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View Diary: Islam 101: Sawm (157 comments)

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  •  Thank you for this series. (10+ / 0-)

    I'm curious: do you know if there is ever / has ever been a general exemption to the fast declared for reasons of public health in the case of a heat wave, where there is risk of dangerous dehydration if one abstains from water?  I recall a year when it was so hot that there was a general exemption to Tisha B'Av (a summer fast day in the Jewish calendar), saying that people should still abstain from food but should drink water at need, because it was feared that otherwise people would die.

    •  I can answer that, actually. (5+ / 0-)

      People who can't fast for medical reasons aren't called upon to do so any more in Islam than in Judaism or Christianity.

      I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

      by commonmass on Thu May 30, 2013 at 12:29:10 PM PDT

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    •  I've never heard of any general exemptions... (5+ / 0-)

      ...ever being made for the reason you stated, but I wouldn't rule it out as never happening either.

      Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

      by JDsg on Thu May 30, 2013 at 06:15:08 PM PDT

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    •  I have never heard of general exemptions either (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JDsg

      Although Basra, without electricity and with temperatures in excess of 120 degrees should qualify for one.  I mentioned a little of this in a comment above...

      Fasting is explicitly not required for children, or for those who are ill or otherwise would damage their health by fasting.  Persons who are traveling also don't need to fast (though they do need to make up the days later).  Most Muslims (including most clergy) would draw the line at any actual physical harm - Islam does not condone suicide, self-injury, etc.  But here's the real risk: Social pressure, along with a high premium placed on self-restraint, leads many to fast who probably shouldn't. A few years back, I worked with a Somali refugee who had diabetes, and for very valid reasons, her doctor told her not to fast.  She was very devout, and it was difficult to get her to place her health first.  Obviously, fasting if you are a diabetic is medically unsound. Young men in Basra, where we had a health project, would attempt to work during the day in order to feed their families, even in temperatures of 120F.  They would have felt shame before their neighbors if they did not fast, and fasting means literally not drinking any water.  Working outdoors in 120F temperatures and not drinking is not consistent with protecting one's health.  Teenagers and even kids much younger who are religious and want to demonstrate their piety would fast, even at potential risk to themselves.  The costs?  certainly an increase in heat exhaustion and heat stroke, more kidney stones and kidney problems in general, blood clots in individuals who were dehydrated, and probably excess mortality, although nobody kept good enough records to prove it.

      It's a hell of a lot easier to keep Ramadan in an air conditioned palace in Riadh than in an open tin-roofed shack in Basra or Omdurman or Karachi.  The health burden falls disproportionately on the poor, which frankly, makes me a little angry.

      There would have been zero chance of an outright exemption in Basra, and I doubt everyone would have gone along with it if a cleric did agree.  

      “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

      by ivorybill on Thu May 30, 2013 at 06:39:09 PM PDT

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      •  We have the same problem in Judaism. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JDsg, Oh Mary Oh, commonmass

        While the law is very explicit about how one should not fast if one's health could be in danger, a lot of people want to fast when they shouldn't.  Every year on the two biggest fast days, Tisha B'Av (in the summer) and Yom Kippur (in the early autumn), our rabbi makes a point of talking about this in synagogue before and between prayers, and distributes a printout of the warning signs of dehydration and hypoglycemia -- with an additional point at the bottom saying "If you experience any of the level 3 signs, DO NOT consult the rabbi before breaking your fast -- drink and/or eat something IMMEDIATELY."

        Since those fast days are not days on which one is supposed to work, and only 25 hours rather than daylight hours through a whole month, we don't have to deal with the cumulative effect -- and the disproportionate difficulty for the poor is I think felt a lot less.

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