‘Not even water?’ Dr Raisah Khaliq, RCP clinical education fellow, reveals how she navigates working as a senior registrar in emergency medicine during Ramadan.
I feel nostalgic as I watch my parents celebrate the 6-hour fast that my 8-year-old nephew has kept. He watches the final minute tick down second by second before he is finally allowed to eat, and it’s only 1:30pm. The rest of the family still have seven hours to go until sunset. They cheer and applaud him for his incredible effort; he looks suitably satisfied with his packet of crisps. My mother catches me smiling and reminds me that this is precisely how me and my siblings were introduced to fasting. Like many other Muslim parents, my mother would allow us to participate in the ‘children’s fast’, a universal trick to manage our nagging and indulge our excitement. She reminisces about our excitement for Ramadan and how keen we were to participate. This method would allow us to be included and also help us to gradually build on our ability to keep full fasts before they became compulsory on reaching puberty.
The five pillars of Islam are the core beliefs and practices that all Muslims must obey. One of these pillars is fasting during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is during this month that the holy book for Muslims, the Quran, was revealed. The start and the end of the month are marked by the sighting of a new moon.
Ramadan is a month of not only fasting, but also spirituality and reflection. A combination of prayer, charity and performing other good deeds allows Muslims to reconnect with God. This is a month to remember the less fortunate and to strive to help them, while also appreciating everything we have been blessed with and being thankful for it.
Ramadan lasts for 30 consecutive days and is concluded by Eid ul-Fitr. Each fast is from sunrise to sunset, which is approximately 16 to 18 hours. During a fast, Muslims cannot eat or drink anything, so they wake in the early hours of the morning to have a small meal and water and to make intention for the fast. Pregnant women, menstruating women, young children, or those who have poor health are exempt from fasting. However, those women in good health who are pregnant or menstruating make up the missed fasts after Ramadan.
As a senior registrar in emergency medicine, one of the challenges I face during Ramadan is shift work, especially when I need to both break and start a fast while at work. These shifts do not allow any opportunity to enjoy a hot meal and relax, but a reminder that you are doing this for God keeps you going. Colleagues are always supportive but when a shift starts at 8pm for example, it is difficult to come to work and excuse yourself for a dinner break not long after you have handed over, even if you have not eaten for most of the day. Most Muslim doctors will have a quick snack and delay eating until there is a suitable chance to take a break. However, working in an emergency department can be unpredictable as sometimes the volume of trauma and urgent cases means you have to forego having much to eat at all before it’s time to begin the next fast. You must learn to eat quickly and on the go, drinking lots of water as you work.
Fatigue and headaches from caffeine withdrawal – for those of us who love our coffee – and puffy eyes from the early sunrise starts are all part of the start of Ramadan, and it is at these times that you must remain steadfast. But each year as the month of Ramadan progresses, I am once again pleasantly surprised at just how good I start to feel over the month, both mentally and physically. Ramadan allows me to reaffirm my faith and to draw closer to God while enjoying the renewed energy from the 30 days of fasting.
While I always appreciate the sentiment, colleagues absolutely do not need to hide their food or feel mortified if they accidentally offer Muslims something to eat during Ramadan – we do this every year and are used to it. However, I would encourage anyone who is interested to ask their Muslim colleagues about Ramadan and consider joining in if they are up to the challenge!
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