Regarding Exams and Fasting: An Invalid Qiyas

There has been some talk recently about “updating” Fiqh to include exams as a valid excuse to delay fasting. This talk has come primarily from the modernist/liberal school of thought. Their argument is that Muslims are backward and too literal in their thinking and need to update Fiqh for the times.

This argument is flawed in many ways. The analogy of exams being a type of difficulty that leads to concession is flawed. The idea that our Fiqh processes are outdated and backward is also flawed. To demonstrate this, let us take a look at the main Fiqh Maxim governing who can delay a fast.

The main Fiqh maxim regulating this ruling is al-Mashaqa Tajlibu al-Taysir which can be translated as “Extreme Difficulty causes relaxation of the Law”. This maxim is found in all four madhabs and is a point of consensus among Sunni Muslims. The maxim is simple, the Shariah has built-in processes of flexibility to handle extremely difficult situations.

However, the maxim cannot be applied based on whim and desire. There is a list of difficulties that cause relaxation of the law. This list is derived from the Quran and Sunnah.

Types of Difficulty

There are primarily seven things that can cause relaxation of a law:
1. Coercion i.e. being forced to do something
2. Travel as traveling is difficult as you are outside of your comfort zone dealing with many unpredictable variables
3. Disease/Sickness
4. Forgetfulness i.e. people are not held accountable for lapses in memory
5. Ignorance i.e. ignorance can work as an excuse is some situations6. A general calamity like a pandemic or drought
7. Lack of legal competence i.e. laws do not generally apply to children, extreme mental health cases, and people who are asleep.

All of the above categories are explicitly stated in either the Quran or Sunnah. The verse of fasting (2:185) mentions two of these sources of difficulty: travel and illness, making these the two primary valid reasons to delay a fast. Scholars have included other health risks in this as well like pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The category of extreme difficulty is generally restricted to these seven things, except in rare circumstances where something else rises to the level of extremity. even then, these new circumstances can often easily fit into one of these seven categories. For example, the current pandemic falls under category six, and tyrannic regimes may trigger category one.

A Clear Process

The relaxation of laws, however, cannot be done based on perceived difficulty or manageable difficult. The very concept of worship has some level of difficulty built into it to make it a means of purifying the soul and exerting effort in pleasing Allah. If we allow relaxing the laws for any difficulty, that would mean excusing Fajr because we are tired, missing Asr because we are working, or delaying fasting because it is a hot day.

Almost any law can be modified if the category of Mashaqa is left open-ended without any parameters. Thus, it is restricted to those things found in the Quran and Sunnah, which are summarized in the list above.

Exams are a general difficulty. There is no health risk for the average student, nor is there any coercion to break the fast. The only time a student would be allowed to break a fast is if it becomes a genuine health risk, eg: dehydration. In that case, they are doing it due to the reason mentioned in the Quran, not because of exams.

Our Shariah does not need reform. It already has a built-in system to update Fiqh as and when needed via the principles of Fiqh and Maxims of Fiqh. These are guided by the goals of the Shariah. All of these concepts are derived from the Quran and Sunnah and categorized and explained by our pious predecessors.

Conclusion

If any new verdict is to be passed on an issue, it must be done utilizing the proper methodology of ijtihad, and not simply because “I think” or “I feel” or any other weak reason. Fiqh is a system with its own methodology, parameters, and experts. If you are not a Mufti, leave it to the Muftis to work out these details utilizing the proper methodology.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, research manager at Yaqeen Institute, and a freelance writer.

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