Observant Muslims should not stop taking prescribed medication during the fast of Ramadan and should get medical advice before altering drug regimes. That is the urgent message from Muslim community leaders in Tower Hamlets who are working with the local NHS to highlight health issues surrounding fasting, in preparation for Ramadan.
Faith In Health, a project run by the East London Mosque in cooperation with the health service, yesterday delivered a day of training to imams and other spiritual leaders, focusing on the importance of combining health consciousness with religious observance.
During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims refrain from consuming food and drink during daylight hours. Children, pregnant women and those in feeble physical condition are traditionally exempt from fasting.
But doctors are concerned that Muslims undergoing treatment for serious conditions may fail to take their medication correctly for fear of breaking the fast, or miss important medical appointments during the month.
Nuala Close, lead cancer nurse at Barts and The London NHS Trust, said: “This is an extremely important and busy time of the year for Muslims and we realised that many were cancelling vital medical appointments for cancer and other serious conditions like diabetes.”
“Others were failing to take their medication altogether in order to avoid breaking their fast, or taking it in a single dose on an empty stomach when their fast ended which is highly dangerous with powerful toxic drugs such as those used in chemotherapy.”
“We realised something urgently needed to be done to prevent people jeopardising their health unnecessarily.”
Yesterday’s event aimed to suggest ways of remaining healthy while adhering to Islamic rules. Topics covered included living with diabetes during Ramadan, as well as advice for sufferers of cancer and cardiovascular conditions.
According to the East London Mosque, “The aim of the training day was for the imams to be able to reassure their followers – based on the sound medical advice offered – that prioritising their health is not going against their religious beliefs.”
Sheikh Abdul Qayum, an imam at the mosque, said: “Islam has great flexibility for those with medical conditions during the month of Ramadan.”
“Every case is unique and I would encourage people to seek advice from their doctors and imams on the best course of action rather than try to adjust their medical plans on their own which may result in a detriment to their health.”
An informational leaflet has also been produced to accompany the effort. It will be available to the local community in several languages during the run-up to Ramadan, which is due to begin on 11 August.