August 4th, 2013
09:49 AM ET

For some Muslims, Ramadan fasting poses risks

By Slma Shelbayah, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='SlmaShelbayah']

(CNN) This Ramadan, Amina Jabbar faced a difficult decision.

The University of Toronto medical student’s rotation at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre began around July 9, the start of the Muslim holy month.

That meant working unpredictable shifts for as long as 26 hours while fasting from eating and drinking during the day.

The fast-paced hospital environment was already challenging Jabbar’s ability to keep up with colleagues and patients. As a new physician, she felt more “error prone” and said fasting would increase her anxiety on the job.

Ramadan requires “slowing down,” Jabbar said, an impossible task for a first-year medical resident whose job requires fast decisions and clear thinking to save lives.

The 29-year-old Muslim was torn.

Should she fulfill her professional duties, eating regular meals so hunger would not distract her from patients’ critical needs? Or should she honor her religious obligations by observing the fast, a practice considered a “pillar” of Islam?

“I am spending 60-80 hours (at the hospital) and I don’t get to slow down for Ramadan,” Jabbar said. “It felt unfair to my colleagues and patients to tell them to slow down for me.”

At the same time, Jabbar said she feared that fellow Muslims would criticize her if she didn’t fast. “There’s a certain amount of shame when we talk about people not fasting,” she said.

The decision not to fast during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, is somewhat taboo in the Muslim community.

READ MORE: The Belief Blog Guide to Ramadan 

In Islam, Ramadan commemorates the time when the angel Gabriel imparted the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed.

Many Muslims throughout the world commemorate the month by fasting, refraining from sex and smoking, and dedicating more time than usual to praying and reading the Quran.

Some exceptions are generally allowed during Ramadan, which ends August 8. Pregnant women, travelers and sick people are not expected to observe the fast, for example.

But for many other Muslims, especially first responders and others with stressful jobs, the choice of whether to fast can cause its own kind of anxiety.

When Jabbar blogged about her decision not to fast, she received a mix of reactions.

One Muslim accused her of looking for an “excuse” to shirk her religious duties. Some questioned her devotion to Islam, asking if she performs other required Islamic rituals such as daily prayers.

“Of course I pray," Jabbar said. "I am just choosing not to fast. We have a lot of pressure to demonstrate to our community that we’re Muslim.”

Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, head of the Iqra Mosque in Brooklyn and Muslim Chaplain of Columbia University,  said that observing the fast during Ramadan is a religious obligation for every Muslim who is considered mature, mentally sane, healthy and not traveling.

There are no fatwas – or religious rulings – that grant fasting exemptions for first responders, he added. But, Abdur-Rashid said, one is definitely needed. In fact, he generated one immediately after speaking with CNN.

"The purpose of the fast is not to place the fasting person in the face of harm, but to teach self-restraint,” Abdur-Rashid said.

“And the moment the fast becomes dangerous, or external conditions place the fasting person in harm's way," he said, "then the fasting person is not only permitted, but in many cases, religiously obliged to break their fast.”

Abdur-Rashid's new fatwa may be especially valuable to Muslims like New Yorker Ahmed Sabree, who battles fires while wearing heavy equipment during the searing summer heat.

Sabree, 42, said the arrival of Ramadan this July took him back to his training days with the New York Fire Department nearly eight years ago.

Sabree endured intense physical drills that included racing up six-story buildings, pulling up hoses and crawling on the floor.

Trainers told the budding firefighters to “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” Sabree recalls.

He contemplated breaking the fast, at least to drink some water, and researched Islamic texts for guidance.

Sabree concluded that his training, though grueling, was insufficient reason to drink water during the day.

Ramadan is not just about enduring physical hardships for hardships' sake, Sabree said. Instead, the holy month has a deeply spiritual dimension.

The firefighter said Ramadan's rituals offer an opportunity to “get back on track” and become more conscientious of his responsibilities to God and his fellow man.

That doesn’t mean fasting is easy for Sabree, so he takes precautions to lighten the load a bit.

For instance, he volunteered for the lunchtime watch shift at his firehouse in Harlem, New York, while others are eating in the kitchen, better to keep the alluring aromas of food at bay.

And if a fire breaks during the time of breaking the fast, Sabree responds immediately. To the fire that is, not his stomach.

“If it’s time to break the fast and there’s a fire, you gotta go,” Sabree said. “I’ll break my fast with some water and go.”

READ MORE: Muslims have mixed views on TSA Ramadan advisory

Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar of Wayne County in Michigan is also fasting this year.

Jaafar says Ramadan is “kind of a cool time,”  but he doesn’t mean temperature.

In fact, for the last several years, Ramadan has fallen during the hottest summer months. The holy month is calculated by a lunar, rather than fixed calendar, so it rotates from year to year.

“Unfortunately, I can’t adjust my schedule in the profession I am in. This year is going to be a tough one,” Jaafar said. He is expected to keep the same long hours and fulfill the same duties as his fellow officers.

But there are some perks to celebrating Ramadan in Michigan, home to the largest concentration of American Muslims in the United States. When the holy month comes around, fasting isn’t much of a foreign concept, even for those not Muslim.

This understanding translates into small workarounds for Jaafar. Sometimes, if he begins his workday early enough, he is able to finish in time to get home for dinner.

“My hours can be flexible, and usually I can break my fast with family,” Jaafar said. He uses this time to visit his mother every day and to attend the mosque with his children.

As for Jabbar, the medical resident is trying to make up for not fasting through other spiritually fulfilling options, such as praying and helping heal her patients.

“Spirituality has to become part of my clinical practice, because I spend so much time of my life there,” she said.

But Jabbar said she still misses the slowing down that Ramadan's daytime fasting requires.

"I am trying to make it up in terms of remembrance," of God, she said. "It doesn’t always feel sufficient."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Faith & Health • Holidays • Islam • Islamic law • Ramadan

soundoff (647 Responses)
  1. David Hoffman

    Come and move forward into the light of the future. Sky gods gone. Religious rituals designed to create fear and obedience in the illiterate ignorant masses gone. You take care of your health in accordance with its unique needs during the daily cycles or any other naturally occurring cycle. You harmonize with the weather, the seasons, the ecosystems, the tides, and Earth's other cycles.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jim in Long Beach

      Beautifully and succinctly said. Perfect.

      August 4, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Arabiy

    The whole world knows about the truth of the secular western way of life: Military coup in Egypt, spying, 1% controls 99%, wars, propaganda with words like freedom, $ in election. Islam is the most just system in earth because it is by the creator of earth and the universe

    August 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • meki60

      Islam is the creator of all things stupid and evil

      August 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Islam is evil

      Islam is a religion that was created by a mullah just like the terrorist Mullah Omar of the Taliban. If MohMad was alive today, he would have been prosecuted for his war crimes. Unfortunately he was successful in creating a religion that is responsible for lot of death and destruction in this world.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • Voice of Reason

        So much hate . Why ?

        August 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • wayoflife

      Arabiy, I Agree! by the way, they are not blowing up, they are on war.. and thats not counted killing people, and for some reason arent equal

      August 4, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  3. RK

    It is funny how Muslim women are held to different standards when it comes driving a car, wearing clothes or getting higher education in places like Saudi or strictly Islamic countries, yet when it comes to fasting and abstinence, they are required to be like men. I would think since men pander the most, fasting and abstinence, should be applied more to men than women. Women as it is are deprived of things, and their daily lives as it is is more like fasting.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Ash

      It's funny that all your misleading sources of information is limited to a One source, that's your propaganda Machine! have you been to Middle East or met Muslims before, Nope! then don't talk about something you never seen first hand! specially Muslim women.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
      • AK

        I know a lot of Muslims. I am from a country with lot of Muslims. What RK said is absolutely true.

        August 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
      • AK

        I have seen Educated Muslim women threatened for public speaking. Let us spread the truth.

        August 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  4. meki60

    Ramadan is the celebration of all things stupid

    August 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • S0989

      wow, you are a genius!

      August 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  5. Jonquil

    When you are a rescue or healthcare provider, you are, essentially, standing in the place of the sick and endangered person, doing the job of caring for themselves that they, themselves, can not do. Would this fall under the exemption for the sick? You are their eyes, hands and head, for those who can not care for themselves.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  6. N&W 1000

    Do Muslims believe in blowing people up during Ramadan? Is that stressful?

    August 4, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • ME II

      The vast majority, like the vast majority of other religions, don't believe in blowing anyone up at any time.
      De-stress your life, give up bigotry.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ash

      Paranoid, you are!

      August 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  7. lamelionheart


    August 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  8. Gyh8r

    The picture, what a perfect place to drop one!

    August 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  9. ahmed

    I think working 26 hour shifts itself is a hazard to a healthy lifestyle! Fasting is a wonderful prescription for the soul. I have fasted since I was a teen. I used to play Rugby while fasting. Life is all about balance. But to take this one example and question Ramadan, I'm disappointed in CNN. 1.6 billion people fast and this is one of the most cherished times of the year. This kind of article just doesn't serve any purpose to anyone and just rallies the Religion bashers to the comments section.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • TheScampiCat


      تحيات وأيار/مايو سلم النبي الخاصة بك تكون معك

      Why do you say that, I am curious? I am a Christian and have deep close friendships w. Muslim friends. I think CNN does a service by putting a face onto a deeply spiritual and holy time of your calendar. Better a story of remaining devoted in modern times than a story of another bombing, don't you think?

      I for one would be happy to help switch shifts with a Muslim friend that he/she might be able to break their fast and home with family and friends. Or dial a phone for an Orthodox Jewish friend on the Sabbath. Then perhaps one of them might cover my shift so I could attend Good Friday services.

      السلام عليكم

      August 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • srs

      Good decision Jabbar.

      That's just so sad to see in 21st century how many ignorant people still exist... Isn't fasting supposed to be a personal and spiritual practice. If the answer is yes, then what part of harming yourself and potentially others (your patients) can be spiritual? To not fast in such conditions is a good judgement and you made the correct decision. I admire you for you rational thinking and more important being brave and strong to stand against the ignorant fundamentalists and bullies who think they are allowed to think and decide on behalf of others. God bless you Jabbar...

      August 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Ahmad

        Fasting for a spiritual reason is a very healthy, gives you more self-awareness and will power. It protects you from all the mass advertising that we is forced on us and give us space to think about more important things in life.

        August 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
        • AK

          I think Yoga would do much better for the body than depriving your body and mind of useful nutrients. What say?

          August 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • brad

          Like strapping suicide vests on and exploding in public??

          Or the many ways to stone a woman?

          Those important things in life?

          August 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • brad

      So typical of a muslim: silence or censor anyone remotely critical of your death cult.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Sasha

      If you don't like the West's work ethic then eff off back home. It could be argued that working hard leads to success.

      August 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Anom

    Fasting is something to be kept personal not so the masses know that you are fasting or not. This person blogged her personal decision to get a response and she did. This worry of how the rest of the community sees you is ridiculous. Your faith/beliefs are your own not for others to judge. In regards to unable to fulfill her duties if she truly thinks as an intern she does fast thinking she is mistaken. Interns if anything slow you down no matter what simply to blame fasting as the sole cause is poor in my opinion. However if she/he truly believes that fasting is getting her to shortchange her patients its her personal decision. She seems to blog it as if she needs justification from the sheepish masses. Deal with it your a doctor now, life doesn't get easier simply because you finished medical school.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  11. Rick

    Matthew 6:16-18


    16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Reality

      As with all NT pa-ssages, Mark 6: 16-18 has been thoroughly a-nalyzed for historic authenticity by many contemporary NT scholars. See for example, Professor Gerd Ludemann's a-nalysis in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 145-146.

      "In no way did Jesus speak these words. First, they have nothing to do with Jesus' call to repentance grounded in the nearness of the kingdom of God and his radical ethical demands. Secondly, the rules about fasting stand in direct opposition to the authentic saying of Jesus in Mark 2: 19, according to which the presence of the bridegroom Jesus makes the observing of the commandments to fast superfluous. ........."

      Mark 2:19

      New King James Version (NKJV)

      19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

      See also: http://wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.php?ti-tle=374_On_Fasting

      August 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • waisalemi

      sounds pretty similar to islamic beliefs, actually spot on

      August 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  12. Ibraheem Eric L. Price

    I am a 32 year old male with Type I diabetes and I 'm a police officer for a suburb outside of Birmingham, Alabama where it is hot and humid all summer. AND YES I FAST!!!!! I fast because I know that fasting for Ramadan is a pillar of my faith and because Allah tells us to in the Qur'an. Simple as that. Some brothers and sisters in the community here tell me that I don't have to fast because I'm diabetic but me being diabetic has never stopped me from doing anything else so why should it stop me from doing an act of worship for my Lord? Every person/Muslim is different. Fasting is easy for some and difficult for others. All praises and thanks to Allah that He as been Merciful to me and has made it easy for me. Does fasting makes me a better Muslim God Willing it does. But does it make a better Muslim than the brother or sister that's not fasting? I don't know and to be honest with you I don't feel its my place to say. That's between them and Allah. Salaam/Shalom/Peace.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Not putting your health before your god shows the exact dangers of your belief. I sincerely hope that you wake up to the reality of the damage you are causing yourself now before you don't wake up at all.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • N.

        Every individual knows what they are or are not capable of. It is clear that the ill are not required to fast, but if they feel they are able to without harming their health that is their decision.

        August 4, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • N.

      So true Ibraheem and well said. May Allah give you continued strength.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • JustMe

      I hope you're not driving a car on the roads while you're fasting with your diabetes.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • AK

      I have a lot of respect for you brother even though I do not like everything that the adherents of your religion do in the world.

      August 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • brad

      You put your religion above your duties as a police officer..that's a scary thought..

      and you wonder why no one trusts muslims.

      What happens if your imam issues a fatwa that is in conflict with your duties as a police officer???

      I hope your not a police officer in my area.. The fact a religious fanatic is carrying a firearm is a scary thought indeed.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • RealityCheck

        Brad, you have been posting ridiculous comments in reply to posts on here that prove you are a very close-minded person. The world is full of people of different religions that are not 'fanatics,' just people that believe in a higher power. If you have a "right" to *NOT* believe in God, then people have their own rights to believe in God. You are only making yourself look like a bigot. Pick up a book, try to understand the basic rights of other human beings, and learn some compassion.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
        • Johnathan

          His point is that the right of religion is not absolute: your rights stop where mine start. If you can't fulfill your professional duties, you should switch career. This is how it works in the West.

          August 4, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  13. Ahmad

    Also in Ramadan you have to give to charity. Should that also be reported to some authority?

    August 4, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • AK

      What charity are you talking about? Charity for you people can mean death for others. As an example a charitable organization in Pakistan were responsible for Mumbai attacks.

      August 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • AK

      Also I have never seen Muslims do charity for others. It is only for the Muslims.

      August 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • S0989

        you havent seen so they must not be doing it! makes total sense!

        August 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • RealityCheck

        @AK: I feel sorry for you – I truly hope you learn to stop your hatred and accept other human beings. FYI, here's a Muslim campaign for Ramadan for charity:water, an organization to bring clean water to individuals around the world without access to it. Oh yeah, and they don't *choose* to only help Muslims. WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!


        Oh and by the way, I just found this in a 5 second search. Muslims can donate their money to help any and all people.

        I know, your tiny brain must be exploding right now.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • AK

      @CNN: why did you delete my comment where I mentioned the names of so called 'charitable Muslim organizations'

      August 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  14. Ash

    Ramadan is NOT A TRADITION. it's part of a religion practice being practiced since 100's of years, just like any other religion has it's own practices and ways of showing self discipline and commitment. It's is Islam, if You can not fast then do not fast. CNN again showing lack of objectiveness.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • AK

      May be. But non Muslims are not allowed to freely practice their religion in most Muslim countries. I think CNN should write an article on such issues on the eve of Ramadan. . Make others aware of the truth.

      Muslims want to build mosques at every corner but do not let others build temples, churches, synagogues in their countries. They want freedom in other countries but do not provide the same to minorities in their countries.

      August 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
      • Abdullah

        AK, you are just another of the ignorant Americans that have never been to other places, who hear or read things from the hatemongers and believe those trash.

        August 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  15. Carlos Danger

    Im Anthony weiner

    August 4, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  16. wowzah

    @Alias....unfortunately for you.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  17. Ahmad

    By the way has anyone noticed what has happened with obesity in the western world in the last 20 years?

    Don't you think learning how to control our desires for food might actually be a good thing?

    Islam helps us regain control of our primitive desires and gives us control of our bodies.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • motionlessinpink

      Christians also fast. Catholics fast on Holy Days and during Lent. Lent is a time to reflect on how we can put aside worldly things and grow closer to God. We try to become more healthy in what we eat, how we spend our time, and how we deal with others. Hopefully we will continue to practice the new healthy habits after Lent is over. There seems to be a number of similarities between Lent and Ramadan practices. This was a really good article and I learned several things, that's cool.

      August 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
      • TheScampiCat

        Well said. Thank you.

        August 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • brad

      Your religion is a death cult, and your prophet Muhammad was a child raping epileptic sheep herder.

      So spare us your proselytizing.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  18. A Dose of Reality

    Religion is absolute NON-Sense. All of them. Get your head out of the Bronze age and try some LOGIC and Rational Thought!

    August 4, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Ash

      Bronze age, and so is our current age compare to what's coming after hundreds of years, those stupid comparison between ages is the weak method to show a point, each age has it's own good and bad, period!

      August 4, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      We are in transition. Until recently, religion was considered very rational and logical, and it helped to bring in the age of reason, too.

      August 4, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • motionlessinpink

      I get that you do not practice nor endorse religion. That's certainly your choice. Not to be disagreeable but, I believe God gave you that choice. What I don't get is why you would even want to read an article about religion much less comment on it. What's the point?

      August 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
      • A Dose of Reality

        Obviously I don't believe in religion, nor do I believe any god or gods gave me anything. I read the articles to point out how irrational and delusional religion is. people like you help make my point. thanks

        August 4, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
        • Hitch's Apprentice

          I too am an atheist. It is always interesting for me to come to these comments to see how much bickering and hatred there still is around religion. This goes for any one of CNNs or any other media outlet posting on any of the religions. For all the promises throughout history of how (any) religion will bring us all together in peace and harmony, all one has to do is come to these pages and the proof is more than adequate. And yet the sheep still believe and obey. How very stupid and sad.

          August 4, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • cute13613

      Logic is what you can perceive and comprehend through your five senses which are so limited and unreliable that in reality you have no clue as to what is around you. There is a lot to see than your eyes can see, there is alot to hear, smell taste and feel than your limited audibility, nasal receptors or your tactile capability can ever be aware off. You are just a tiny speckle in the vastness of this unlimited comprehensive universe. You, a little part will never be able to use your limited logic to understand the totality of the wisdom of your creator.
      Masood Ansari

      August 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        "Logic is what you can perceive and comprehend through your five senses "
        1.Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity
        2.A particular system or codification of the principles of proof and inference

        It has nothing to do with the senses, and if you use logic properly, the flaws in our senses are taken into account.

        Since the rest of the post is based off of a flawed definition of logic, it logically follows that the rest is pointless.

        August 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  19. tuhin

    During Ramadan I am more productive than any other time. I have one less thing to worry about which is eating in day time. I eat plenty at night which is allowed. I go to work with full concentration and take all the load I can handle. The busier I am, the easier it is to pass my time. My manager is extremely happy with my performance. Making Ramadan an excuse to slack your work makes me laugh.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  20. Ahmad

    Great posts Akiko and Alias! So now a fasting Muslim is "not in their right mind" and "should be reported to their employer"?

    Perhaps everyone nursing mother who has been woken up at night should be "reported to their employer" as she may not be in their "right mind" for work the next day. Fasting is a deeply personal and spiritual acts. Jews fast for 24 hours on some days, Muslims just fast for the daylight hours. Should all observing Jews be reported to their employers?
    You need to look inside yourself to see how little you understand of spirituality and how people achieve it

    August 4, 2013 at 11:43 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.