Question # 303: When it gets compulsory for children to start fasting?
Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: Fasting is not obligatory for young children, until they reach the age of adolescence/puberty. Nevertheless, children should be encouraged to fast so that they can get used to it; moreover, their good deeds will not only be recorded for them but also for their parents for teaching, guiding and enjoining them to good. However, the age at which parents should start teaching their children to fast varies according to each child’s physical makeup. Some scholars regard this age as ten because they associate this age to which Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) enjoined smacking children for not praying.
Long Answer: Fasting is not obligatory for young children, until they reach the age of adolescence/puberty, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The pens have been lifted from three: from one who has lost his mind until he comes back to his senses, from one who is sleeping until he wakes up, and from a child until he reaches the age of adolescence.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood; classed as sahih by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood)
Nevertheless, children should be told to fast so that they can get used to it, and because the good deeds that they do will be recorded for them and their parents will get a reward for teaching them well and guiding them to that which is good.
The age at which parents should start to teach their children to fast is the age at which they are able to fast, which will vary according to each child’s physical makeup. Some scholars have defined this as being ten years of age.
Al-Kharqi said: “When a child is ten years old and is able to fast, he should start to do so.”
Ibn Qudaamah said: “…The age of ten is more likely, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) enjoined smacking children for not praying at this age, and regarding fasting as being like prayer is better, because they are close to one another, and because they are both physical actions that are pillars of Islam. But fasting is harder, so attention should be paid to when the child becomes able for it, because some may be able to pray who are not yet able to fast.” (Al-Mughni)
This is what the companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did with their children; they would tell those who were able to fast to do so, and if one of them wept because of hunger, they would give him a toy to distract him, but it is not permissible to force them to fast if it will harm them in cases of physical weakness or sickness. Rubayyi’ bint Mu’awwadh (رضي الله عنها) said about fasting ‘Ashura’ at the time when it was mandatory to fast it and not voluntary: we used to make our young boys fast, and we made them a toy made out of wool. If one of the boys cried [wanting] food, we would give him [the toy to distract him] until it was time to break the fast.” (Al Bukhari Fath).
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said: “A young child should not be forced to fast until he has reached the age of adolescence, but he may be told to fast if he is able to do it, so that he may get used to it and it will be easier for him after he reaches puberty. The Sahaabah (رضي الله عنهم) – who are the best of this ummah – used to make their children fast when they were young.” (Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen)
Next, the parents should encourage their children to fast by giving them a gift each day, or by inspiring the spirit of competition between them and their peers or those who are younger than them. They can encourage them to pray by taking them to pray in the mosques, especially if they go out with their father and pray in different mosques each day. They can also encourage them by rewarding them for that, whether that is by praising them or by taking them out on trips sometimes, or buying things that they like, etc.
Unfortunately, some fathers and mothers fall far short in encouraging their children, and there are even some who stop their children doing these acts of worship. Some of these fathers and mothers think that mercy and compassion mean not making their children fast or pray. This is completely mistaken according to both the shar’i point of view and educational wisdom.
(The above reply is based on various answers provided by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid on the topic)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.