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The main actions or omissions leading to kaffara consist in intentionally or unintentionally killing a human being, intentionally breaking one's fast, breaking one's promise or vow or swear, and committing some prohibited actions during hajj and 'umra.
Fidya (ransom), which is obligatory when some non-prohibited actions are committed, also counts as a sort of kaffara.
|“||وَلَوْ أَنَّ أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ آمَنُوا وَاتَّقَوْا لَكَفَّرْنَا عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَلَأَدْخَلْنَاهُمْ جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ||”|
|“||If the people of the book had believed and kept from evil, we would cover (kaffarna) their sins||”|
|— The Qu'ran 5:65|
the verb "kaffarna" (Arabic: کفرنا) means to cover the sins. Kaffara is called so because it covers the sins.
In Islam, kaffara is a certain worship or penalty to compensate some sins and alleviate or obviate the afterlife punishments. Sometimes it is referred to as "fidya" which literally means compensation or exchange.
Such penalties are, on the one hand, punishments for the person who disobeys the relevant rulings, and are, on the other hand, helpful for the community, such as the emancipation of Muslim slaves and feeding or providing clothes for people in need. In some cases, a kaffara is in the form of fasting or repeating one's hajj.
Kaffara, as in fiqh, is of the following types:
This is a sort of kaffara in which several penalties are specified and the person has the option to choose any of them. The following actions or omissions have optional kaffaras:
- Intentionally breaking one's fast in the month of Ramadan
- A woman cutting her hair in mourning for her loved ones.
In such cases, the person has the option to do one of the following at his or her preference:
- Emancipation of a slave,
- Fasting for two consecutive months,
- Feeding 60 people in need.
In this kind of kaffara, the person has no option; the kaffara is determined by the ruling.
This is a case in which several kaffaras are determined in a certain order such that if the person cannot do the first, he or she do the second, and so on.
Optional and Ordered
This sort of kaffara is at first optional for the person, and if one cannot do any of those options, then he or she will have to do another kaffara.
The total kaffara is the one in which three kaffaras should all be done: the emancipation of a slave, fasting for two consecutive months, and feeding 60 people in need.
The following actions or omissions are subject to such a kaffara:
- Intentionally killing a Muslim,
- Intentionally breaking one's fast in the Ramadan month by a prohibited action such as drinking wine.
- Breaking one's fast in the month of Ramadan: the kaffara for intentionally breaking one's fast in the month of Ramadan consists in the emancipation of a slave, or feeding 60 people in need, or fasting for two months, 31 of which should be consecutive.
- Breaking one's fast in the month of Ramadan with a prohibited action: if a person breaks his or her fast with a prohibited action (such as a haram food or drink, masturbation, adultery, etc.), they should do the total kaffara: the emancipation of a slave, fasting for 60 days, and feeding 60 people in need. When there is no slave to emancipate, this part of the kaffara will be ignored.
- Breaking the qada' of a Ramadan fast: if one intentionally breaks his or her qada' (compensation) of a Ramadan fast in the afternoon, then they should feed 10 people in need with about 750 grams (a mudd) of food, and if they cannot do this, then they should fast for three days.
- Intentionally killing a Muslim: It is subject to the total kaffara consisting in the emancipation of a slave, fasting for 60 days, and feeding 60 people in need.
- Unintentionally killing a Muslim: if a person unintentionally kills a Muslim, they should emancipate a slave. But if they cannot do so, they should fast for 60 consecutive days, and if they still cannot do so, then they should feed 60 people in need.
Breaking a Swear
If a person swears that he or she will do or will not do something (where the swear satisfies certain conditions) and fails to do what he or she swore to do, then he or she should either emancipate a slave or feed or provide clothes for 10 people in need. However, if they fail to do either of these, then they should fast for three days. This kaffara is specified in the Qur'an.
Breaking Vows and Promises
If a person breaks his or her vow (nadhr) or promise ('ahd), then according to the majority of faqihs he or she should do one of the following: emancipating a slave or feeding 60 people in need or fasting for two months.
If a person commits zihar (a sort of divorce explicitly prohibited in the Qur'an), then it is necessary for him to do the kaffara in order to be able to legally return to his wife. Its kaffara consists in the emancipation of a slave, but if not possible, then fasting for two months, and if still not possible, then feeding 60 people in need.
In Hajj and 'Umra
According to the Qur'an, kaffara is obligatory for two actions done during the hajj rituals:
- Shaving one's head before the sacrifice.
- Hunting during ihram.
There are hadiths in which kaffaras are specified for other actions during ihram, such as cutting one's nail, shaving hair in the body, wearing a perfume, covering one's head or walking under the shadow for men, and the like.
The kaffara for a woman who cuts her hair or scratches her face in mourning for her loved ones consists in the emancipation of a slave or feeding 60 people in need or fasting for two months the 31 days of which should be consecutive.
If a man tears up his shirt in mourning for his wife or children, he should either emancipate a slave, or provide food or clothes for 10 people in need, and if he cannot do either, then he should fast for three days.
"Fidya" literally means an exchange. There are some actions that are not prohibited, but one should give some fidya for doing them. According to the Qur'an, one such case is not fasting for people who cannot fast (and thus it is not prohibited for them not to fast). This fidya consists in giving about 750 grams of food (such as wheat) to a person in need. This applies to the following:
- Pregnant or lactating women: a pregnant woman for whom or for whose fetus it is harmful to fast or a woman who lactates her baby and it is harmful for the baby or for the woman to fast, should pay the fidya in addition to fasting at another time (that is, doing the qada').
- Continuous disease: if a person cannot fast because of a disease and his or her disease lasts until the next Ramadan month, then he or she does not have to fast at another time (does not have to do the qada') according to the majority of faqihs, but they should give a fidya for every day.
- Old men and women: old men and women for whom it is difficult to fast have to pay the fidya.
According to hadiths, some actions function as general kaffaras for one's sins, such as
- The material for this article is mainly taken from کفاره in Farsi WikiShia.