Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Dubai: With only 12 days left before Ramadan begins, many Muslims around the world are wondering whether fasting can pose an increased risk of catching the COVID-19 virus, due to dehydration. It is a logical question as the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to sweep its way across the world, where people are advised to keep up fluid intake to keep mucus membranes moist.
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Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word “Al Ramad”, which means intense heat and drought. This reflects the hardship felt by Muslims who fast every day from dawn to sunset, during which they cannot eat or drink anything the whole day.
The question about fasting is also asked by non-Muslims who resort to “intermittent fasting” – an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It is also known as an intermittent energy restriction- an umbrella term for various meal timing schedules that cycle between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a given period. Three methods of intermittent fasting are: alternate-day fasting, periodic fasting, and daily time-restricted feeding.
As Ramadan is around the corner, Muslims worldwide wonder if they would be excused from fasting. Ramadan is expected to fall on April 23, depending on the crescent moon sighting and the Hijri calendar. In fact, Muslims cannot suspend one of the main worships and a key pillar of Islam unless a Sharia fatwa is issued by one of the Muslim world’s highest Islamic institute.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread globally and people go on to self-isolate in their homes and stockpile groceries, is this the right time to fast? Does fasting inadvertently weaken the immune system? Does fasting cause dehydration? These are a few questions raised by many Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide at such a turbulent phase of human history.
What health experts say?
According to recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and health experts, people are advised to drink plenty of fluids, particularly gargling with warm water and drinking liquids to keep their throat and respiratory tract moist.
Health experts say drinking water prevents dehydration, but it will not prevent anyone from catching the new coronavirus.
Doctors caution against believing homegrown advice and what social media users are spreading online as ways of preventing the virus. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said while medical professionals typically recommend keeping up fluid intake when sick, drinking more water will not keep anyone from catching the virus.
“We always caution anyone healthy and people who are sick to keep up fluid intake and keep mucus membranes moist. It makes one feel better; but there is no clear indication that it directly protects against complications,” Dr. Schaffner confirmed.
What science says?
Recent scientific studies show that fasting is the secret to a healthier and longer life. According to a UK-based National Institute on Aging, evidence from decades of animal and human research shows wide-ranging health benefits of intermittent fasting.
The institute conducted a review of the research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which pointed that hundreds of animal studies and scores of human clinical trials have shown that intermittent fasting can lead to improvements in health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders.
The review said still more research is needed to determine whether intermittent fasting yields benefits or is even feasible for humans when practiced over the long term, such as for years.
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