Fatwa gives medical professionals permission to postpone Ramadan fasts

A fatwa by a group of prominent British Muslim scholars has given medical professionals permission to postpone their Ramadan fasts if fasting could potentially endanger treatment of coronavirus patients.

With Ramadan due to begin in just over a week, Muslim doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are at the forefront of fighting COVID-19, with a number having passed away due to becoming afflicted with the disease.

Muslim medical professionals say the challenge for those treating COVID-19 patients is that the Personal Protective Equipment they must wear includes a mask or powered air respirators which can result in dehydration and heat stress due to the tight fit around the face for extensive periods.

Moreover, in certain hotspot areas rotas have also been reconfigured to make shifts longer (in excess of 12 hours per day) which is more likely to lead to fatigue. Thus it would be extremely difficult to keep such long fasts particularly if the shift is busy. And if a doctor or nurse does fast, this could potentially lead to life-threatening mistakes.

The fatwa was signed by Deobandi scholars in Blackburn, Batley, Bury, Bradford, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leicester. It asks medical professionals to try to seek alternatives so that they can continue to fast, but if they cannot they will be able to delay their fasts.

The fatwa states: “If it is possible for you to fast without risking the lives of patients, for example, if annual leave can be taken and the hospital has adequate staffing, this should be considered, if not for the whole month, then for as many days possible…

“Another option to consider is smaller shifts or night shifts where feasible. For the UK, the latter may not address the issue because the nights are short. Nevertheless, all alternative options should be considered.

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“If, however, it is not possible for you to fast due to the strong likelihood of dehydration and severe thirst along with the risk of making clinical errors which could potentially affect lives, the fasts can be postponed to a later date. This is a judgement you need to make on a personal level based on your own health whilst keeping in mind your duty of care to patients.

“Any decision you make should be reviewed on a daily basis. If you are uncertain about your ability to fast or it becomes possible for you to fast on a particular day, for example, if the shift is not expected to be busy or a shorter shift becomes possible, then the fast should be attempted. If at any point, you struggle to continue the fast, the fast can be broken and repeated at a later date without any additional penalty.

“Likewise, if your rota includes rest days or zero days or lieu days when you are not expected to be at the hospital, it will be necessary to fast on those days.”

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