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Fasting Healthily

Is it obligatory to fast healthily in the holy month of Ramadan?


Is it obligatory to fast healthily in the holy month of Ramadan?

In accordance with clear injunctions of the Quran and Sunna, it is obligatory for a Muslim to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. If observed properly, fasting ought to make a person God-conscious (muttaqīn). During the hours of fasting, an individual is primarily required to abstain from eating, drinking, and taking part in sexual relations. In addition, they are required to refrain from acts of violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, and gossip.

However, it has become increasingly common in society today for people to observe their fasts during the holy month of Ramadan, but then excessively indulge in the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages outside the hours of fasting. This excessive indulgence not only harms the health and wellbeing of a person, but also contravenes the overall ethos of fasting.


 It obligatory for a Muslim to fast during Ramadan. However, in order to observe a proper fast, the ICCI, in conjunction with its medical arm, recommends the following guidelines of how to fast healthily during Ramadan and thereby maximise its spiritual benefits: [1]  

Food: Eat at least two meals per day that do not differ significantly from your normal diet. Each meal should contain food from all the major food groups (i.e. fruit and vegetables, proteins, and foods containing fat). In particular:

  • Complex carbohydrates (e.g. barley, wheat, beans, oats) help to release energy slowly.   
  • Fibre-rich foods (e.g. cereals, potatoes with skin, green beans, fruits) are digested slowly. 
  • Heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, white flour, cakes, biscuits) are to be avoided.

Fluids: Minimise the intake of caffeine-based drinks (tea, coffee, cola) because they contribute to dehydration.

Consult with a dietician or a specialist nurse in the case of specific illnesses (e.g. diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease) prior to Ramadan.

Consider speaking to your workplace’s Occupational Health department to see if workplace adjustments can enable healthy fasting (e.g. working from home, amendment of working hours and/or more rest breaks).

Consider trial fasting of 4-12 hours per day in the months leading to up to Ramadan, particularly if you suffer from a long-term health condition that could be adversely affected by fasting.

Consider ways of alleviating general stress (e.g. take more annual leave, engage in meditation, incorporate a gradual adjustment of your sleeping/waking cycle to calibrate circadian rhythm).

If you are on regular medication, consult with your doctor approximately 3-6 months in advance of Ramadan so that any dosage changes can be incorporated gradually before and after Ramadan.


1. The obligation of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and how it ought to be practiced, is inferred from the following verses of the Quran:

  • “Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed on those before you so that you may become God-conscious.” [2] 
  • “Let one who witnesses the month of Ramadan observe the fast.” [3] 
  •  “Eat and drink until the whiteness of dawn becomes clear from the darkness of night then fast until night.” [4] 
  • “It is made lawful for you to have sexual relations with your spouses on the night of fasts.”[5]  

It is clear from these verses that a Muslim is required to fast during the entire month of Ramadan from dawn to night, and whilst fasting they must refrain from food, drink and sexual consort. According to the Quran, if fasting in the holy month of Ramadan is observed in a proper manner, a Muslim can attain God-consciousness and thereby enhance their spiritual wellbeing.

2. In addition to the Quran, there are numerous traditions that also elude to the spiritual benefits of fasting, for example the Prophet said, “Shayṭān (devil) flows in the bloodstream of the children of Adam, therefore constrict his flowing through fasts.” [6]

In this tradition, it is clear that “Shayṭān” is used in a metaphorical manner to depict evil or the lack of ‘God-consciousness’ that human beings are afflicted with, and in order to counteract this lack the Prophet commands the observance of fasts.

There are other similar traditions that metaphorically depict Shayṭān as physical entities that are detrimental to the physical human body. For example, the Prophet said, “Shayṭān lives in the cracks of utensils, therefore avoid consuming from them” [7] and “Shayṭān lives under long finger nails, therefore cut them regularly.” [8] In addition to this, there are traditions in which the Prophet correlates the lack of spirituality or improper psychological state with physical states of filth and uncleanliness; for example, “Uncleanliness is next to ungodliness.”

It is thus clear from the traditions of the Prophet that there is a relationship between a person’s physical body and his/her state of spirituality. Accordingly, in order to observe a proper fast and maximise the spiritual benefits of gaining God-consciousness, a person must take care of his/her physical well-being.

3. Additionally, in line with the Quranic injunction that allows a person to pay fidya instead of fasting if they feel that their health is at risk, Muslim jurists have steadfastly maintained that fasting is invalid (bāṭil) if it leads to causing any medical/physical harm to a person. [9]

4. It becomes clear from the Quran and traditions of the Prophet that the objective of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is to maximise spiritual and physical health benefits. Although neither the Quran nor the traditions of the Prophet stipulate direct guidelines of what constitutes a proper fast, the ICCI, in light of the verse of the Quran which states, “ask those who know,”[10] invited a group of experts that comprised of medical practitioners, dieticians, and nutritionists to provide the above guidelines of how to maximise one's health benefits whilst observing fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

[1] Saudi Hypertension Management Group. Saudi hypertension management guidelines, 2007: Executive summary / Saudi Arabia, Saudi Hypertension Management Group – Riyadh, 2007. p 26-27.

Khalife A, Jessie M, Barry D, Weiss D, University of Arizona. Caring for Muslim Patients Who Fast During Ramadan: Am Fam Physician. 2015 May 1:91(9): 640-642

M. Hassanein, M. Al-Arouj, O. Hamdy, W.M.W. Bebakar, A. Jabbar, A. Al-Madani, et al. Diabetes and ramadan: practical guidelines Diabetes Res Clin Pract, 126 (2017), pp. 303-316

Azizi F, Azizi F: Islamic Fasting and Health. Ann Nutr Metab (2010) 56:273-282

[2] Quran 2:183

[3] Quran 2:185

[4] Quran 2:187

[5] Quran 2:187

[6] ʿAwālī al-liālī, vol. 1, p. 273

[7] Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 385

[8] Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 490

[9] For instance, Ayatollah Sistani:

[10] Quran 21:7, 16:43