Islam sees health and ‘well-being’ as much more than just bodily health. Wellbeing or tranquility requires a strong relationship with one’s spirituality, good physical health, mental happiness, a sense of purpose and good character and relationships.
During the Fasting, use of fat for energy aids weight loss, preserving the muscles, and in the long run reduces one’s cholesterol levels. In addition, weight loss results in better control of diabetes and reduces blood pressure. A detoxification process also seems to occur, as any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body. After a few days of the fast, higher levels of certain hormones appear in the blood (endorphins), resulting in a better level of alertness and an overall feeling of general mental well-being.
Fasting is not only a physical but also a spiritual exercise that has many lasting benefits:
1. Heightened Consciousness of God – Fasting helps one to become less preoccupied with bodily appetites, and enables the heart and mind to become free to reflect over deeper spiritual matters, such as – one’s relationship with God and with fellow human beings. It enables a person to develop sustained consciousness of God – “Taqwa”.
2. Healthy living lifestyle – A fasting person learns to restrain and only responds to hunger and thirst in the heightened level of consciousness and discipline. Through fasting a person begins to appreciate the value of food. In the Qur’an “healthy and wholesome food” is described as the best of provisions. Thus fasting helps a person choose a healthier lifestyle by making small yet lasting changes to one’s daily diet.
3. Compassion and Charity – When fasting, one should think of those in need who may be fasting but have no food at the start or the end of their fast, those whose tiny children are also having to go hungry, out of poverty. The Prophet Muhammad described Ramadan as “the month of Mercy”. His companions observed: “The Prophet (Muhammad) was the most generous of people, but he would be his most generous during Ramadan …”.(Sahih al-Bukhari)
4. Community Spirit – During Ramadan the one who fasts has heightened concerns for the well-being of the community, both rich and poor, intellectuals and labourers. Community spirit is promoted as people start fasting at the same time and break their fast at the sametime, they reflect together through longer prayer and deeper devotions. It is greatly encouraged that families invite each other to break their fast together.
5. Fasting without the spirit is empty of blessing – Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month one should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to reflect on personality and to improve one’s character. Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast, as stressed in a number of sayings of the blessed Prophet: “Fasting is not merely abstention from eating and drinking, but also from vain speech and foul language”. (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The ruling related to fasting has passed by three stages according to QURAN.
Fasting was made optional. So whoever wanted to fast, fasted and whoever did not want to fast, did not fast. However, if one was capable of fasting and did not fast then he would have to feed the poor.
Fasting became obligatory and not optional. However, the sick and those travelling were allowed to fast after Ramadan instead of the obligatory days of Ramadan.
Permission was given to eat and enjoy conjugal relations from sunset to sunrise. In the first and second stage, if the person fasting fell asleep, it is prohibited for him to indulge in such activities till the following day. This became too hard for the Muslims. Hence Allah says:
“Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives.” (AlBaqarah v 187)
“And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread.” (AlBaqarah v 187)
Thus fasting in the month of Ramadan is a pillar from amongst the pillars of Islam and it is an obligatory duty on every mature male and female Muslim.
according to SUNNAH
1. Abdullah Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “Islam is built on five [pillars]: bearing witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, establishing prayers, giving zakah, making the pilgrimage to the House and fasting in Ramadan.” (Bukhari)
2. Talha Ibn Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that a man came to the Prophet and asked him: “O Messenger of Allah , tell me what has Allah made obligatory from fasting. The Prophet replied: “[to fast] in the month of Ramadan.” (Bukhari)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A general point about illness and fasting
Verse no. 184 of Chapter 2 of The Qur’an makes it explicitly clear that people who
have an illness, or medical condition of any kind, that makes fasting injurious to their
health, are exempt from fasting. To compensate for the missed fasts, they must fast
later when they are healthy; if this is not possible due to long-term illness, they must
feed the poor. The latter form of compensation is known as fidyah*.
Q1 SHOULD A PERSON WITH DIABETES FAST?
THIS IS THE MOST FREQUENT ASKED QUESTION IN MUSLIM SOCIETY, Therefore People who have their diabetes under control, either by diet or using tablets, may fast. However, their GP may require them to make changes to their medications in order to aid taking tablets outside the times of fasting. However, those who need insulin to control their diabetes are advised not to fast.
Q2 I get severe migraines when I skip meals and it gets worse when I fast.
Should I fast at all?
Those with uncontrolled migraines are advised not to fast. However, adequate
control of migraines is possible for most people with medications and alterations to
lifestyle, and hence such avenues should be exhausted prior to deciding not to fast.
Please see your GP for further advice on better control of your migraines.
Q3 Should a person with high or low blood pressure fast?
Those with well controlled high blood pressure with lifestyle alterations and/or
medications may fast. Their GP may require a change to their medications in order
to aid taking tablets outside the times of fasting.
A person with so-called ‘low blood pressure’, but who is otherwise is well and healthy
may fast. An adequate intake of fl uid and salts in the diet is advised.
Q4 Is fasting harmful when a woman is expecting a baby? Is it compulsory
to fast while pregnant?
It is not compulsory to fast while pregnant, but the woman will need to either make
up those fasts later or if unable to, should do fi dyah*. There is some medical
evidence to show that fasting in pregnancy is not advisable. If a pregnant
woman feels strong and healthy enough to fast, especially during the early part of the
pregnancy, she may do so. If she does not feel well enough to fast, Islamic law
gives her clear permission to not fast, and to make up the missed fasts later.
Q5 Is Ramadan a good time to quit smoking?
Yes. Smoking is wasteful and seriously injurious to health. Allah has entrusted
us with a healthy body, and it is a violation to knowingly and willingly harm it.
Ramadan provides a great opportunity to amend many bad habits and smoking is very definitely one of them.
Q6 From what age can children fast safely?
Children are required to fast from the age of puberty, and this not harmful. Fasting
prior to this age is tolerated differently depending on the children’s general health,
nutrition and attitude. Fasting prior to the age of 7 or 8 years is not advisable, although it is a good idea to make young children aware of the practice of fasting in
the community around them, and to give them a “taste” of fasting, e.g. for a few
hours at a time. It is narrated that the companions would distract young children
with toys if they were hungry near the time of iftar, so that they would become
accustomed to joining the rest of the community in eating at sunset, rather than
eating just before sunset during Ramadan. (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Q7 Can I use an asthma puffer during Ramadan?
Muslim jurists differ on this issue. Some leading jurists argue that using an asthma
inhaler is not classifi ed as eating or drinking, and is therefore permissible during
fasting. Others argue that because the inhaler provides small amounts of liquid
medicine to the lungs, it breaks the fast. Perhaps the former view is stronger, since
the inhaler assists with breathing and helps the person to fast, which is to abstain
from food, drink and sexual intercourse.
According to the fi rst view, asthmatics may fast and use their inhalers whenever
required during fasting.
According to the second view, poorly controlled asthmatics are advised not to fast
until good control is achieved. Others may alter their inhalers to those of a longer
acting variety such that fasting may be feasible.
Q8 Can I swim during fasting?
Yes, but do not drink the water. Having a bath, shower or swimming has no effect
on the fast. Clearly, no water should be swallowed during any of these activities,
for that would break the fast.
Q9 Can a person fast if he is getting a blood transfusion in hospital?
No. A person receiving a blood transfusion is advised not to fast, on medical
grounds. They may fast on the days when no transfusions are required.
Q10 I am on regular medication. Can I still fast?
If such medication needs to be taken during the time of fasting, you should not
fast. If this medication is required as treatment for a short illness, such fasts can be
compensated for by fasting other days when well.
If medication is required on a long term basis as part of an ongoing illness or
condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes, then you may discuss with
your GP whether to change your medications to long or short acting variety as
appropriate, to enable you to take them outside the time of the fast.
If your disease is unstable or poorly controlled, it is advised not to fast.
Those who are unable to compensate later for missed fasts, due to the long term
use of medications, are advised to do fidhya*.
Q11 Does a breastfeeding woman have to fast?
No. Islamic law exempts a breastfeeding mother from fasting. Missed fasts will
need to be compensated for by fasting or fidyah* once breastfeeding has ceased.
Q12 Can a Muslim patient take tablets, injections, inhalers or patches, whilst
Taking tablets invalidates the fast. However, injections, inhalers, patches, ear and
eye drops, etc that are not comparable to food and drink do not break the fast,
although it is advisable to avoid these if possible due to the difference of opinion
amongst Muslim jurists on these issues.
Q13 Could dehydration become so severe that one has to break the fast?
Yes. Harmful levels of water loss could occur if the person was poorly hydrated
before commencing the fast, and/or made worse by activities during the day and
weather conditions. If one produces very little or no urine, feels disorientated
and confused, or faints due to dehydration, the fast should be broken in order to
Islam does not require that one harms him or herself in fulfilling the fast. If a fast is
broken, it will need to be compensated for by fasting at a later date.
Q14 Can I fast whilst I have dialysis?
Peritoneal dialysis requires the daily usage of fluid bags in the abdomen, and such
patients are advised not to fast (please refer to fidyah* below). Hemodialysis is
performed about 3 times a week, and results in significant shifts of fluids and salts
within the body. Such patients are also advised not to fast (please refer to fidyah*
*Fidyah: is a method of compensation in Islam for a missed act of worship that must
be otherwise fulfi lled. If one is unable to fulfi ll a missed fast, for example due to an
ongoing illness should feed a hungry person (two meals per day) if he or she is able
to. Please consult an Islamic scholar for further details.
I wish you all to get the best out of Ramadhan.
Dr Razeen Mahroof, BM MRCP(UK) FRCA, Anaesthetist, Oxford
Dr Rizwan Syed, BM DRCLG, General Practitioner, Birmingham
Dr. Ahmed El-Sharkawy, BM MRCP(UK), Specialist Registrar in
Tehseen Hasan, BSc (Hons), State Registered Dietitian (SRD), Birmingham
Henrietta Szovati, Researcher, Communities in Action
Sahra Ahmed MPharm, Pharmacist, Manchester