By Hwaa Irfan
As the secular forces gather to weaken our resilience to the superficialities that it has reconstructed our lives with, yet unable to provide any sustainable means outside of our respective faiths, let us realize that which is worth living for, that which gives life meaning, and that which give our lives a purpose as we approach the blessed month of Ramadhan, Increasingly what secularism has done to Christianity, is becoming the same for Muslims, most noticeably during Ramadhan. The spiritual richness that was once felt collectively has been struggling against the appetites that secularism has been nurturing us on, making the lift beyond the mundane that we feel when we carry out our acts of worship together during a month that binds us, make no difference on our hearts and minds like the other months when we “forget”. At the same time, let us not pressure and bully each other into “behaving” in what may be considered an “Islamic” way, for surely that has become subject to interpretation, eliminating the spirit of Islam. Remember that when everything around us seems to not make sense, and offers little respite, prayer like Ramadhan offers us an opportunity to slow down, reflect, rebalance, and to reclaim who we are.
For pregnant women during the summer months, certain fears might set in. First of all, let it be said that there is no compulsion on pregnant Muslim women to fast for what is obligatory on those who are well in body and mind. However, the benefits are great.
Allowing the workings of the body to take its natural course has just become another item to place on the agenda and sometimes the requests of the body is not well received when it has a mind of its own. Fasting beyond three days not only reduces the blood protein, lowers blood fats, possible increase of uric acid and here is as lower red blood count and iron level, but the period attracts a lot of questions about one’s life and one develops a new sensitivity towards those around one . The whole process of pregnancy adds additional demands on the body. Californian physician Gabriel Cousens describes fasting as:
“… a means to abstain from that which is toxic to the mind, body and soul. A way to understand this is that fasting is the elimination of physical, emotional and mental toxins from our organism, rather than simply cutting down on or stopping food intake. Fasting for spiritual purposes usually involves removing oneself from worldly responsibilities ….”
Pregnancy is an important period whereby the bonding between mother and child begins from conception bringing warmth, love, security and complete nutrition depending on the health and age of the mother. From a Western point of view it can be considered surprising how harsh some Muslim women can be on their own bodies during pregnancy, assuming that fasting is compulsory on all healthy Muslims of responsible age.
Every situation has been catered for if only we knew. We are reminded of this fact in Prophet Muhammed’s Last Sermon when he informed his follower that he had completed for us the religion that is Islam and that we must turn to the two weighty things that is the Qur`an and the Sunnah (the traditions of the Prophet). Muslim women around the world are living under differing circumstances some of which undermines the health of the pregnant woman, Islam would not be so merciless as to impose such a hardship on those who have poor health or poor nutrition. In Islam, those who do not have to fast are:
• Woman in advanced of pregnancy, or in a stage where fasting is harmful
• Those who are breast-feeding
• Those who are menstruating and
• Those women who are in nifas. (the blood that appears after childbirth)
If a pregnant woman or a breast-feeding woman fears for her health or the health of the unborn child, she can fast the same equivalent of days at another time or feed the poor to compensate. This is confirmed in the ahadith :
“”For those who can do it (with hard-ship) is a ransom, the feeding of one, that is indigent,” he said: This was a concession granted to the aged man and woman who were able to keep fast; they were allowed to leave the fast and instead feed an indigent person for each fast; (and a concession) to pregnant and suckling woman when they apprehended harm (to themselves)” (abu Da`wud 13 #115) in explanation of Al Baqarah 2: 184)
Islamic fasting makes our bodied go into an elimination cycle by the act of not eating. Where there is toxicity present in the system, there are withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability or fatigue. In contemporary Western medicine, it is generally considered as a form of starvation and has even been considered as a factor towards eating disorders – do any of these arguments have a weight of truth?
The Effects of Fasting for Healthy Pregnant Women
‘Eating for two’ is usually the expression declared given to encourage the likelihood of a healthy mother and child, but how much real knowledge is there in this expression? Islamic fasting helps to address dietary abuse problems that in pregnancy can also affect the unborn child. It also helps to release some of the toxic build up which is attracted to the extra body fat that women carry. So therefore fasting detoxifies the body. Toxin release occurs from the kidneys, bladder, lungs, sinuses and skin discharging mucus from the intestinal tract, respiratory tract, sinuses and urine. The reality is that the benefits of fasting in pregnancy vary from person-to-person depending on the condition of the body. Islam allows fasting for a healthy mother-to-be and allows an expectant mother who is not so predisposed the right not to fast surely belies that tale. This is possible because of the eating periods of iftar and suhur that allow for a balanced intake of nutrition. This was in fact ascertained by Dr. Soliman in Jordan at the University Hospital who tested 42 men and 26 women in 2984. Having tested all the features of the blood before testing he was able to compare differences. The only aspects of significance was the fact that men gained weight slightly higher than women and higher than their own weight before fasting and the same applied to their blood glucose levels. But all other elements i.e. cortisol, cholesterol, lipoprotein etc had remained the same. In Islam, the safe period of fasting for pregnant women has been determined to be during the 1st and 2nd trimester. Clinical professor Dr. Shahid Athar suggests the 2nd Trimester (at 4 – 6 months), and then depending only on the health of the expectant woman and that she has permission and supervision from her obstetrician.
• By the third week the head and the spine begins to form at opposite ends growing toward each other until they fuse to form the “neural tube.”
• In the fourth week tissue buds form that will later develop into the lungs, pancreas, liver and gallbladder. The ears, eyes and some facial structures begin to form. The cartilage, bone and muscles of the back emerge in paired bulges. The heart develops. It is during this period that the embryo is at the greatest risk of birth defects.
• During the fifth week, external ears become visible, the nose, the upper and lower jaws form, and the limbs. The walls of the chest and abdomen, and the umbilical cord develops.
• From six to eight weeks, the face becomes readily recognizable as a human. The neck forms, the torso and head become more erect, the tail disappears and the limbs become jointed, forming fingers and toes.
• At eight weeks, the embryo is a full-formed, tiny baby, now called a fetus.
• By fifteen weeks, the fetus can kick, curl its fingers and toes, and squint its eyes. Genitals have developed and the kidneys work.
• Circulatory and urinary systems are operating, and the liver is producing bile. The reproductive organs of male or female have developed, but the gender of the fetus is difficult to distinguish externally.
• Fat begins to accumulate, the placenta has stopped growing and cannot keep up with the growing need for nourishment. The fetus can survive outside the womb if placed in an intensive care unit. It can taste sweet and sour and respond to stimuli, including pain, light and sound.
• The brain develops very rapidly. In the last two months, a fatty substance called “myelin” develops speeding up transmission of nervous impulses.
In West Africa, it was observed that 90% of pregnant women fasted during Ramadhan. Twenty-two pregnant women, ten lactating women and ten non-pregnant women, were tested by medical researchers Prentice et al. It was found that the glucose level was significantly lower in women who were in their later stages of pregnancy than the control group. This is useful in incidences of Gestational pregnancy whereby the blood sugar level becomes higher than normal whilst pregnant but may return to normal after delivery. Body fat cannot form the glucose required by the body for energy and during the period of fasting, The process of ketosis takes place (which only occurs in fasting) preventing the loss of protein. Body glucose decreases and there is increased weight loss. One of the purposes of researching into pregnant fasting women is to assess whether the glucose level in blood during the fast can be used as a measure to screen for Gestational diabetes. In a medical trial of 520 pregnant fasting women in Zurich, Switzerland the women’s blood sugar was tested in the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. The purpose of the trial was to see what risks and preventative measures could be taken in cases of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy due to increased intolerance of glucose) that is prevalent amongst Asian and African women. One method of treatment recommends dietary management under medical supervision in fasting women. Periodic blood testing is carried out to assess the glucose level whilst fasting and after taking iftar (break fast) in order to maintain necessary blood sugar levels and adequate nutrition for the unborn child. Gestational diabetes can lead to a larger than normal fetus, stillbirth or a caesarian section.
With the difficulty in making up the fast at a later time, most women prefer to seize the opportunity to fast during the month of Ramadhan itself. Depending on the stress factors of one’s domestic conditions which might lack psychological and domestic support to be on the safe side, it would be wiser to consider ones general health and to seek approval from ones doctor before making a decision. The intake of food should be balanced and the intake of fluids plenty. For instance it is often assumed that for nursing mothers fasting leads to dehydration therefore decreasing milk supply. Prentice and his team found in their study of nursing mothers in Nigeria who were fasting for Ramadhan that there was in fact no decrease in volume of milk due to the periods of iftar and suhur (morning meal before fast) when a higher volume of fluids were consumed to over-compensate for the day time fast. It just goes to show, between the Qur`an, the Sunnah and women’s knowledge of their own bodies, that more myths are too be broken in order to allow the natural laws passed down to us to put balance in our lives.
Fasting in the Summer
The first ever Ramadhan may have taken place in the summer, given that the Middle East observe long summer months. As the global temperature rises to a level that tests all of us, and as the days are longer that the nights in the west, we have a few challenges on our hands. Increasingly secular and Christian trends are pointing to the benefits of fasting in the summer from the point of view of cleansing the body, and losing weight. Always the first three days are the most difficult as the body adjusts, but as long as your mind is causing contention with negative emotions, then the rest of the fast will be easier.
One should aim to break one’s fast with something light. The Sunnah of praying Maghrib (dusk prayers) allows one’s digestion to work on the light break-fast by attempting something more filling. Kazan Dr, Ildar Tukhvatullin in Russia places emphasis on eating foods that are high in carbohydrates (dried fruits, dates, figs, poultry, fish, and dairy products), low in gaseous ingredients, and avoid overeating. This in includes food that contain yeast, fried foods, processed foods, fizzy drinks, high sugar content, One needs to bring up one fluid and sugar up take without overdoing it. One such way is to eat fruits and freshly squeezed fruit juices. Food should be chewed properly before swallowing, drink plenty of water for we are made mostly of water, and do some light exercise, which will help to improve one’s digestion, and metabolism. People tend to feel lethargic, because that is what their minds tell them, but by using energy one creates more energy.
This summer marks the beginning of a seven year period of fasting in the summer, and given that niyyah, our intentions are the most important aspect of anything we do, let us make the next 7 Ramadhans a mercy to us, our families, to the environment and the humanity as a whole insha-Allah…
Healthy Eating Tips To Take From Ramadan
Athar, Shahid. “ Health Concerns for Believers Contemporary Issues”. http://islam-usa.com/h8.html
CrescentLife.com. “Studies on Islamic Fasting”. http://www.crescentlife.com/spirituality/studies_on_islamic_fasting.htm
Cebmh. “Pregnancy: Gestational Diabetes”. National Electronic Library for Health. http://cebmh.warne.ox.oc.uk/diabetes/professional/pregnancy/page8.html
Haas, Elson. M. “Nutritional Program for Fasting”. http://www.healthy.net/templates/article.asp?PageType=article7ID=1996
Healthlibary.com. “Diabetes and Pregnancy”. 4. http://www.healthlibrary.com/reading/yod/nov/diabtes.htm
Perucchini, Daniele et al. “Using Fasting Plasma Glucose Concentrations to Screen for Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: Prospective Population Based Study”. British Medical Journal. 25: 319 (1999) 812-815. 9. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlrender.fcgi?artid=28232
Prentice, A. M. et al. “Metabolic Consequences of Fasting During Ramadan in Pregnant and Lactating Women”. Human Nutrition 37:4(1983)283 – 94. July. 2.. PubMed. http://www.ncbi.nlm.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=