Is it Islamophobic to point out the dangers to health of Ramadan, especially Ramadan in July? If so, prepare to be shocked by this June 27 article in the notoriously Islamophobic Guardian.
Tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly Asian man sitting in his hospital bed during Ramadan last year as he sought reassurance from Muslim chaplain Siddiq Diwan because he could not participate in the annual religious month-long fast.
“I know I am ill and do not have to fast, Imam,” the old man said to Diwan at Manchester Royal Infirmary. “But I have never missed one in seven decades, and I really feel bad about it.”
While this patient had reluctantly accepted that fasting was not an option for him, thousands of Muslims with diabetes in the UK go ahead regardless. Many will put themselves at risk of serious illness and dangerous complications by taking part in the Ramadan fast (beginning on 28 June) when they go without food, water and even medication between sunrise and sunset – despite the fact that the Qur’an makes exceptions for the sick, pregnant women, children and anyone for whom it would cause physical harm.
That spells out the problem pretty well right there. Ramadan is obviously way too onerous. It’s too coercive, too mandatory, too exceptionless, too demanding. That elderly Asian man with diabetes should not be feeling guilty or sad or anything of the kind about having to refrain from fasting; it shouldn’t be any kind of issue. Nobody should go without water (or medication ffs) between sunrise and sunset; it’s bad for the body.
And this idea (or none-too-subtle implication) that it’s “Islamophobic” to say so? Bullshit. Thinking people should have a less harsh and dangerous version of their religion is not a hostile act or even thought.
[An imam’s] experiences are echoed in the UK’s first study on the beliefs and experiences of Muslims with diabetes during Ramadan, being carried out by Manchester University-based psychologist Dr Neesha Patel. The results, published in the journal Health Expectations, highlight the intense pressures felt by individuals with diabetes during the period, from family, culture, religion and their own conscience.
More than half the diabetics in Patel’s study still fasted; many continued to do so through a sense of obligation, the need to conform or a belief that the Qur’an demanded it. Some altered their own medication during the period of Ramadan – mostly without the advice of their GP or practice nurse. Some were put under family pressure to follow the fast, while others felt the need to conceal their decision not to fast by snacking in secret.
That’s awful. There’s nothing good to say about it. it’s just awful; it’s fucked up.
Patel says: “Ramadan is an annual event – it is going to be with us forever. There is a large Muslim population in the UK and the level of diabetes in some of the communities is many times higher than in the UK generally. This is a big issue. For change to happen there needs to be government support.”
The UK has a population of 2.7 million Muslims, of whom 325,000 have diabetes. The South Asian population has six times the general rate of the condition. This year the holy month of Ramadan falls in the summer, and fasters in parts of the northern hemisphere will face periods without food or water that last up to 21 hours. These long periods of abstinence will feature for the next 10 years.
That’s a death sentence for some people.
GP Dr Faizan Ahmed from Moss Side Family Medical Practice in Manchester agrees there is a need for clarity. He says: “At the moment there is a social stigma in some community groups about not fasting, and the onus is very much on the individual to make a decision.”
Since 2010, his practice has invited all patients known to be Muslim for a pre-Ramadan review of their health and medication. This he described as a “watershed”, with fewer patients ending up in A&E since, and some taking the decision for the first time not to fast because of their health problems.
In the absence of national health guidelines, Diabetes UK, in collaboration with the Muslim Council of Britain, has produced culturally-sensitive material for people who want to fast, and scripts for Imams. This year the charity is sending volunteers into five largely Islamic areas during Ramadan, with the aim of reducing diabetic complications.
The best outcome would be if the whole thing were optional. But clearly that’s way too much to ask…