Several Islamic authorities, medics and local councils in Britain have issued warnings ahead of Ramadan, as Muslims in the UK gear up to fast for 19 hours during the holy month beginning on Saturday.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has said this year will be tough for fasters, while ambulance services and medics are pointing at the risk to the elderly and those with controlled medical conditions.
“In 2014, the fasting hours for Ramadan will be some 19 hours long. With some five hours only available to eat, drink, sleep and pray, Ramadan in the UK will be tough,” the MCB said in a statement.
During Ramadan, which begins on Sunday in Britain, Muslims abstain from food from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable. They are also required to abstain from drinking liquids, smoking and having sex.
Diabetes and dehydration
An MCB leaflet advises: “Long fasts put you at higher risk of low blood sugar levels and dehydration. If the weather is hot you can also become dehydrated without drinking, which can make you ill. High blood sugar levels can also occur if you become dehydrated and/ or if you eat excessively at Suhoor or Iftar.”
The UK has a population of 2.7 million Muslims, of whom 325,000 have diabetes, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Such figures have led Britain’s North West Ambulance Service to issue a statement insisting that balanced food and fluid intake between fasts is essential.
“If during this Ramadan period you start to feel unwell, disorientated or confused, our advice as supported by Islamic principles is to stop fasting and have a drink of water or other fluids,” the statement said.
“This is especially important for older adults, and for those with controlled medical conditions such as low/high blood pressure, diabetes and those who are receiving dialysis treatment.”
Also, local British councils have also issued warnings, among them Buckinghamshire County Council which also warned of the dangers of dehydration.
“When Ramadan falls in the summer months it’s really important to take extra care to drink enough before the fast to keep your fluid levels up during the day and avoid dehydration,” Buckinghamshire’s director of public health Jane O’Grady was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.
“Do watch out for more vulnerable members of the community, especially if the weather is very warm, to make sure that they stay healthy during the holy month.”
Change of guidelines in northern Sweden
Nineteen hours won’t be the longest fast in the world, however. Fasters in parts of the northern hemisphere will face periods that last up to 21 hours.
Last week, Al Arabiya News Channel learned that the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) was studying some issues that linked fasting in countries where the daytime is long, with the sun not setting in some areas of Western Europe until 11:00 p.m.
When contacted by Al Arabiya News a week later, the ECFR confirmed reports of a change to the guidelines. In parts of northern Sweden, such as Kiruna – where the sun sets extremely late – Muslims will now be urged to follow the sun in Stockholm or in Malmö – where the sun sets earlier.
Religious authorities have not had to issue such guidelines for Muslims in the UK.
“In accordance with Islamic teachings, all those who are ill, frail, pregnant, menstruating or are travelling are exempt from fasting,” Sheikh Hamid Khalifa, the former Imam of the London Islamic Center, told Al Arabiya News.
“If they are able to, these people may make up the fast at a later date, perhaps during the winter months with a shorter daylight period, such as November, December or January.
“But if they cannot fast at all, in either summer or in the winter months, they can complete their duties by offering charity or providing food to the poor.
“There should be no change in fasting times for countries such as the UK or even Egypt, where fasting will be up to 16 hours. Last week, it was up for debate that a fatwa [religious edict] could be issued to reduce fasting times, this should never be the case,” Sheikh Khalifa added.