1. Is it permissible to break the Ramaḍān fast in order to perform better in public exams?
Fasting in Ramaḍān is one of the pillars of Islām. It is a unique act of worship which Allāh linked closely to Himself when He declared, ‘Fasting is for me, and I will reward it’. On one occasion a companion asked, ‘O Allāh’s Messenger, command me with a matter by which Allāh will benefit me’. He replied, ‘Take to fasting for it has no equivalent’.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) strictly warned about breaking a single day’s fast without a valid reason when he said, ‘If anyone omits his fast even for one day in Ramaḍān without a concession or without being ill, then if he were to fast for the rest of his life he could not make up for it’.
It is therefore not permissible for any Muslim who has reached the age of maturity to break the Ramaḍān fast for an exam. The Islamic calendar is lunar which means the month of Ramaḍān changes every year. Some years it will fall in the summer months where the fasts are very long and coincide with the exam season, and some years the fasts will be very short and coincide with the winter months. We take the rough with the smooth and we seek help from Allāh to fulfil our religious obligations – Āmīn.
There is also no evidence that fasting has a detrimental effect on exam performance. Whilst you might feel more tired, hungry and thirsty, of far greater importance is how well you have been studying throughout the course, how much exam practice you have had, and how good the support network is around you of friends, family and teachers.
2. What are the exemptions which allow you to break the fast?
The exemptions which allow you to break your fast are very well known. The verses in the Qur’ān dealing with fasting actually begin with the exemptions which allow you to break the fast:
The month of Ramaḍān [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’ān, a guidance for the people and clear proof of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allāh intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allāh for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
Those who are genuinely ill, which will likely mean they are also too ill to come to school, or those travelling on a journey are exempt from fasting. They must make up the days after Ramaḍān. Also a lady who is on her menses is exempt from fasting and, again, is to make up the days after Ramaḍān. As for those who are suffering a terminal illness or conditions which require intravenous injections or oral medication for the long-term, then they can compensate for the missed days by feeding a poor person for every day missed.
3. What are the rewards for fasting in times of great difficulty?
In Islām the reward for acts of worship are proportional to the difficulty, hence, for example, the reward for Ḥajj, which is physically, spiritually and mentally demanding, is ‘nothing but paradise’. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
‘There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who used to observe fasts?’ They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody else will enter through it’.
Scholars explain the reason why Allāh declared ‘Fasting is for me, and I will reward it’ is to emphasise that He will reward the fasting person abundantly, beyond the limit of their imagination, and beyond the limit of what words can describe.
There are moments in any person’s life that define their identity; moments when they endure difficulties and hardships in pursuit of a goal or ambition. Fasting the month of Ramaḍān in a long, hot, summer exam season should be one of the moments that define you as a true Muslim. The great Companion Muāth b. Jabal was in his final illness when he began to cry and said, ‘I will miss fasting those long, hot, summer days’.
4. Is there any point in fasting if you do not pray?
Never give up on fasting in Ramaḍān just because you have fallen short in other areas. It is a general principle in Islām and in life that your inability to do good in certain situations shouldn’t prevent you from doing good in other situations. Fasting will boost your God consciousness (Taqwa) and make prayer easier for you. The prayer will boost your God consciousness and make fasting easier for you. It’s a virtuous circle. But you should not be in any doubt that the five daily prayers are the practical implementation of your believe in One God. It is the first action you will be judged on in the Hereafter and it is your primary connection with Allāh.
5. Do I have to pray tarawīh?
The tarawīh prayer is highly recommended but not an obligation like fasting in Ramaḍān or the five daily prayers. Through fasting you prepare yourself spiritually and physically during the day to hear the words of Allāh in the evening. So every effort should be made to attend but if you can’t, then you can simply pray at home.
6. What should I be eating in the pre-dawn meal and evening meal to help me?
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Eat Suḥūr (pre-dawn meal). Surely, there is a blessing in Suḥūr.’ Not only does the pre-dawn meal provide physical nourishment that will keep you energised throughout the day, it also provides spiritual nourishment to help you cope with the demands of fasting. The priority should be to remain hydrated with plenty of water and pure juice. You should also prioritise slow release energy foods such as porridge and wholemeal pasta, as well as instantaneous energy sources such as good quality dates. You should avoid the temptation to eat fried or salty foods which are likely to leave you feeling t than before. When you break the fast, try and stagger your intake of food instead of shocking your body with a huge meal after almost 18 hours of fasting! Follow the sunnah by opening your fast with dates and water. Include some fruit to help with hydration. Then take a break for prayer and return to your main meal. Ensure there is plenty of protein, such as fish and meat, as well as vitamins and minerals with a variety of fruit and particularly vegetables. Again, avoid the temptation to eat fried, salty or sugary foods which are likely to make you feel more lethargic and drowsy in the evenings.
7. Is there anything I can do to help condition my body and mind before and during Ramaḍān?
It is essential to condition your body to fasting by fasting voluntary fasts before Ramaḍān. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays as well as the middle three days of every Islamic month. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would also fast a great deal throughout the month of Sha’bān. If you only start fasting on the first day of Ramaḍān your body will take several days to adjust and you might find that your body and mind struggle to perform at optimum levels during exams.
8. What can the school do to help me?
All schools should take common sense measures to help students who are fasting, particularly if they are sitting exams. The lighting, air circulation and temperature should be checked to ensure the exam hall does not cause students to become drowsy. There should be quiet places for revision on the school site where students do not have to ‘fight for spaces’. There should be lockers available where students can keep bags, heavy textbooks and resources without having to carry them around all day. Sports days and school visits which involve prolonged periods of walking outside should be planned outside the month of Ramaḍān.
9. What can my family do to help me?
Your family should give careful consideration to diet during the month of Ramaḍān. Fried foods which are rich and spicy might be a big favourite at Iftār (time of breaking fast) but they might not help you when you are sitting exams. And an absolute must is that your whole family should sit down together for a shared meal at Iftār to ensure the sense of support and belonging is reinforced. You should have a quiet, personal space to revise, without the distraction of the TV or siblings. There should be a good work desk with a chair that enables good posture. You should personally have a rule that all electronic devices will be switched off when you are revising. Your parents cannot monitor every key stroke on your laptop or every tap on your smartphone. You need to have the self-discipline to achieve your goals which means not relying on somebody looking over your shoulder all the time. Ramaḍān can be a great time for families to come together but your family should avoid big family gatherings on the evening before an exam. Short naps in the afternoon can be very helpful to break up the fasting day and replenish your energy but prolonged hours of deep sleep will be counter-productive and make you lethargic and lazy. Time is very precious and the priority in the evening before an exam should be rest and revision.
10. What’s all this confusion about the start of the fast and Fajr time?
The further North on the globe a country is, the more difficult it becomes to determine when and if true twilight occurs. This has major consequences on determining the beginning and end time of ʿIshā’, and therefore the beginning of Fajr. Islamic scholars and astronomers as of yet have not unanimously agreed what can truly be defined as the beginning of Fajr in the UK summer time. This has led to differing Ramaḍān calendars. If you are a person who is learned in Islām you may well have already read a lot in this controversy and adopted a view. If you are not confident with understanding the different opinions you should follow the opinion of a person of knowledge whom you trust. Disagreements do occur in the application of Islamic law, even when scholars are in complete agreement about the sources, and this disagreement should not take you away from the spirit of Ramaḍān and focussing on worship.
11. What’s the secret to doing well in exams?
There is no secret; just hard work over a period of time. Last minute cramming is not helpful because it overloads your short-term memory with information which is quickly forgotten during the exam because it has not transferred to your long-term memory. Exams actually test more skills and application than memory retention and these need to be embedded over time. That’s why it is important to work throughout your course and not leave it all to the last minute. Make sure you sleep reasonably early before the exam. Staying up all night revising will do more damage than good. Remember your learning journey started back in Reception class when you were 4 years old so you have been learning for a very long period of time. Providing you are relaxed and confident and put your trust in Allāh, you will do well. And, remember, however ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ you feel the exam is when you leave the exam hall is not necessarily an indicator of how well the exam went. Grade boundaries can be shifted massively by exam boards so there is no point worrying about matters which are out of your control. Make sure you are not working in complete isolation and that you have a supportive team around you consisting of friends who also want to work hard and do well, teachers who know their subject inside out and want to help you, and family members who are there to provide the emotional support when the pressure is really on. And remember – duʿā’, duʿā’, duʿā’!
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:185
 Saḥīḥ al;-Bukhārī and Muslim
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim
Abu Haneefah is an educationalist and student of knowledge. He has worked extensively in community projects in the UK. He holds regular study circles on reflections on the Qur’ān and his field of expertise is the tarbiyya of young people.