling but he did not fast on other occasions. Muslim enters in his Ṣaḥīḥ a narration by Ibn ‘Abbās saying: ‘Do not criticise anyone who fasts or anyone who does not. God’s Messenger fasted on some journeys and did not fast on others.’32 Muslim also relates in his Ṣaḥīḥ a Hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Abbās saying: ‘God’s Messenger started his journey during the Year of the Conquest in Ramadan.
He fasted until he reached al-Kudayd, but he did not fast after that.’ Commenting on this Hadith, Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī holds– as Muslim reports – that the ruling that permits fasting during travel is ‘abrogated’, because the narration stating that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not fast on this journey was the later practice. It was in the year that Makkah fell to Islam. Ibn Shihāb said: ‘Not fasting was the last practice, and we take the Prophet’s latest action… His Companions used always to follow the latest, considering it to be definitive and abrogating any earlier ruling.’
However, Muslim also includes a Hadith which combines the two options in a better way than keeping the choice open as Ibn ‘Abbās’s narration suggests. Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī reports: ‘We used to go on expeditions in Ramaḍān with God’s Messenger (peace be upon him). Some of us would be fasting and some would not. None who fasted blamed any who did not fast, and those who were not fasting did not blame those who fasted. They all considered that the one who felt himself strong enough to fast did well and the one who did not fast, feeling his lack of strength, did well.’
This view links worship to the status of the individual. For the one who feels himself strong keeping up the worship is better, while the easier option of not fasting is better for the one who felt himself not strong enough. Striking the balance between the two objectives of attending to worship and opting for what is easy is an essential feature of Islamic law. When hard acts of worship become too hard for a person, a concession is always given, within the framework of Islamic law.
This excerpt is from ‘A Critique of the Theory of Abrogation’ by Jasser Auda