Elderly men and women are permitted to break their fasts, as are the chronically ill, and those who have to perform difficult jobs under harsh circumstances and who could not find any other way to support themselves. All of these people are allowed to break their fast, because such a practice would place too much hardship on them during any part of the year. They are obliged to feed one poor person a day (for every day of fasting that they do not perform). The scholars differ over how much food is to be supplied, for example, a Saa`, half a Saa`, or a mad. There is nothing in the Sunnah that mentions exactly how much is to be given.

Ibn `Abbas said: “An elderly man is permitted to break his fast, but he must feed a poor person daily. If he does this, he does not have to make up the days that he did not fast.” (Related by Ad-Daraqutni and by Al-Hakim, who said it is Authentic.)  Al-Bukhari recorded that ‘Ata heard Ibn ‘Abbas recite the verse: “And for those who can fast [but do not], there is a “ransom’: the feeding of a person in need” (Al-Baqarah: 185). Then Ibn `Abbas continued: “It has not been abrogated. [Its ruling applies] to elderly men and women who are not able to fast. Instead, they must feed one poor person on a daily basis.”

The same is true for one who is chronically ill and as such cannot fast, and for one who is forced to work under harsh circumstances and as such cannot endure the additional burden of fasting. Both groups must also feed one poor person daily.

Commenting on Al-Baqarah’s verse, Sheikh Muhammad `Abduh says: “What is meant by those who can fast’ [(but do not) in the Qur’anic verse] is the weak elderly people, the chronically ill, and so on, and similarly, those workers who are working under severe conditions, such as coal miners. The same applies to criminals who are sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. They have to pay the ‘ransom’ if they have the means to do so.”

Pregnant and breast-feeding women, if they fear for themselves or for the baby, can break the fast and pay the “ransom.” They do not have to make up the days missed. Abu Dawud related from ‘Ikrimah that Ibn ‘Abbas said concerning the verse ‘And for those who can fast [but do not],’ “This is a concession for the elderly, as they can fast. They are to break the fast and feed one poor person a day. Pregnant or breast-feeding women, if they fear for the child, can do likewise.” This is related by Al-Bazzar. At the end of the report, there is the addition: “Ibn `Abbas used to say to his wives who were pregnant: ‘You are in the same situation as those who can fast [but do not]. You are to pay the “ransom” and do not have to make up the days later.’ ” Of its chain, Ad-Daraqutni says it is Authentic.

Nafi` reported that Ibn ‘Umar was asked about a pregnant woman who feared for her unborn baby. He replied: “She is to break the fast and to feed one poor person a day one mad of barley.”

There is also a Hadith that states: “Allah has relieved the travelers of fasting and half of the prayer, and the pregnant and the breast-feeding women of the fast.” According to the Hanafiyyah, Abu `Ubaid, and Abu Thaur, such women are only to make up the missed days of fasting, and they are not supposed to feed one poor person a day. According to Ahmad and Ash-Shafi’i, if such women fear only for the baby, they must pay the “ransom” and make up the days later. If they fear only for themselves or for themselves and the baby, then they are only to make up the missed days at a later date.