Adverse Effects of Islamic Fasting

Adverse Effects of Islamic Fasting

From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam

This article discusses the numerous adverse effects of Islamic fasting (Sawm) that have been observed using scientific studies and news sources.



Medical fasting can have health benefits. However, Medical fasting differs from Islamic fasting, and contrary to popular Muslim beliefs, Islamic fasting, unlike Medical fasting, has numerous adverse effects. As we will explain here, Islamic fasting has significant harmful effects on health, national economy and productivity, crime rate, public safety and social behavior. Health effects include heat stress, dehydration, migraines and, for lactating women, the nutritional make-up of their milk, amongst others. 

The salient features of Islamic fasting are:

  • For 30 days every lunar year (during the month of Ramadan), waking up before dawn and eating and drinking to prepare for the fast (binge eating is a common habit).[1][2]
  • Refraining from consuming any food or water from dawn to sunset
  • Breaking the fast at sunset and again eating and drinking to prepare for the day ahead.

Some Muslims claim eating a small amount of food is the correct Islamic way however we cannot function for the whole day by eating only a small amount of food at the time of dawn. This would affect our performance even more during the day.

In a recent study done on the Arab world, diseases linked to cholesterol and diabetes increased by 27.65% because of overeating.[3] Non-compliance with prescribed treatment regimens is common during Ramadan. [4] Other health effects include:

One study finds that incidences of dehydration increase during the month of Ramadan:

Migraines are three times more common during Ramadan, affecting an estimated 90 million Muslims:

The following study was carried out on  Turkish Muslims in Germany who were involved in heavy and manual work. ‘Moderate to severe health disturbances’ including severe dehydration were found in such laborers during Ramadan:

Naturally we would expect that this would affect productivity, as is evidenced in a later section on Economical effects.

The following study takes a look at the significant fluctuations in the weight of individuals that occurs during the month of Ramadan, primarily as a result of the metabolic changes that occur in the body. 

The results of the following study can lead us to conclude that fasting negatively effects an individual’s circadian rhythm. As a result, unfavorable side-effects such as lethargy and a lack of motivation, may contribute to a society’s lack of productivity:

The following study was done in Saudi Arabia and it was observed that melatonin levels and REM sleep decreased during Ramadan:

Naturally, a fast would indicate that individuals are ingesting less food. But the following two studies reveal that the decrease in the number of meals that are eaten directly disturbs normal sleep habits and thereby increases daytime drowsiness.

The following study studies the effect that fasting has on the alertness of an individual. Evidently, the change in sleep patterns causes a decrease in oral temperature and alertness:

The physical fatigue associated with fasting results in impairment of cognitive function, as shown by performance in flicker fusion tests. [12]

In a certain study, the nutritional status of lactating women was affected by Ramadan fasting. All of the nutrient intakes (except vitamins A, E and C) decreased during Ramadan. The study said that it would seem prudent to excuse lactating women from fasting during Ramadan.[13]

Dr. Muhammad Alabdooni, a Muslim and the chairman of the Dutch Moroccan Physicians Association, also maintains there is no scientific proof that Islamic fasting is physiologically beneficial.[16]

Fasting has been found to significantly change drug metabolism and deplete crucial chemicals in the liver needed to detoxify medication.

Paracetemol (also called acetaminophen) is one of the most commonly used drugs to treat day to day pain such as headaches or gastrointestinal pain, this is the very same pain that is likely to be encountered by a fasting individual. Therefore, a significant risk arises when someone who has been fasting takes this common medication (among many others).

As the Journal of Internal Medicine Reports:

The following study in Morocco found that irritability increased during Ramadan:

In a study done on the Arab world,[3] experts claimed that increases in blood crimes (+1.5%) and theft (+3.5%) were observed during Ramadan.

In 1994, the Accident and Emergency Department of St Mary’s Hospital in London conducted a study to examine if accident and emergency attendances increased during Ramadan for Muslim patients. At the time, the department was treating 55,000 new patients every year:

An increase in road traffic accidents in the United Arab Emirates during Ramadan was reported.[26] Taking this into consideration, you would expect Emergency Services in Muslim majority nations to work twice as hard during this period. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In August, 2010, Mustafa Mor, who was involved in a road accident in Turkey, was left waiting on a stretcher due to the X-ray service being closed for fast-breaking.

Search and rescue teams in Kocaeli, Turkey, had also stopped working due to Ramadan.

The same news source said that “each blood unit can save three lives”. This implies that Ramadan also results in loss of life since life-saving blood donations drop by one-third.

Another study takes a look at fasting Muslims who were stricken with lethargy and fatigue due to the behavioral changes that accompany the month long celebration. 

In September 2009, Stephen Constantine, Head coach of Sudan partly blamed his side’s loss to the Black Stars to the fasting of most of his players. [30] In Italy, both a prominent coach and a team owner in the top Serie A league linked the rigors of Ramadan’s sunrise-to-sunset fasting to Muslim players’ poor performance on the pitch. [31]

The month of Ramadan often sees an increase in violence and anti-social behavior towards religious minorities living among a large Muslim population.[32] In some Muslim majority countries like Algeria,[33] Morocco,[34] Pakistan,[35] Saudi Arabia,[36] and in parts of the United Arab Emirates,[37] it is against the law to eat or drink in public during fasting hours, and violating these laws can involve jail-time or expulsion.

Ramadan-inspired violence against non-Muslims and non-observant Muslims is on the increase in secular societies. Notable incidents include; a Jewish women in Toulouse, France, being called a “dirty Jew” and struck on the head by two Muslim teenagers for buying food during fasting hours; a Muslim man in a central Lyon Restaurant struck in the head with a glass bottle and hit with a chair by three youths for not respecting Ramadan;[39] an 11-year-old in Sydney, Australia, chased and later beaten by Muslim students because he ate a salami sandwich during Ramadan;[40] a Turkish MP in Berlin, Germany, beaten by restaurant staff for ordering pork sausages;[41] and the following report is of an atheist living in the United Kingdom:

As some of the above studies established, fasting can cause dehydration, sleep disorders and other harmful affects. Naturally all of this would affect productivity and the national economy. Those living in Muslim majority nations can readily feel the effects of stagnation that accompanies the month of Ramadan. In such places, it is a month that is marked by very low productivity. When the entire population of a country observes fasting during the time they are at work, it is inevitable that they will suffer a significant loss in general productivity. In a survey carried out by Cairo’s Institute of Social Sciences of the Arab World it is found that the productivity of Arab businesses during the month of Ramadan dropped by a staggering 78%:

Production in almost all businesses in Morocco drops during the month of Ramadan, analysts say, although consumption increases significantly:

In Bahrain, the work day is reduced to six-hours instead of the normal eight hours:[19]

Intermittent and prolonged fasting is generally not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Depriving the body of water and essential nutrients by dividing and postponing meals to irregular intervals does nothing to limit consumption. In-fact it causes a host of health, performance and mood disorders. Fasting is not normally prescribed for the well being of human beings. Instead, it is commonly understood that eating healthy, smaller-portioned meals, interspersed throughout the day is far better in maintaining a well-balanced diet and far more forgiving on a person’s metabolism. Any claims that prolonged and intermittent fasting contributes to the well-being of an individual’s health are misleading, based on the scientific studies that prove otherwise. If the Islamic argument in favor of fasting is that “we fast because Allah commanded us to do so,” then it is obvious that Allah is not a nutritionist or a dietitian because the negatives definitely outweigh the positives.

So the question to the Muslim world is: keeping in mind the above adverse affects of fasting observed in studies, what benefit does the Muslim world get for 1 billion people staying hungry throughout the day for one full month every year? Did Allah actually want Muslims to suffer physically, socially and economically for one month every year? Also, if fasting is beneficial as Muslims claim, why do Muslims not fast the entire year instead of just one month?

  1. “Most of the evidence provided is from newspaper articles. Not very scientific is it?”
    The claim that “most of the evidence provided is from news paper articles” is false. The majority of this page references and quotes directly from the conclusions of scientific studies. It also quotes medical experts and statistics provided by Medical facilities. As for the news articles quoted here, they are reliable sources that reference and describe the conclusions of scientific studies. For an indepth section by section response, see the ‘talk‘ page, or simply view the references provided below.
  2. “Muslims do not fast in Ramadan so they can be healthy. They fast because Allah commanded them to.”
    This is true. But many Muslims attempt to justify this unhealthy practice by claiming it is healthy. Besides, if Allah is all-knowing and merciful, he would not endanger his followers’ health by making a hazardous activity become compulsory. However, it would make complete sense if we were to accept he is ignorant of science or a sadist. But then why would anyone want to worship such a deity?
  3. “Islam is just one of numerous religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Catholicism etc.) that prescribe fasting for its people.”
    This claim is true, but also very disingenuous. Rules vary but fasting in Christianity is not compulsory, nor is it expected to be a complete fast. Meaning Christians generally reduce (not stop) their intake of food, and also drink freely during fasts. This is perfectly healthy and not comparable to the Islamic sawm. Similarly in Hinduism, fasting is a part of the religion, but individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on their personal beliefs and local customs.[48] This argument is also a logical fallacy known as ad hominem tu quoque. Meaning it is not a valid defense of Islam, but a diversion that some may construe as an indirect admission of Islam’s flaws.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Science which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic

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  • Fasting – A hub page that leads to other articles related to Fasting

  1. ↑ Jump up to: 1.0 1.1 Dietitian Advises Selective Eating Habits During Ramadan – Khaleej Times Online, September 7, 2008
  2. Jump up ↑ Abdel-Moneim Said – Wasting Ramadan – Al-Ahram Weekly, September 3, 2009
  3. ↑ Jump up to: 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ramadan: Productivity of Arab Businesses Drops by 78% – ANSAmed, September 3, 2009 (original URL)
  4. Jump up ↑ Aslam M, Healey MA. Drug regimens and fasting Moslem patients [Letter]. Lancet 1985;290:1746
  5. ↑ Jump up to: 5.0 5.1 Toda, Masahiro, Morimoto, Kanehisa, “Ramadan Fasting – Effect on Healthy Muslims“, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 2004
  6. Jump up ↑ Judy Siegel-Itzkovich – Beduin doctor: Migraines common during Ramadan fast– The Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2010
  7. Jump up ↑ Schmahl FW, Metzler B, “The health risks of occupational stress in Islamic industrial workers during the Ramadan fasting period”, Polish Journal of Occupational Medicine 1991 4:3 219-28
  8. Jump up ↑ “Does Ramadan modify the Circadian Patterns?”, Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, March 2006, Vol. 52 Issue 1 pdf
  9. Jump up ↑ Ahmed S. BaHammam, “Effect of fasting during Ramadan on sleep architecture, daytime sleepiness and sleep pattern“, Sleep and Biological Rhythms, Volume 2, Issue 2, pages 135–143, June 2004
  10. Jump up ↑ Taoudi Benchekroun M, Roky R, Toufiq J, Benaji B, Hakkou F, “Epidemiological study: chronotype and daytime sleepiness before and during Ramadan.”, Therapie 54:567-72
  11. Jump up ↑ Roky R, Iraki L, HajKhlifa R, Lakhdar Ghazal N, Hakkou F, “Daytime alertness, mood, psychomotor performances, and oral temperature during Ramadan intermittent fasting.”, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2000 44:101-7
  12. Jump up ↑ Ali MR, Amir T. Effects of fasting on visual flicker fusion. Percept Mot Skills 1989;69:627-31
  13. Jump up ↑ “The effect of Ramadan on maternal nutrition and composition of breast milk.” Pg. 278-283, vol. 48 – Nutrition and Dietetics; Food Engineering, Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey
  14. Jump up ↑ Ramadan fast not recommended during pregnancy – The Times of India, Jun 25, 2010
  15. Jump up ↑ Qatar: surge in diabetes/obesity, unhealthy Arab habits – ANSAmed, March 13, 2012
  16. Jump up ↑ Is fasting during Ramadan good for your health? – Radio Netherlands Worldwide
  17. Jump up ↑ Paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity at recommended dosage – The Journal of Internal Medicine, Janurary 24, 2003
  18. Jump up ↑ Kadri N, Tilane A, El Batal M, Taltit Y, Tahiri SM, Moussaoui D, “Irritability During the Month of Ramadan“, Psychosomatic Medicine 2000 Mar-Apr 62:2 280-5
  19. ↑ Jump up to: 19.0 19.1 19.2 Hassna’a Mokhtar – Productivity and Self-Discipline in Ramadan – ArabNews, September 30, 2007
  20. Jump up ↑ Yasmine Saleh – Ramadan saw rise in violent domestic crimes – Daily News Egypt, November 2, 2006
  21. Jump up ↑ Bati Kartini & Samuel L – 4 Gold Shop Robbers Killed, 2 Caught During Police Raids Across the City – The Jakarta Globe, August 28, 2009
  22. Jump up ↑ David – Ramadan Crime – Indonesia Matters, October 20, 2006
  23. Jump up ↑ 1,800 nabbed for thefts in Ramadan – Arab News, September 9, 2011
  24. Jump up ↑ Salma Ismail – Yemen child trafficking to increase in Ramadan – Yemen Times, August 20, 2009
  25. Jump up ↑ The effect of the fast of Ramadan on accident and emergency attendances (J R Soc Med. 1994 September; 87(9): 517–518.)
  26. Jump up ↑ Bener, A., Absood, G. H., Achan, N. V., & Sankaran-Kutty, M. (1992). Road traffic injuries in Al-Ain City, United Arab Emirates. The Journal of the Royal Society of Health, 112, 273-276.
  27. ↑ Jump up to: 27.0 27.1 Man gets delayed health care due to Ramadan in Turkey – Hurriyet Daily News, August 15, 2010
  28. Jump up ↑ (pdf) – October 1, 2006
  29. Jump up ↑ Karaaðaoðlu N, Yücecan S, “Some behavioural Changes observed among fasting subjects, their nutritional habits and energy expenditure in Ramadan”, International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition 2000 Mar 51:125-34
  30. Jump up ↑ “Fasting affected my players” – Sudan coach – Peace FM, September 6, 2009
  31. Jump up ↑ Jeff Israely – Soccer Star Benched for Fasting During Ramadan – TIME, August 27, 2009
  32. ↑ Jump up to: 32.0 32.1 Ramadan a time of fasting and…persecution? – Mission Network News, August 13, 2010
  33. ↑ Jump up to: 33.0 33.1 Christians tried for breaking Ramadan fast – ABC News, September 22, 2010
  34. Jump up ↑ Doug Bandow – Morocco: The Limits of Islamic Religious Tolerance – KATO Insitute, July 8, 2010
  35. Jump up ↑ 25 jailed in Pak for eating in public during Ramadan – PTI, August 5, 2011
  36. Jump up ↑ Saudi warns non-Muslims with expulsion if eating, drinking in public during Ramadan – Bikya Masr, July 21, 2012
  37. Jump up ↑ Anissa Haddadi – Non-Muslim Holidaying in Dubai Warned to Respect ‘Ramadan Rules’ – International Business Times, August 1, 2011
  38. Jump up ↑ Christians arrested in Pakistan for eating during Ramadan – The Christian Telegraph, September 2, 2009
  39. Jump up ↑ Two people assaulted in France for eating during Ramadam. One was not even Muslim – Vlad Tepes, August 24, 2010
  40. Jump up ↑ Parents say son was tormented for eating salami sandwich during Ramadan – The Daily Telegraph, November 13, 2009
  41. Jump up ↑ Turkish MP was beaten for ordering pork sausage in Germany –, August 11, 2011
  42. Jump up ↑ Sheena McKenzie – Battered Stepney man in recovery – East London Advertiser, September 23, 2010
  43. Jump up ↑ Hassan Benmehdi – Productivity drops during Ramadan in Morocco – Magharebia (Casablanca), September 19, 2008
  44. Jump up ↑ Low productivity during Ramadan affects Dubai employees – Kuwait Times, September 24, 2007
  45. ↑ Jump up to: 45.0 45.1 Mohammad Ghazal – Productivity suffers during holy month – The Jordan Times, September 10, 2009
  46. Jump up ↑ Nasir Abbas Mirza – OPINION: Rejoice! The season to shun work is here – Daily Times, August 23, 2009
  47. Jump up ↑ It’s a strange Ramadan – Blog from Nimbu, a former Muslim, September 14, 2007
  48. Jump up ↑ Fasting – Wikipedia, accessed March 14, 2013


The Absurdity of Ramadan

The Absudrdity of Ramadan

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