I read a recent Fatwa from his eminence Ayatullah Sistani that it is permissible when fasting to chew sugar-free chewing gum to moisten the mouth. Does it mean that I can chew for example ‘Extra’ sugar-free chewing gum while fasting?
The simple and quick answer is ‘no you cannot’. Here is the explanation:
Unfortunately, the Fatwa is lost in translation. In understanding the Fatawa of our jurists, we should be familiar with their terminology. The Fatwa you refer to was translated from Arabic to English. The term used in the original Fatwa is ‘Elk (عِلک). Our jurists have borrowed this term from the Narrations. During the hot summer days of Medina some Muslims used to chew a substance called ‘Elk. The ‘Elk in today’s Arabic means chewing gum, but in the early time of Islam it referred to sapwood or outer layers of recently formed wood; something similar to traditional Miswak.
The famous opinion of our jurists is that chewing ‘Elk, although it is Makrooh as it may reduce the reward of fasting, is permissible when necessary to keep the mouth moisten, provided that its bits and pieces do not crumble and go down the throat, and that it is not from sugar cane, beet cane and such trees that contain nutrition.
As you can see, traditional ‘Elk is very different from today’s chewing gum which have many ingredients among which are ‘sweeteners. Even so-called ‘sugar-free’ chewing gum use sugar alcohol or artificial sweeteners as sugar replacements. A similar common mistake is about ‘Ta’am’ (طعام). In today’s Arabic it refers to any ‘food’, whereas in the early time of Islam it was mainly used to refer to grains and beans. Mixing the new and the old meaning of ‘Ta’am’ has misled some to assume the 5th Ayah of the 5th Surah allows Muslims to consume any ‘food’ prepared by the People of the Book!
Answered by: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei
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