Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and is observed annually by the majority of the 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide. Throughout this holy month, Muslims fast and abstain from food, liquids, and immoral acts between dawn and dusk to achieve taqwa (self-restraint) and to seek redemption. This year, Ramadan falls between late April and late May, a time when the Covid-19 pandemic rages. Therefore, Ramadan will be immensely challenging and different this year. For one, there will be suspension of mosque congregations (including tarawih, itikaf) and daily prayers will be performed at home. There will be no social and religious gatherings at Iftar (fast-breaking meals) either, when we usually unite to break our fast together, after sunset.
Ahead of Ramadan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued interim guidelines for religious practices, such as:
1. Healthy people should be able to fast. However, Covid-19 patients can break the fast in consultation with doctors.
2. Cancellation of any social and religious gathering. Measures to limit crowds and the movement of individuals in vulnerable areas should be adopted.
3. Practice physical distancing at all times and avoid gathering in markets and shops. Physical distancing should be followed while distributing ‘Zakat’ during Ramadan. Instead of gathering at Iftar banquets, consider using individual packaged boxes of food.
4. Proper nutrition and hydration are vital. People should eat a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods every day and drink plenty of water during Iftar and Suhoor time.
6. Tobacco and cigarette smoking are ill-advised under any circumstances, especially during Ramadan and the Covid-19 pandemic.
7. Urge older people and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer to not attend gatherings.
The fear of getting sick is not an excuse for a Muslim to not fast. However, if fasting can risk lives of people, or harm their health, or if the health condition of a person is such that the doctor has advised not to fast, it is permissible to not fast. Religious leaders and religious organisations can play a major role in saving lives and reducing illness during this pandemic by sharing evidence-based information about Covid-19, avoiding gatherings, speaking out against stigma, violence, and misinformation.
The writer has a doctorate in Neuropharmacology from AIIMS, New Delhi