Three days into Ramadhan and it's already proving to be quite tough. Fasting from approximately 4am to 8pm (16 hours) is proving to be quite a challenge. The struggle tends to start just as my afternoon surgery is getting underway, round about now actually (2.30pm), with a general woozy feeling. Then as the surgery progresses, I keep getting head rushes, headaches and the lethargy kicks in. I feel sorry for the last 2-3 patients as I am barely concentrating and just want to finish and get home. After concluding the surgery, I manage to muster the energy to drive home and just collapse on my sofa. Hopefully it will get better as the body adjusts, but judging on past years, I'm not that optimistic, especially as I'm getting older.
With the long hours only going to get worse over the next few years as Ramadhan moves into the peak summer months, I was wondering whether it's fair for us to be fasting for this long. Because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, it's shorter than the standard Georgian calendar and as a result moves backwards by 10-11 days every year. Ten years ago we were enjoying relatively comfortable fasts during December/January. At the time I was at university and spent most of the time sleeping, woke up at 4pm and broke my fast a few minutes later. Now, the fasts have more than doubled in length and sleep is no longer an option.
Looking back at the origins of Islam and fasting, it's maybe significant to recognise that it was a religion revealed in the Middle East - in Saudi Arabia. Looking at the times for sunrise and sunset times in Mecca and one can see how little variation there is over the course of a standard (non-lunar) year. In December, the gap is approximately 12 hours and in August the gap is about 14 hours, with only a 2 hours or so variation across the year. Here in the UK, the variation is much greater, 10 hours in December and 16 hours in August (18 hours in July).
It just doesn't seem fair. Perhaps the rules of the fast need to be looked at. Islam was brought to a region where the fasting time was stable and maybe we should follow that. Of course as Islam has spread all over the world, people have needed to adapt with the country or region that they live in, but surely it is not a good idea to have muslims fast for so long when our brothers and sisters in the Middle-East are "enjoying" relatively shorter times.
If you think I'm being silly, what about our brothers and sisters who live in Scandanavia? In the northern regions of Scandanavia it is daylight for six months and darkness for the other six months. The rulings seem to vary, but from what I have read it seems to be the general consensus to follow the fasting times of the nearest country with actual sunsets and sunrises. That's not much of a relief as during the daylight months the nearest country will have upto 20 hours of daylight but during the night months, the nearest country will have only a couple of hours of daylight - a huge fluctuation.
In this country as Ramadhan enter July/June over the next few years, the fasting times will get longer. As a doctor I seriously question the health implications of fasting for such a long time. People will obviously want to complete the fasts for the blessings and rewards it brings, but at a cost to their health. Is that a good idea and is that something God would want? And it won't be just the elderly or unhealthy who will be affected. So, instead, how about just a fasting timetable that follows Mecca for everyone, all over the world? 12-14 hours all year round - seems fair to me. What do you think?
Whilst we're on this topic, by extension perhaps we should apply a similarly fair policy to other rules in Islam which perhaps haven't stood the test of time. The shortening of prayers is a classic rule which is often taken advantage of; in Islam, we are allowed to shorten the afternoon and evening prayers if we have travelled over 14 miles in one direction after crossing our home town border.
This ruling was introduced when travelling was a great undertaking at the time of the Prophet in Saudi Arabia. To ease the burden, Muslims we're allowed to shorten their prayers. The travelling rule also applies to fasting, you don't fast when your are travelling, again to ease the burden. Nowadays, travelling is not such a great undertaking - I travel 90 miles on a daily basis just to go to work and back - and so the shortening of prayers is just a time-saver and nothing else, (by the way, I pray the full length prayers at work as it's a regular place that I visit, so the same rules don't apply). Perhaps, this ruling needs to be looked out, it can either be abolished or modified according to difficulty. Of course there will still be people in the world for whom travelling is difficult, but for others particularly in the Western world it isn't such a problem.
However, if the ruling exists, then we should at least stick to it and follow it properly. People will conveniently follow the shortened prayer rule, but not the no-fasting rule when travelling. The shortening prayers saves us time, the no fasting rule causes more inconvenience as it means we have to make up the fast at a later date. As a result people tend to pick and choose what rule to follow and it is something that I have been guilty of in the past. Whilst the rules exist, we should follow them all and not pick and choose at our convenience.
Finally, another one maybe worth looking at are prayer times. Who has decided that Fajr prayer time is 1-1.5 hours before sunrise? Why is the time for Isha up to midnight only? I don't think there was such an accurate concept of time at the time of the Prophet. Surely Fajr should be just before the point of sunrise and the time for Isha should be up until the time for Fajr, just as Asr can be read up to the time for Maghrib? Actually, I'm probably nit-picking here, but for the purpose of this blog, I thought I'd try and find a third rule to discuss before passing out from the hunger!
Like I said at the beginning, this is all meant for discussion only, I am not trying to claim that I know best and that these rules should be passed, but simply typing out a few suggestions. If you can, please comment on what you think.
Take care all,
Thoughts just flow, when do they have to make sense?