What happens when you miss so many fasts? Let's say you missed a whole month. It can even be accumulated, like 30 days one year, and then 30 days the year before. If you're pregnant, and then you have a child and you're breastfeeding, you might miss two years of fasting. Then you're trying to make up for 60 days!
Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, is reported to have said that she used to make up her missed fasts during the month of Sha'ban, just before the month of Ramadan begins. That means that she delayed it for several months. We might think that it's an obligation that needs to be paid right away. You don't want to delay it, but human nature is what it is. We have the great example of the Mother of the Believers delaying her fast until just the start of Ramadan.
Men don't have the same issues women do, because women experience menstruation. They have to take that time off and they've got to fast to make it up. In that case, it is recommended getting it over and done with as soon as possible, because then you know it's done and you're not thinking about the fasts you have to make up throughout the year.
Let's talk about the accumulation of these fasts and what to do about them. It can create tremendous guilt and anxiety before Ramadan begins. You're thinking, “Ramadan's coming up and I didn't make up my days. What am I going to do? What's the point of even fasting if I didn't make up my days before?”
How to make up for a large number of missed fasts, especially in the case of the pregnant and breastfeeding woman who, during her time of pregnancy or breastfeeding, postpones the fasts and then tries to make them up. Well, the best solution is for women in those situations to just give the fidya, which is an amount to compensate for each day of the fast. This is explained in the second chapter of the Quran in the 184th verse, where it says, "as for those who have the ability, they have recourse to a substitute by feeding the poor." This does not say anything about pregnant or breastfeeding women specifically, but over Islamic history, Muslim scholars have had to think about the accumulation of fasts for pregnant, breastfeeding women and what to do with so many fasts accumulating. The best solution is to give the fidya. Give one meal to a less fortunate person for each day of the fast.
If it's 30 days, then it would be approximately $300 (if you take this to mean a meal similar to the meals that you would have at home, which is a reasonable way of putting it). However, none of this is specified in the Quran. One can say that this is the spirit of it. Yet, if somebody was in financial difficulty and they wanted to have a lesser expense to deal with, then there are other ways of dealing with it. For example, you could feed a less fortunate person in another part of the world. Some Islamic organizations are willing to take your money and arrange for it to be done on your behalf. If you have relatives abroad who can do that for you where the cost of living is not great, you feel you have done the bare minimum and you've fed 30 people. You don’t have to feed them separately, you can feed them all at once. If you gather 30 people, cook a nice big pot of meal and feed them all at once, that would be the least expensive route to go. The spirit of it is that you do so according to your means.
As a matter of principle in Islamic law, anything that is obligated in Islamic law is waived if one does not have the ability.
To begin with, we're talking about fasting and having the ability, and now, even the ability to pay the compensation, that too is a prerequisite for paying the compensation. You don't have it, you can't pay it, and you're excused.
For other people, apart from pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, those who have delayed their fasts for other reasons wouldn't have recourse to fidya. They would have to make up the fast. If they cannot finish them before the start of the next Ramadan, they would be required to finish them up at a later date after fasting Ramadan in its usual way. However, in the case of pregnant, breastfeeding women, their case seems similar to a person who is ill. So, let them fast an equal number of other days just like the person who was temporarily ill. Yet, because of the possible recurrence of pregnancy and the prolonged nature of breastfeeding spanning one year, two years, and so on, we might think that this is more like the person who has a sort of continuous illness. For the person with a continuous illness, we're not going to tell them to fast when they get better because getting better may be too long in the future. We would say, give the compensation instead. Give the fidya, the substitute, or the ransom.