By Nawar Fakhry Ezzi
25 June 2015
Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam and is essential in building a Muslim’s character when it is done properly, especially regarding controlling one’s temper and negative emotions in addition to abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relationships from sunrise until sunset. Because fasting can be arduous, Allah has only required healthy capable adults to perform it exempting several groups who do not fit this criterion including the sick, elderly, children who have not reached puberty, pregnant or nursing mothers, and travellers. Some of these groups are not required to make up for the days they do not fast in Ramadan, such as children, while others are required to feed the poor for each day they did not fast and/or make up for the days they did not fast at any other time during the year after Ramadan.
The Islamic Hijri calendar is based on lunar calculations creating a difference of 11 days every year compared to the solar Gregorian calendar. Thus, over a cycle of 33 years, Ramadan would annually come at a different time of the season or every several years in a different season altogether. This year, it coincides with the peak of the summer heat and the longest duration of day hours of the year, where in some countries daylight hours last up to 20 hours. Accordingly, people whose health can be affected negatively by fasting should be more attentive to their health and check with their doctors before fasting in order to avoid dehydration or any other risk that could affect their well-being.
However, it is interesting to note that it takes more willpower by some Muslims not to fast than to fast in Ramadan which could be the result of several factors including the endearment we have for this holy month, the burden of making up those days after Ramadan, or simply being unaware of the dangers that might occur from fasting. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Verily, Allah Almighty loves it when His concessions are taken, just as He likes it when his important commandments are followed”. Yet many of us still find it difficult not to fast or are even reluctant to discourage others, especially our children, from doing so. Although most Muslims do not force their children to fast in Ramadan, children themselves are strongly motivated to participate in what seems to them a social festival where they imitate their parents and other adults.
According to the Endocrinology and Diabetes Consultant, Dr. Bassam Abbas, fasting could be challenging to any child and is especially so for diabetic children under 12 years of age, who should not fast at all. Thus, children with chronic illnesses are especially vulnerable and should be monitored very carefully and in some instances prevented from fasting. Moreover, it is better to consult the paediatrician of even perfectly healthy children, especially those who still attend school or live in countries where daylight hours are very long because they are not required to fast in the first place and because maintaining their well-being is more sacred in Islam than training them to fast.
In many Islamic countries, accommodations are made especially for Ramadan to help people during their fasting. For example, in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Labour reduces working hours for Muslims to six hours daily or 36 hours weekly in the private sector in addition to a midday work ban under the sun for all workers from 12 to 3 pm throughout the summer, not only during Ramadan. The religious scholar, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, has even permitted people who do arduous work in the heat not to fast during Ramadan if it endangers their health and well-being.
Fasting is a test of willpower and a practice of self-discipline which empowers people by making their brain control their senses instead of being enslaved by them, and this usually is beneficial to people’s health. This year, however, due to the heat and long hours of daylight, people whose health is compromised in anyway and parents of young children should be especially careful in considering fasting by checking with their doctors and making sure it is safe to fast without causing serious harm to their own or their children’s health.