All over the world, the fasting month of Ramzan is celebrated and revered with great fervour.  As far as daily routines are concerned,  a person is supposed to stop eating, drinking, smoking and having sex for a period of upto 18 hours from before sawn until sunset, and is free to indulge in all of these activities outside of this time frame.  During winters, the time to fast is lesser because days become shorter. If one is fasting in the UK during summer months, they may have to fast from 3 am to 930 – 10 pm. So you can only hydrate your body for 5-6 hours in the night, and stay without fluids for the rest of the day, for a whole month.

Staying hydrated is one of the most basic and essential requirements in order for the body to function.  However there is no provision for this while a person is observing an Islamic fast.  In fact, there is a lot of celebration around staying thirsty and hungry.  Many Muslims spend most of their day sleeping when they fast to save energy. When they wake up, they are not supposed to gargle or bush their teeth, so their breath has a particular odour.  According to religious text, this odour is very dear to Allah

‘Verily, the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better to Allah than the smell of musk.’ Sahih al-Bukhari 5927, Book 77, Hadith 142.

Another Hadith mentions a special door of Jannat called Rayyan from which fasting believers will enter. Ref Sahih Muslim 1152, Book 13, Hadith 216.

At the same time, indulging in Jihad while fasting is also glorified tremendously in the scripture.

“There are two joys for the fasting person: the joy when he breaks his fast, and the joy of when he meets his Lord.” Jami`at-Tirmidhi 766, Book 8, Hadith 85

According to popular opinion, Ramzan fasting is held supreme since it encourages one to completely abandon desires, followers are trained in patience, resilience, endurance, and sacrifice, which are all traits of the jihad fighter. According to Hussein Shehata, a lecturer at Al-Azhar University

“Ramadan is the month of victory for those who wage jihad for Allah. Ramadan has seen the following battles, conquests, and victories: the great Battle of Badr, the conquest of Mecca, the Muslims’ entrance into Al-Andalus, the conquest of Constantinople by Muhammad the Conqueror, and the battle of ‘Ein Jalut, in which the Muslims defeated the Mongols”

All of these sentiments drive followers of Islam to keep fasts religiously in order to attain higher status in the eyes of Allah.  However, studies have shown what Islamic fasting can do to a human body.  Restricted fluid intake, leading to disturbance in the fluid balance, in its initial stages is likely to cause tachycardia, tiredness and malaise, headaches, nausea and circular collapse. Middle-aged or more elderly persons are usually more prone to the effects of dehydration (Schmahl & Metzler). Gradually, there is increase in uric acid leading to hyperuricemia which is one of the known consequence of prolonged fasting.

Migraines are another condition suffered by prolonged Islamic style fasting, and it impacts women more than men according to The Soroka study, published in Journal of Headache and Pain.

Weight fluctuation is another outcome of prolonged Muslim fasting. Numerous studies have reported significant weight loss during the month (Adlouni, Ghalim, Benslimane, Lecerf, & Saile, 1997; Adlouni et al., 1998; Fedail, Murphy, Salih, Bolton, & Harvey, 1982; Kayikcioglu, Erkin, & Erakgun, 1999; Ramadan, Telahoun, Al-Zaid, & Barac-Nieto, 1999; Schmahl & Metzler, 1991; Sweileh, Schnitzler, Hunter, & Davis, 1992). There is water loss early in Ramzan and loss of body fat during the later period (Sweileh et al., 1992). Weight fluctuation provides an increased risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

According to a study by National Library of Medicine, dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents.  The study goes on to say how it was observed that dehydration causes shrinkage of brain tissue and an associated increase in ventricular volume. Another study published in News Medical suggests that even mild dehydration (around 4 cups or less per day) is associated with reduced cognitive function.  Compared to rest of the body, brain contains more water mass where approximately 75% of all brain mass is water. Now water is required to provide metabolic and structural support for cells and tissues, as well as being involved in the transport of essential nutrients and compounds, which are essential for proper neuronal function.  Studies have shown that cognitive function declines at mild water loss of around 2% body water loss, even if this may depend on individual differences relating to fitness levels and dehydration tolerance.  This may result in poorer concentration, increased reaction times, short-term memory issues, and negative mood changes, among adults who consume around 1L of water (or 4 cups worth) a day.  Moreover, this impacts women more than men.

Having take a look at bodily and brain function damage as a result of prolonged Islamic fasting, one also has to keep in mind the cultural and social impact of the pious month.  Many reports and incidents suggest that there is heightened criminal activity by the fasting community, more road rages are on display, even pick pocketing is on the rise during this month in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Alarmingly, an article published in Yemen Times shared numbers suggesting an increase in child trafficking during the month.  The article say:
“With the advent of Ramadan in just a few days, child trafficking, a trade that sometimes goes unpunished in Yemen, is expected to increase as food prices rise and parents struggle to provide for their children. Yemeni children, primarily boys, are trafficked into Saudi Arabia for exploitation as beggars, street vendors and unskilled laborers.”  Recently a family was arrested in Pakistan after they sold their 4 month old baby for the equivalent of INR 45,000.

Those who follow Islamic fast also displays heightened hatred against non Muslims during this month.  In Pakistan where it is strictly disallowed to eat and drink in public during the month, atrocities are carried out every year against its Hindu and Christian majority just because they are visibly seen not fasting. Last year, an old Hindu man was beaten up badly as he was allegedly seen drinking water in public during Roza hours. In Nigeria, there are more church attacks during the month as compared to the rest of the year.  In Egypt, Christian places of worships have seen attacks many times during Ramzan.  

In conclusion, one is at a loss to understand what exactly are the benefits of Islamic fasting both to Muslims in particular, and to the society in general.  One can imagine that it could have worked better if people were allowed to have fluids during the fast, and if it was not held for one month combined, but spread out during the year where one had the choice of keep in 30 fasts in total at any time.

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