Thursday night marked the start of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, during which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have begun receiving the revelations from God that formed the basis for the Qu’ran. For the next four weeks hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world will perform various acts of piety, including keeping a strict fast from sunup to sundown in which the observant will abstain from food and drink -- even water.
Ramadan, which is observed at different times every year relative to the lunar month calendar, this year falls during the heart of the summer, when the days are long and hot. For many people, abstaining from food or hydration in late July and early to mid-August would actually be a danger to health.
Fortunately, Islam’s precepts strike a balance between piety and individual well-being.
“We have to be honest with ourselves. We all want to please God, but at the same time you have to recognize your own limitations,” said Imam Abdul Aleem Razzaqq. “If you’re ill you have to accept that, and the Creator himself accepts that. He loves you, He wants to keep you from harm.”
Razzaqq has served as a volunteer chaplain for 15 years as a volunteer chaplain at University Hospital, which last weekend held its annual pre-Ramadan Health Fair.
Razzaqq and others notes that Islamic tradition allows for exemptions from the fast -- generally, the very old, the very young and those who are traveling are not expected to abstain. Those who are sick with a non-chronic illness or who are recuperating from an injury can make up fast days they’ve missed during Ramadan later on, Razzaqq said. Pregnant and nursing women are also exempt
Meanwhile, those with chronic conditions, like sugar diabetes, can live up to another Ramadan tradition, doing charitable works, in lieu of going without and drink. Instead, Razzaqq advises, the person can make a donation sufficient to feed one other person for the number of days the he or she would have fasted.
Even adults who can handle the rigors of fasting, however, need to keep a few tips in mind.
First, since hydration is out of the question during the hot summer days, fasters are advised to avoid strenuous activity outside if possible.
Second, many experts advise that the faithful try and have a morning meal, even if you have to rise before sunup in order to partake. That meal should consist of filling, nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Third, difficult though it may be, experts advise people not to go overboard when the daily fast breaks at sundown for the iftar meal. Overeating is of course never a good idea, but is especially unwise late at night, partly because it can disturb one’s sleep. And a person on a fast is generally more irritable and less able to concentrate, effects compounded by a lack of sleep.
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