Ramadan is the name of one of the 12 lunar months of the Islamic calendar. For 29 days of Ramadan, Muslims believe that they are supposed to fast from sunrise until sunset. Many HIV-positive Muslims wish to join their community in observing this important month ... Can they?
In Ramadan, Muslims practice the maximum self-control by denying their bodies every earthly pleasure during the daylight. This means, they cannot eat food, drink water or even have sex (bad news to some J). If a Muslim wrongs another human then his fasting is annulled and a Muslim will miss the great reward God promised to those who fast Ramadan truly.
Furthermore, for an entire month, Muslims are encouraged to avoid talking about worldly matters; most Muslims recite the Quran a lot during this month. Fasting Muslims cannot commit backbiting, gossip or any other evil during the days or the nights of Ramadan. In Ramadan, Muslims believe that God comes down every night to the lowest sky to reward those who fast and have no hate in their souls, generously for each good action they take while fasting; this is why when they greet each other during this month, Muslims say: Ramadan Kareem [Ramadan is Generous].
After sunset, a fasting woman/man can eat, drink, and have sex; they are also encouraged to attend Mosques at night to pray and socialize. Ramadan ends when the next crescent is born and Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with Eid ul-Fitr [breaking fast feast].
Fasting is a healthy practice for people with good health; the Quran exempted some categories from fasting -- the sick, pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and the travelers -- and the wisdom behind this waiver is to spare them hardship or damage. However, in spite of the Quranic waiver to those who are sick, many Muslims insist on fasting even if they have a minor health condition; they justify this by their wish to enjoy the rewarding experience and to be part of their community.
The question that we need to address is, can an HIV+ person fast Ramadan?
The best person to help you decide is your HIV doctor. To help you and your doctor make the decision, you need to take under consideration some general factors, such as: when you were diagnosed, your overall health, your viral load and T-cell count. Those in the early period of treatment should not fast, because their body is still trying to adjust to the HIV shock and the treatment.
If you have been on treatment for some time, and your T-cell numbers are good, with undetectable viral load, and an overall good health then you might consider discussing your wish to observe Ramadan with your doctor. Explain to her/him that you cannot let any substance go down your mouth to your stomach from sunrise to sunset. Ask your doctor if your medication regimen could be adjusted with no risk, so you can take it before the sunrise and/or after the sunset. If you are on a one pill regimen it might be easier for you to fast than if you are on a multiple pill one.
Once you get the green light from your doctor, you still need to take extra steps when fasting Ramadan.
For example, try to prepare good supplements to use on a daily basis during the month if you haven't been doing so; in Ramadan eating less meals a day could seriously decrease your intake of important minerals and vitamins. Drink plenty of water during the night and avoid salty meals that could make you thirsty. Avoid unnecessary exposure to sun or heat to avoid dehydration. Do not overload your body with work and rest well while fasting.
Ramadan is a good opportunity to quit bad habits; remember that smoking is not allowed while fasting, so maybe this is a good time to quit.
Fasting can also have great health benefits if done the proper way. According to Mayo Clinic, "Regular fasting can decrease your low-density lipoprotein, or 'bad,' cholesterol. It's also thought that fasting may improve the way your body metabolizes sugar. This can reduce your risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes, which are both risk factors for heart disease."
Ramadan can be a relaxing month to relieve your mind from the daily stress ... focus on your soul ... you will be surprised how easy it is to focus on your inner soul when your body has less activity. When feeling hungry, remember that we live in a world where millions feel the same way for years. Understanding the impact of hunger might open your eyes to understand how a starving child in a developing world feels. You will end up being a better person.
God promised those who truly fast to forgive their sins by the end of Ramadan and God asked Muslims to forgive those who wronged them. Forgiveness could be the best thing you can do in this month.
Remember: the Quran forbids Muslims to commit acts that could even remotely jeopardize their health. If your doctor advised against fasting, or if you have any concern that fasting might hurt your health, then don't fast and invest the month in doing all the other good deeds that you can do; you can delay your lunch meal to be able to join your community in the daily fast-breaking ceremony.
I wish you all a joyful and happy Ramadan filled with blessings and generosity. I hope this Ramadan will enable you explore the great benefits of spirituality when fighting against HIV/AIDS or any other hardship.