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. robatino

    As someone on "Little Mosque" once said, "that's not fasting, that's just rescheduled eating". The human body is easily capable of dealing with eating once a day, continuously. I've done it for over 20 years for health reasons, year round, and I'm not even Muslim. (Personally, I don't consider it fasting unless it's done for at least 2 or 3 days and causes weight loss.) When done in this way, the body gets used to it and there is no loss of energy. I realize it may cramp some people's social lives, but if not "fasting" is doing the same thing, it might make sense to switch to year round.

    August 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  2. ALLuh

    Muslims in jobs that involve public safety, or human lives, well, they should not be in that position to begin with. What sort of GAWD would want his "creation" to suffer? Religion is for the weakest of minds.

    August 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Nahhhhh

      So brave. I tip my fedora to you sir...

      August 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  3. Brenda

    There should be a different thing she can do instead of fasting. A contingency plan, if you will. Maybe give up coffee?

    August 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I give up the hard stuff and stick with beer.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • Jeff V.

        I raise my bottle to that !

        August 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  4. Mark Yelka

    When I've had to have surgery, I always wanted a doctor who was operating at their peak. If a doctor wishes to perform at anything less than their peak, then they should inform the patient that they will be operating while tired and hungry. If the patient is not informed, then that is just wrong. The same is true for other professions where peak performance is part of the job description and is not optional.

    August 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Wakar

      She shouldn't fast and she can complete fasting after Ramadan at her convenient.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        I am always up front with the ladies and I NEVER get any.

        August 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Tom

      100% agree. Mental note to be wary of a muslim doctor for any kind of medical work. The fact that they even consider "slowing down" when they have patients that could be in harm's way – in order to seem holy to their fellow muslims is a Red Flag.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
      • Ahmad

        Perhaps you should also stay away from all female doctors in-case it is the wrong time of the month and they have cramps and are distracted. Or stay from all doctors with young children, or doctors with any sick family members or any family problems at all. These can all be distracting.

        August 4, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Ahmad

      You are not living in the real world. Doctors, lawyers etc all have normal lives. They have family issues, stay up late to watch a DVD, have minor headaches, menstrual cramps etc. How much are you going to pry into someone's personal life. It is not realistic.

      August 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  5. HeavenSent's Real Father

    Why are you here my son? What evil do you bring into my house monster? Are you here now to cling to my robes? Are you here now to weep before me? Do you beg forgiveness or do you seek company with the only heavenly being that knows your heart?

    August 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • HeavenSent's Cousin

      My lord! Yes, I have been out tonight tasting your fruit if you know what I mean you old carnal bastard. Genius, master, maker of my death. That is you! But I love you don’t I??

      August 4, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  6. Ryan

    Why on Earth do the first few responses have hardly anything to do with the article? This story is about Muslims potentially breaking their Ramadan fast, not international terrorism or theological debate. As a lifelong atheist, here's my message to all of you: grow up. There are over one billion Muslims in the world, and most people living here on Earth are religious, to some extent or another. While I don't necessarily "approve" of faith or organized religion, I do my best to deal with those who do, often by treating those who are kind and decent in turn.

    I think the question of whether or not Muslims who are first responders or emergency workers should break the fast to perform their duties is an important one to ask. Personally, I don't think intentionally weakening oneself and endangering others is either a justifiable or noble goal – if you can manage with workarounds, fine. A volunteer firefighter or police officer should be okay, provided they keep water and a snack on hand before responding to any calls that'll undoubtedly be full of action and strenuous work. So far as doctors go: no, I absolutely do not think they should be fasting if they're working long shifts. The Qu'ran makes very specific exceptions for those who are themselves in danger to not fast and make up their days later on. I would certainly hope the same logic applies to those who have other people relying on them to stay alive or healthy. A psychiatry resident should be okay fasting for a while; a surgeon shouldn't be working if they're dehydrated or too tired to function to the best of their abilities.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Sports Fan

      I don't typically like to read so I did not read your post, but I look forward to seeing the Dolphins in their new uniforms today!

      August 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • Jessy The Gnostic

        Then don't reply if you didn't read.

        August 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  7. Wakar

    I just wanna ask her. When she has periods and cant fast so what kind of excuse and how she explain it to Muslims .
    Stop using dirty tricks. Please Ms.amina read Quran.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ahmed

      You obviously havent read the Quran that you prescribe. Because if you did, you would not be writing such garbage.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
      • Wakar

        You are one of the minafiq using Muslim name. Shame on u.

        August 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
        • ahmed

          Yours is the standard response to anyone who questions your mischievous (in this case writing beysharam bakwas about a woman while pretending to be a namaazi perhaezgaar "moralizing" to her) jamaatiya nonsense. munafiqs are the taliban who have murdered 50,000 muslims in Pakistan, and munafiqs are individuals like you whose mindsets are like the taliban.

          August 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • Wakar

        You are a moron idiot. Period

        August 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  8. Khan

    Miss Jabbar – No body will criticize you but no one has time and desire to watch you 24/7. Fasting is between you and your Lord.....If I were you, I would have said, this is so fantastic, i m fasting and yet doing my job with perfection. This is what fasting means, you do your job with honesty regardless how hungry and tired you r!!!

    August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Wakar

      Well said. These hippos are minafiqs.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
      • Khan

        Lot of them want to be on CNN – attention seekers

        August 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • Wakar

          Yep. One of them is Ms.amina jabbar. She tries to be a Muslim but never opened Quran and telling to the blog about the fasting problem.
          If she reads Quran she could find the answer. Shame on her!

          August 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • Jessy The Gnostic

      Do you have any idea of the negative side effects of dehydration and starvation on the human body while having to perform duties that require absolute concentration and precision? Have you ever been a surgeon in your life? Have you ever hauled 30-50 LBS worth of equipment up and down the stairs of a burning building without drinking or eating for prolonged hours of a hot summer day?

      August 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Sana

      I agree with M Khan that fasting is not about just refraining from food. If i was Ms Jabbar, instead of saying that Ramadan slows you down, I would have said that , I am fasting yet perfect at my job. Ms Jabbar, an FYI to you that medical students and residents do their jobs and duties in Pakistan too where half of the time there is no light and electricity. At least you should be thankful that you are lucky to fast in an air conditioned building. At the end of the day its not about food but about your Iman... When there is a will, there is a way and Allah will pave that way, only if you wanted.

      August 4, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  9. justuandme

    Once I saw the headline and I saw Amina was at a crossroads about fasting... I stopped reading and did not bother to read the rest of the article. The fact is if fasting should not be an issue for a true muslim...EVER!. A muslim can make up for the fast any other day of the year if there is a valid reason to not complete the fast for the day(s) in question. In my book Amina is a cop out and is pretending to be a muslim. Any other person that makes a similar claim to Amina is also pretending to be a muslim. I am sorry but that's the truth there is no ifs, ands or buts about fasting. The pretend muslims may want to re-read their teachings before making silly claims like Amina or even consider calling yourself a muslim. Or find another faith. I Signed this blurb as an X-muslim! (I believe in no faith but holds no bias to any either). In my opinion there is no hereafter. But that's just me.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • DaMeglet

      Glad you feel that way. (Mental note to self–avoid Muslim doctors during Ramadan...)

      August 4, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • Ahmad

        Perhaps you should also stay away from all female doctors in-case it is the wrong time of the month and they have cramps and are distracted. Or stay from all doctors with young children, or doctors with any sick family members or any family problems at all. These can all be distracting.

        August 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • kkhan

      Who are all of you to judge whether Ms. Jabbar is a Muslim or Not.. Are you Naozzbillah Allah? Take a look at your own actions before judging others..

      August 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Alain

      There were sahaba (companions of the Prophet SA) who broke their fast out of necessity. Islam's purpose isn't to be difficult; Allah does not intend hardship on His creation. Judgement, on the other hand, is unbecoming of a Muslim. Additionally, you're pronouncing judgement without even reading the article.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  10. Dood

    Don't blame it on God, blame it on their interpretation of God.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Ahmad

    Fasting is good for you. ALL major religions proscribe it.

    Get you head out of which ever hole it is in and get an education.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Scott f.

      Fasting is ot healthy for you, it is all about being cotrolled.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Redoran

      You are wrong. Fasting is NOT good and carries many health risks. Remember that the koranne is thousands of years old, written by itinerant goat herders. Wouldn't you rather belive modern medicine? I guess not.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      Ahmad is right. There is nothing wrong with fasting whatsoever. It cleanses the mind, body, soul, and spirit. A lot of faiths fast. I have never done it, but always wanted too... To me, one should not do it alone, but with others...

      August 4, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • cosmicc

      Sorry to bring the grammar police into the picture for a post I support, but the correct word is "prescribe" (require), not "proscribe" (prohibit).

      August 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  12. Chris

    I was stationed with the Air Force in Turkey back in 1972. I remember going to the Grand Bazaar to buy a rug. It was during Ramadan and when the prayer calls started I asked the store owner if he needed to close and go to prayer. He said in the Muslim world one could be either a good businessman or a good Muslim, but not both.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • cosmicc

      The same can be said for Christians and Jews. Saturday and Sunday are prime retail sales days, but selling is work and a true believer cannot work on the Sabbath.

      August 4, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  13. barbara

    Who cares about their fasting problems? The only ones interested in their fasting are other Muslims. Why would non-muslims care. Why is CNN even writing this article?

    August 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Ahmad

      Because CNN has a anti-Muslim agenda. The obvious article would be to write about how fasting an help with self control and the obesity epidemic hitting America. That would be a positive portrayal of Islam which is completely unacceptable in the USA. Compare the news stories in the English newspapers about Ramadan. They are all about people of many people (Muslims and non-muslims) breaking the fast together.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • Scott f.

        If anything most of the media is very liberal. and speaking of obese, check out the saudis in and out of the duty free liquor store at Heathrow, disgusting hundred pound guts under those dresses.

        August 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
        • Wakar

          They are same as molester priests? Lol

          August 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • cosmicc

      Why are you reacting to something in CNN's "Belief Blog" section as if it were a news article? This part of the CNN site only exists to generate discussions. Sometimes they're interesting and sometimes they are filled with meaningless rants, but they always have someone complaining about the content of the post. It's an editorial, not hard news. If you don't care for the topic, move along.

      August 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  14. lamelionheart

    Today's atheistic fanatics have tendencies to bring up religious atrocities from past histories even though today's religions have long since been found marginally harmonious in moralism and civilities. While nationalistic pertinences are varied each according to their own flocks demands, religious sovereignties around nationalisms are halfway censored here in the U.S.A. As this world's internationalisms become ever a globalization issue, many religious ambiguities are left stranded with hardly any steering currencies by which to navigate their flocks governmentally wise. Therefore, is it really wise to establish rules of governmental laws being disrespectful of all religions' absorption ratios within their many varying societal regimes that dare protrude (sometimes negatively) upon the social fabrics of moralistic and civilized disciplinary virtues?

    August 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      And yes, I know their are religious extremists nowadays that are fanatical on many fronts of the religiously orientated. The internationally committed toward a unifying globalization might well have to reign-in on such religious fanaticisms but at what costs to those religious regimes that are socially moral and civilly obedient..?

      August 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  15. joy martinez antolin

    just because you broke tradition doesnt mean you lost faith or being disobedient. You do what you have to do. You can always make up in in other ways. I believe you chose the right thing. When you face your God, you can hold your head up high.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Joey

      I agree with you. You're the only one who is very wise here.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  16. MagicPanties

    It's time for the middle east, in particular, and Muslims, in general, to crawl out of the middle ages.

    Leave your dangerous fairy tales behind.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ahmad

      You sound like a very angry person. I suggest you convert to Islam it will give you peace.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • Mary

        Or you'll lose your head!

        August 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
      • Or...

        Leave you in pieces.

        August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
      • Ahmed

        You dont really mean that of course. Be honest. 50,000 Pakistani soldiers, police and ordinary citizens killed to date (with a few more killed every day) by the taliban – and the only complaint you hear from the politicians is about US drones targetting the taliban!! So, either stop sympathizing with these murderers and stop complaining about how the west is against Islam, or else stop pretending that the way to find peace is to become a muslim. While you may be at peace (I have not doubt), rest assured (if you really believe in the Judgement Day) that you will one day answer for this hypocrisy on serious matters of life and death by muslims at least in Pakistan.

        August 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  17. max

    Funny thing those muslims, they won't clean up their act. Maybe they don't want to rid the world of terrorists and suicide bombers because deep down inside in the heart of islam what the terrorists preach is the aim of all muslims. Maybe it is so that the islamic religion is such a detrimental faith we need to think about banning it. You want to be a muslim then stop all the lies, and protecting terrorists. This includes you jews also.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Khan

      How many Muslims you met in your life? I guess none....Your argument does NOT make any sense, this article is about fasting. Do you know what it means? of course not. So i will urge u to read Koran.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • Ahmed

        You made two spelling mistakes my friend. ha!

        August 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  18. Rogue351

    The Muslim community needs to step out of the shadows and start putting there foot down when it comes to terrorists. The actions of the terrorists are dictating the worlds view of the entire Muslim religion. Poor treatment of women, destruction of world historical sites, hatred for specific races of people. These are but a few of the views people have of Muslims thanks to the actions and big mouths of but a few. If Islam is truly a religion of peace then every single Muslim should stand up and try twice as hard to make that stand out more than anything else. Right now Islam is looking more like the rise of yet another Nazi fanatical world problem. How long are you going to stand for these terrorists killing other muslims in the name of a single religion, regardless of your sect. Countries that side with groups that harbor terrorists should be economically and finically cut off from the rest of the world and held accountable. The people of these countries should rise up to STOP the violence. There are NO winners, regardless of what you believe there is not a salvation for the murder of innocent people rather you call them your enemy or not. If you are a true Muslim stop the hate, stop the destruction and stand up for what is right peace and unity. You will accomplish much more united and non violent than you ever will with war. ANYONE who commits violent acts against innocent people is truly a coward and embodies the true meaning of evil.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  19. FourleafTayback

    To fast or not to fast? To wear the explosive vest or the shoe bombs? Tough choices for muslims.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Z

      Fasting is an amazing thing, disciplines the body by depriving it of desires during daylight hours. Once the body learns to live without instant gratification, the inner soul is empowered. Fasting = taming the beast.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • Rob S

        Empowered to do... what? Empowered to be more compassionate, understanding, forgiving, merciful and loving toward others – as God wants us to be? Or fasting for some other, silly empowerment? Fasting counts for nothing if you are not practicing these virtues, God is not fooled.

        August 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
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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.