Fasting during Ramadan
If you’re a Muslim living with a terminal illness or close to somebody who is, it can help to know about issues that may come up during Ramadan. During this time of reflection, many Muslims try to improve their relationship with Allah, relatives and friends.
Fasting is part of this and can be a challenge when you’re living with a terminal illness. It can change eating patterns and even how medication is taken. You may choose not to fast but, if you do, the information below may help with adjusting to any changes.
It’s important that you talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional before making any changes to your routine. If you’re staying in a hospice, it may be helpful to speak to staff about any special needs during this time.
What does fasting involve?
Between sunrise and sunset during the Islamic month of Ramadan, a fasting Muslim doesn’t:
- eat any food
- drink anything
- have sex
The dates of Ramadan change each year because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar.
People who aren’t required to fast
Many healthy, adult Muslims like to fast at this time. A Muslim is considered an adult at puberty, which varies in age. However there are some exceptions and you don’t need to fast if you’re:
- very ill and fasting may make your health worse
- a child under the age of puberty
- someone with learning difficulties who isn’t able to understand the purpose of the fast
- older or frail and not able to fast
- travelling more than 50 miles and feel you may be harmed by the fast
- a woman who’s menstruating
- a pregnant or breastfeeding woman and you’re worried for your own health or that of your children
In some of these situations you can either fast at another time or give food to other people. This is called atonement.
If you’re under the age of puberty or have a learning difficulty that makes you unable to understand the nature and purpose of fasting, you don’t need to make any atonement.
If you’re older and unable to fast, you can choose to feed someone less fortunate for every day of fasting that you miss. Individuals who suffer from chronic health problems or are terminally ill can pay a sum of money in place of their fasts. Most mosques have a system in place to organise this. Ask them for details .
You might also like to read the Qur’an or make extra prayers during this time to feel more involved. If you’re very unwell, travelling more than 50 miles, menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding children, Islamic teachings say you should fast if your condition changes. In these cases you should fast for as many days as you missed.
Medicines you can and can’t take while fasting
Medicines taken orally
During Ramadan, taking medicine orally is considered breaking the fast. There are ways around this for fasting people who are ill.
If you want to fast and have been prescribed oral medicine, you can speak to your doctor about making other arrangements. Your doctor may be able to change your medicine to be active for a longer time or change the times that you take your medicine.
Inhalers, like the ones used for asthma, are fine if needed but opinions can vary on what medications break the fast. It may be worthwhile to contact your local mosque for guidance.
Getting your doctor’s advice
You should always speak to your doctor about your options while fasting for Ramadan. It may not be a good idea to change your medication routine and your doctor is best placed to tell you about any effects that this might bring.
Staying healthy while fasting
The NHS Choices website’s Healthy Ramadan section has lots of information on staying healthy during Ramadan, including tips on meal plans.
This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.
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