Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fasting during the Month of Ramadan

Health is of great importance during the month of Ramadan. Fasting can be extremely therapeutic. However, like any health therapy or treatment, there may me some side effects. People with health conditions should consult their doctors before begging any kind of physical fasting.

“....Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that. He had guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful.” (2:185).

Islamically, there are those who are considered exempt from fasting are:

The frail and elderly


Those who have a chronic condition whereby participating in
fasting would be detrimental to their health

Those who cannot understand the purpose of fasting i.e.
those who have learning difficulties or those who suffer from
severe mental health problems

Travelers (those travelling greater than 50 miles)*

Those acutely unwell*

Pregnant and breast feeding women*

However, for those who remain generally healthy, the side effects of fasting are nonthreatening and the benefits out weigh the adverse effects.

"Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training, with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, it is beneficial for one’s entire life. Moreover, the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type diets. Everything that is permissible is taken in moderate quantities.
The only difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.
The physiological effect of fasting includes lower of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on "Health and Ramadan," held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world, from Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients’ health or baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not try to fast." "The  Medical Benefits of Fasting (Ramadan)"

When fasting during the month Ramadan, one should know that irritability is one one the mild side effects. Irritability resulting in harmful treatment of others, cursing or even fighting can break one's fast. Therefore, being aware of this side effect ahead of time, gives one an opportunity to seek out and develop coping strategies.There are many coping strategies. However, Islamic coping strategies have been developed over time and also come with the benefit of deriving special blessing from Allah.

"Another critical factor capable of influencing the experiences of Ramadan concerns the stress coping strategies. People are inherently exposed to stressful events and one of the effective ways to deal with stress could be religious coping [16,17]. Recently, Khan, Watson, Chen et al. [19] examined the relationships of Islamic religious coping with the experiences and behavior of Ramadan in university students. Their findings displayed that positive Islamic coping (i.e., an adaptive religious coping; e.g., looking for a stronger connection with Allah when facing a problem in life) correlated positively with Ramadan behaviors (r =46) and Ramadan experience (r =.44), and negatively with negative Ramadan experience (r =-.18). Positive Islamic coping appeared to predict Ramadan behaviors. In addition, punishing Allah reappraisal (i.e., maladaptive religious coping; e.g., believing being punished by Allah for bad
actions when facing a problem in life) did predict higher levels of negative experience of Ramadan.

However, these findings do not match well the findings of earlier Pakistani investigations with Muslims, which display: (a) a clear
relationship between negative religious coping and several indices of maladaptive adjustment [33-35], yet (b) an unclear relationship of positive religious coping with indices of adaptive adjustment [33,34], and (c) a positive relationship of positive religious coping with indices of maladaptive adjustment [35]. Such inconstancies could be explained by methodological differences. First, contrary to
previous studies, Khan, Watson, Chen et al.’s [19] study was conducted during the month of Ramadan, which could have enhanced Muslims’
commitment in Islamic recommendations, increasing thus the benefits of positive religious coping. Second, the unexpected positive relationship between positive religious coping and indices of maladaptive adjustment reflected specific psychological mechanisms implying religious patients [35].

Overall, all of the findings are consistent with those of studies run with mainly Christians and Jews showing that positive religious
coping was positively associated with happiness and satisfaction with life [36], and negatively associated with anxiety [36] and depression
[10, 36].As for negative religious coping, it was found to be positively related to anxiety [36] and depression [10, 36].Similarly, Hebert,Zdaniuk, Schulz, and Scheier[37] observed that negative religious coping predicted worse overall mental health, depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction in women with breast cancer.

In sum, given that the religious coping strategies refer to a conception of God, the affective and behavioral consequences associated with the type of religious coping strategies could be influenced by how people view God. In concrete, viewing God as a protector or a punisher could lead to positive or negative psychological outcomes, respectively [10,19]. The consistent links of the type of religious coping strategies with the experiences and behaviors of Ramadan support Pargament et al.’s [31] view according to which religion could foster health-related traits of personality, characterized by a high level of self-regulation." "Effects of Ramadan Fasting on Health and Athletic Performance," Edited by:Hamdi Chtourou and Published by OMICS Group eBooks.

Among the benefits of fasting during this holy month are the psychological aspects. Fasting is not just about the non consumption of food but rather a exercise in self regulation and the development of self will which  paramount in the control over the lowerself. The Ramadan fast can aid one in the mastery of negative desires.

"Fasting is believed to help promote chastity and humility and prevent sin, the outburst of uncontrolled lusts and desires and far-fetched hopes. Fasting also includes
abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech,and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Therefore,
fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps to develop good behavior. During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase good deeds. This purification of body and soul harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. On a moral level, believers strive to attain the most virtuous characteristics and apply them to their daily situations. "Psycho-Social Behavior and Health Benefits of Islamic Fasting During the Month of Ramadan Ahmad et al., J Community Med Health Educ. 2012."

All in all, one should educate themselves regarding the fast and prepare mentaly, physiaclly and spiritually before engaging in the rituals during month of Ramadan. There are many facets to the observance of this month and there is a plethora of information available online these days. Therefore, stay informed and if you choose to participat, enjoy this Holy Month.

Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan.)
Cozmo El