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Observing Ramadan during a Pandemic

Praying at Jamia Masjid mosque in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Saiyna Bashir/The New York Times)

Followers of Islam began observing Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, from April 12. But until they break the fast on Eid-ul-Fitr (May 13), this time will be markedly different from all the previous years because of the pandemic.

COVID-19 is a disease that severely targets the immune system of the body. This is why fasting during Ramadan became a cause of worry for many Muslims this year, fearing that it may weaken much-needed immunity.

An academic perspective

A joint study on Ramadan fasting during the pandemic identified that fasting for three days encourages the body to produce new white blood cells, which would help it fight infections. Though white blood cells deplete during long-term fasting, they come back once the person feeds again. The study believes that a Ramadan fast that mimics a three-day diet through intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding, and alternate-day fasting could boost immunity. But there still isn’t enough ample evidence. “In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists, jurisprudential scholars, and physicians are not sure whether fasting is safe or not,” says the paper. It also mentions that some schools of Islamic thinking do not consider the risk of infection as a good enough reason to forgo fasting. It leaves the final decision up to each individual (based on the fatwa, or ruling on the point of Islamic law) after consulting responsible doctors.

The study identified that exercising during Ramadan would be a serious challenge for many. Their ultimate recommendation was to only work out to maintain the results of the previous month, “without considerable progress in your exercise routine.” It provided a nutritional guideline for adult athletes observing the holy month.

Source: Ramadan Fasting During the COVID-19 Pandemic; Observance of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Criteria for Improving the Immune System

Other advice included:

  • Adherence to the WHO recommendations. This means frequent hand washing, maintaining a distance of at least one meter from others, and wearing a mask.
  •  Most religious authorities have always stated that, if a person has problems with ill-health, it is better to refrain from fasting.
  • During fasting, avoid being in a crowded public space such as bus, subway, etc.
  • Rest more during fasting.
  • Avoid going to religious places for prayer and supplication.

But are vaccines halal?

A family prays at their homemade mosque. Photo by Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com

Now that vaccines are no longer a pipedream in the goal of herd immunity, the Muslim community is left wondering if they are halal.

Fortunately, all vaccines circulating in the U.S. are halal. The National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19 (NMTF) and the National Black Muslim COVID Coalition (NBMCC) detailed how the three are permissible in accordance with the holy scripture Quran.

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain pork products or alcohol and were not made using aborted fetal stem cells. They are made using novel mRNA technology. According to health experts, they are not expected to have negative long-term health impacts. This does not change your DNA.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works similarly to older vaccines. They do not have pork products but have been manufactured using cell lines from aborted fetal stem cells. However, many juridical authorities have deemed them halal, given the societal and individual health needs to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In a bid to compel the public to tackle the virus responsibly, NMTF and NBMCC also urged mosques to implement safety protocols, especially during communal gatherings like the taraweeh and jum’uah prayers. “Mosque leadership bear an important moral responsibility to ensure the safety of their congregants,” they stated.

Health experts like Dr. Hasan Shanawani, the president of the American Muslim Health Professionals, ultimately asked people to be kind to themselves. “Do what you feel is safe, and know that God’s a merciful guy and he’s okay with you making it up. You’re allowed to make up [fasting] days, we do that all the time,” he said in an LAist interview. Shanawani added that getting vaccinated now is imperative and waiting until Ramadan is over would only be dangerous.

Bulbul Rajagopal
Bulbul Rajagopalhttps://bulbulrajagopal.contently.com/
Bulbul Rajagopal is a data and investigative reporter with a special interest in minority issues, soccer, and politics. Her extensive coverage in India and Los Angeles rewarded her with an affinity for crime reporting. During her downtime, Bulbul enjoys exploring her passion for food and its cultural impact amongst other things.
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