From 23rd April Muslims all over the world will be partaking in the holy month of Ramadan. For a whole lunar month Muslims will fast from food and water during daylight hours and use the time for reflection and prayer.
This year’s Ramadan is taking place under exceptional circumstances and the Muslim community has had to adapt their practices to follow the UK government guidelines put in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst all adults are expected to take part in fasting, there are some exceptions, including illness. Therefore those who are ill, have underlying health problems or have coronavirus should not fast and recover fully before commencing a fasting period.
Fasting during a pandemic
Fasting for Ramadan during the Covid-19 pandemic should be safe for the majority of Muslims. However, the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine (CEBM) advises that patients with a fever, or other symptoms of coronavirus such as a persistent cough, are at risk of rapid deterioration and should therefore abstain from fasting.
Clinical information on the impact of fasting and Coronavirus is limited. The British Islamic Medical Association has collaborated with experts to create a matrix of risk and recommendations to help medical professionals, along with patients, come to the best decisions on an individual basis.
Those concerned about fasting due to health conditions should have a conversation with their GP before commencing their fast.
Frontline workers vulnerable to contracting Coronavirus can also be exempt from fasting, especially where fasting may impact their ability to make clinical decisions.
What does fasting do to the body?
Fasting can restrict the body’s access to nutrients and thus weaken the immune system. Putting the body under pressure by fasting can instigate the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn can impact the body’s immune response. This may mean that if you do come into contact with a virus, your immune system may be put under significant strain in order to fight it off.
It is therefore important to eat well during the permitted hours. Those fasting should look to consume a sufficient amount of calories from a wide variety of foods and rehydrate properly. It is advisable to try and include high energy, slow burn foods to help maintain a steady release of energy throughout the day.
Social distancing during Ramadan
The government’s social distancing measures have been put in place to reduce the spread of the virus and thus ease pressure on the NHS. Therefore the best way to successfully take part in the fasting period over Ramadan and avoid illness is to adhere to the government guidelines and stay at home as much as possible.
Many mosques have already pulled together online measures to help support their congregation through this unprecedented time.
The breaking of the fast each evening is usually carried out in a social environment with friends and family. Under the current UK government social distancing measures the night prayers and Iftars, often taken at mosques, will be undertaken at home.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is encouraging people to host or attend virtual Iftars through video conferencing and streaming sites. This allows communities to ‘come together’ whilst adhering to the vital government guidelines.
The MCB also advises Muslims to think ahead about their Iftar and Suhoor meals to reduce the number of trips needed to buy food.
Maintaining good mental health during Ramadan is also important. Using the one form of outdoor exercise each day can help support good mental health and ensure that you remain active during the lockdown period.
For more information on accessing the virtual community over Ramadan you can search the hashtag #RamadanAtHome