Question: What is the appropriate age for children to fast in Islam?
Answer: Praise be to Allah!
Fasting is not obligatory for young children, until they reach the age of adolescence, because the Prophet (sallahualahiwasallam) 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 saheeh)
However, children should be advised to fast so that they can get used to it, and because the good deeds that they do will be recorded for them. 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.
Let us read what scholars have said about this issue:
Al-Kharqi said: When a child is ten years old and is able to fast, he should start to do so.
Ibn Qudaamah said: This means that he should be made to fast and told to do so. And he should be smacked if he does not do it, so as to train him and make him get used to it, just as he should be made to pray and told to do it. Among those who were of the view that a child should be told to fast when he becomes able to do it were ‘Ata, al-Hasan, Ibn Sireen, al-Zuhri, Qataadah and al-Shaafai.
Al-Awzaa’i said: If he is able to fast for three consecutive days without interruption and without becoming weak, then he should be made to fast Ramadaan. Ishaaq said: When (a child) reaches the age of twelve I think that he should be made to fast so that he gets used to it.
The age of ten is more likely, because the Prophet (sallahualahiwasallam) 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. End quote. (Al-Mughni, 4 / 412)
This is what the companions of the Prophet (sallahualahiwasallam) 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.
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 – who are the best of this ummah – used to make their children fast when they were young. End quote. (Majmoo Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen, 19/28, 29)
Therefore, the parents can encourage their children to fast by giving them a gift each day, or by exploiting 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 shari point of view and educational wisdom.
[Taken from the fatwa of Shaykh Salih Al Munajid]