CAIRO: Some people who fast during Ramadan suffer from issues such as flatulence and stomach cramps, and during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic more problems are expected to surface. So how can Egyptians stay healthy during the holy month?
On problems related to the digestive system, dietician Dr. Heba Abdel-Hakim’s advice is to eat food slowly, to chew it well and to stop eating once you feel full.
She suggests that people cut down on fatty and fried food, stop drinking sodas while having their iftar (breaking the fast) meal, and not sleeping or lying down immediately after eating.
Abdel-Hakim said that it was important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, in the period between sunset and dusk.
Some Egyptians have been asking whether they should fast this year after warnings circulated on social media that fasting during Ramadan, when a person refrains from drinking any kind of fluid, might contribute to dryness of the throat, thus accelerating a lung infection from the coronavirus. Additionally, messages circulated that fasting could weaken the immune system, causing health problems to some people, especially the elderly.
Among the posts that stoked controversy was that of a cleric, Sameh Abdel-Meguid, who said that it was not permissible to refrain from fasting in Ramadan “under the pretext of keeping the throat moist.”
“During fasting, the throat remains wet except for those who perform hard labor under the scorching sun. Plus, most of those who become infected with the virus around the world are not fasting,” he said.
Abdel-Meguid added in a post on his Facebook account that “a fasting person may rinse the mouth with water without excessively doing so, so that water would not seep into the throat.” A fasting person may also use the siwak, a teeth-cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree, reputed to have been used more than 7,000 years ago. “In short, no one has the right to refrain from fasting except those who have a license from God. The mere apprehension of getting infected with the coronavirus does not allow breaking the fast in Ramadan,” he said.
Abdel-Meguid’s post came as a response to Mustafa Rashed, the mufti of Australia and New Zealand, who said: “A fasting person during the corona pandemic is no different from a sick person or traveler who has a valid reason (according to Islamic law) to break the fast (or not to fast). They may fast after the reason that prevented them is over. It is preferable that ordinary people fast to maintain their immunity. Those who are unable to fast may feed a poor person every day because solidarity among people these days, when the number of needy people is on the rise, is more of a priority than fasting.”
Meanwhile, Al-Azhar International Fatwa Center said in a statement: “A Muslim should not break his fast in Ramadan except upon a doctor’s advice. It should be scientifically proven that fasting would make him or her vulnerable to becoming infected and die due to the coronavirus, but this has not been scientifically proven up until now.”
Dr. Abdel-Hady Mesbah, a professor of immunology, said: “Elderly people and people with chronic diseases are most likely to be infected with the virus, so it is preferable that they should not fast because fasting causes dryness of the throat, thus giving the virus a chance to gain strength.
“Moreover, dryness slows down blood circulation which carries immunity cells that defend the body. For ordinary people, fasting depends on their ability, and each person can evaluate his or her ability to fast.”
Mesbah advises people to follow a healthy diet while giving special importance to foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as lemons and kiwi fruit, exercising — such as jogging daily for half an hour — sleeping for no less than seven hours and avoiding anxiety since the immune system protects the body’s organs and cells from viruses.