Devoted Followers: The (Lack Of) Controversy Around The Health Effects Of Ramadan Fasting

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While people have expressed concern about fasting during the month of Ramadan, the reality is that fasting doesn't really affect a person's health if it's done right. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Governments and non-Muslims alike have expressed concern for those who are fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which began this past week. Over the next month, Muslims across the globe will fast during daylight hours, eat small evening meals, and reconnect with their holy book, the Qur’an.

The concern, though, has come from those who don’t participate in observing the Muslim holiday. China has banned restaurants from closing, and has also banned civil servants, teachers, and students who live in the heavily Muslim-populated Xinjiang region from fasting. Barclay Primary School, in the United Kingdom, wrote in a letter to parents, “We do understand that some of our children might want to take part in the fasting. We suggest that children do this at weekends.” The school wrote this letter after seeing that kids who partook in the holy month lacked energy and became ill from fasting. “No child will be considered to be able to fast in school unless you have met with [me],” the head of the school wrote.

The focus on eating before and after daylight happens to be on eating within a community, and as a result, creates a structure for followers that fast to eat healthy, home-cooked meals in their homes. Often, those followers don’t indulge in excess eating (because they are mandated to eat small meals), and stay away from processed foods.

You can even argue that fasting can be good for people’s mental health. “People think that fasting means starvation, but that doesn’t happen until someone doesn’t eat for four consecutive days,” said Nour Zibdeh, a dietitian and nutritionist, in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Pregnant women, those who are suffering from illness, those who are traveling, the elderly, and those going through menstrual bleeding are excused from the fast, according to Islamic law. Other than these groups, fasting is obligatory.

The ancient practice of fasting is one of the five pillars of worship for followers of Islam, and is a way for followers to increase physical and mental endurance as well as growing closer to God. The other pillars include supporting the needy, focusing on faith, prayer, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

It appears, then, that those who are fasting are healthier than you might have thought. “There are no dangers to fasting if people refuel in the evening hours. Fasting improves brain function and mood, increases vigilance and mental clarity. It also allows the gut to clean chemicals that accumulate. That doesn’t happen often because when we eat, we interfere with that function,” Zibdeh told ThinkProgress.

 

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