For Muslims such as Nadia Aslam, the tradition of fasting from dawn to dusk during the lunar month of Ramadan is a treasured experience of sacrifice and spiritual resolve.
"There's a different feeling in Ramadan. I just feel closer to God," said Aslam, 26, who lives in Glendale Heights.
But when Aslam entered Ramadan seven months pregnant in 2006, she faced the difficult decision of whether it would be in the best interests of her and her unborn child to observe the tradition of going without food, drink or medication during the daylight hours of 29 or 30 days.
For the first three days of Ramadan, Aslam said she followed the example of older relatives and tried to fast, but she found that it made her feel lightheaded and ill. When she consulted her obstetrician, her doctor recommended that she end the fast, news that Aslam initially found difficult to take despite the Quran, Islam's holy book, giving pregnant women an exemption from fasting.
"It was disappointing because fasting is one of the main things we are supposed to do in Ramadan," Aslam said. "But in the end, I felt she was right . . . I knew that in the end it was best for the baby."
But in an example of scientific innovation helping to facilitate traditional practices, doctors more often are using advances in medical technology to help Muslims struggling with chronic illnesses to fast during Ramadan, which starts on Monday, without consequences. And while consensus is sometimes difficult to find, some Islamic scholars have reassessed whether certain medical treatments are a violation of the rules for fasting.
"It is a balance," said Dr. Mohammed Zaher Sahloul, a pulmonary, critical care and sleep specialist in Oak Lawn. "We want to give them the chance to do it because of the blessing and reward they expect to get. But at the same time, we don't want them to have complications or problems related to health issues." (MORE)