Question # 4: Is it allowed to fast on behalf of deceased person?
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: In general, one may fast on behalf of a deceased person if such a person owed an obligatory fast – whether as the result of a vow, as expiation, or to make up for a Ramadan fast. Hence, if a person does not fast because of an excuse such as travel or sickness from which he/she hopes to recover, then he/she has to make it up; if such a person dies without making it up, then it remains an obligation that must be fulfilled, and it is mustahabb (recommended) for the next-of-kin to fast on his/her behalf. However, if a deceased person missed some fasting (pertaining to Ramadan) and did not make it up during life despite the ability to do so, his/her family cannot make it up for him/her. They must, however, feed the needy for each missed day. But if one dies before being able to make them up, such as one whose illness lasts until death, then there is no need to fast on his/her behalf or feed the poor because such a person is excused.
Long Answer: In Islam, it is permissible in the case of some deeds to give the rewards of any action to a dead person within the guidelines set out in the reports (of the Sunnah). However, we should limit ourselves to that – it is not right to make an analogy between these and other deeds because the basic principle concerning acts of worship is not to do anything unless there is evidence (daleel). Among the deeds whose rewards we are allowed to give to the dead, or by means of which the dead can benefit from the actions of the living, are dua’a, fasting, paying off debts, performing Hajj, and righteous deeds done by the children of the deceased.
It was reported from ‘Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنه) that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever dies and had any fasts outstanding, his heir should observe those fasts on his behalf.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It was reported from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and said, ‘My mother has died, and she had one month’s fasting outstanding.’ He said, ‘Do you not think that if she was in debt, you would pay it off for her?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘The debt owed to Allah is more deserving of being paid off.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The scholars consent that both the above-mentioned ahadith pertain to fasting other than related to Ramadan. As for the hadith narrated by ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنه), Imam Abu Dawud said: This is in the case of a vow, and this is the saying of Ahmad bin Hanbal. Ibn ‘Abbas interpreted this to refer to when one vowed to fast, as did Ahmad.
Further, the majority of religious scholars agree that a deceased person who missed some fasting (pertaining to Ramadan), and did not make it up during his/her life despite the ability to do so, his/her family cannot make it up for him/her. They must, however, feed the needy for each missed day in accordance with the Qur’an, where Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says, “[Observing Saum (fasts)] for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know. ” (Soorah Al-Baqarah, 2:184)
Imam An-Nawawi stated in his book “AI-Majmou” that according to the most famous ruling, one can feed the needy (for each missed day). Ibn Abbas, Ibn Omar, Aisha, Malik, Abu Hanifa, and Ath-Thowri said to feed the hungry (without specifying the amount). According to An-Nawawi, however, a few religious scholars, such as Imam Ahmad and Imam Al Shafi’i, stated that one member of the family can make up for the missed fasting days for a deceased person.
Al-Haafiz ibn Hajar argued that based on the following hadith: “When the son of Adam dies, his deeds come to an end apart from three: sadaqah jaariyah (ongoing charity); beneficial knowledge; or a righteous son who will make du’aa’ for him.” (Saheeh Muslim), it is allowed to fast on behalf of the dead.
Referring to the above hadith, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not say, ‘He no longer benefits at all’; what he said is that deeds of the individual come to an end. As far as the deeds of others are concerned, the (reward) is for the one who does them, and if he gives that to him, the reward of the one who did that reaches him, not the reward of his own deeds. What comes to an end is one thing, and what reaches him is something else. The same applies to another hadith, which is: ‘What reaches the deceased is his own hasanaat and deeds” – which does not rule out the fact that other things, the good deeds and hasanaat of others, may also reach him.” (al-Rooh) (‘Islam Questions And Answers – Jurisprudence and Islamic Rulings’ by Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman)
According to Majmoo’ Fataawa wa Maqaalaat al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz, one may fast on behalf of a deceased person if he owed an obligatory fast – whether as the result of a vow, as an expiation or to make up for a Ramadan fast – because of the general meaning of the words of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم); “Whoever dies owing a fast, his heir must observe the fast on his behalf” (Sahih). And there are other ahadith that say the same thing. But whoever delays Ramadan fasts for a legitimate reason, such as sickness or travel, then dies before he is able to make them up, there is no need to fast them on his behalf or feed the poor because he is excused.
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.