There are 12 days left on the Ramadhan calendar, yet Juma Hassan Galabuuzi has not been part of the full fasting ritual.
The 33-year-old salon attendant says he suffers from severe ulcers, which do not allow him to keep off food for long periods of time. However, his doctor has put him on medication that helps to minimise symptoms such as pain, during this period. “But on some days, the symptoms strike hard in the middle of the fast, and I have to break it immediately and take my medication,” Galabuuzi says.
Galabuuzi’s experience mirrors that of many practicing Muslims, who find themselves torn between following the rituals of their faith and taking care of their health.
According to Dr Badru Matovu, the head of clinical services at Kibuli Hospital, practicing Muslims with predisposing health conditions can fast, but have to be careful not to compromise their health.
“The most important thing here is, if you are sick and as long as you are truthful to yourself and confirmed by the doctor, then you should not disturb your health,” Dr Matovu says.
Those with health conditions that can be treated such as respiratory tract infections, flu, or malaria, he explains, can eat for the days they are taking medicine, and should compensate the missed days after the end Ramadhan.
“But those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic ulcers, sickle cell and HIV/Aids should exempt themselves from fasting. People going on long journeys should also keep away from fasting,” explains Dr Matovu.
Dr Matovu says in an ideal situation, anyone who wants to fast should be physically and psychologically healthy.
“One will need to seek medical advice from their doctor and also do a general check-up. This will ensure they go through the fasting period without falling ill,” explains Dr Matovu. According to Sheikh Haroon Jaafer, an Imam and counsellor, Islam allows you to keep off fasting when you are sick, “because you may be harming your life.”
“Islamic law makes it clear that when you are sick, you should be exempted from fasting. It does not allow intentional harming of one’s life or health for the sake of fulfilling the commandments,” Sheikh Jaafer explains. Dr Matovu says people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes should not fast at all, because the disease usually affects the way sugar is stored in the body, which may result in negative health consequences.
“Our bodies are made in a way that they store sugar in the form of fats, to be used in the future. But if the body system cannot perform this process, then it becomes dangerous to fast for more than six hours,” Dr Matovu says.
He further explains that medication should be taken as prescribed by the doctor, and should not be missed because a person is fasting, as this could compromise the immune system.
Dr Matovu, however, says in the case of diseases such as hypertension, fasting could have some health benefits. “When you have hypertension and fast, it helps you to breakdown some of the fats causing you the problems and in that case, your chances of falling ill are minimised,” he says.
During fasting, Dr Matovu says a person does not have to change their diet, as long as it is a healthy one. He, however, warns against over-eating as a way of compensating for the period spent without food.
“People who fast should avoid eating too much during Iftar (time for breaking the fast) and instead, consume a lot of water to replenish the fluids in their bodies,” he says.
He adds: “When it is time to break the fast, people need to eat more sugar or carbohydrate-rich foods such as sugarcane, sweet bananas and juice.
But when it comes to Daku (the late night meal), Dr Matovu says it is advisable to consume foods that are rich in complex sugars, and take a longer time to release the glucose into the body.
This can include foods such as chapattis, posho, rice, cassava and matooke. This kind of diet will help you go through the fasting period successfully.