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On Call: The Trials of Being a Muslim Doctor during Ramadan

From the Virtual Mosque Website; by Ahmed Zaafran

Originally published in August 2010

77745389_5dc2b84dd6_oWith Ramadan rapidly approaching, the time has come to prepare mentally, spiritually, and physically for one of the most important times of the year in Islam. The month of Ramadan comes at the height of summer this year, bringing unique challenges.

The focus of this particular article is geared towards those who are medical professionals: physicians, students, nurses, technicians. However,  as people from all lines of work deal with time management issues, in sha’ Allah (God willing) those who do not work in the healthcare industry  may still benefit from this advice and can work collectively to implement it.

Making a Plan

Making a plan is a useful way to get things moving in the right direction.  List out the objectives you aspire to meet for the day. For example, as a resident physician in Anaesthesiology at the busiest trauma centre in the country, I anticipate being in the operating room for many hours at a time, often without a break.  Knowing that, sometimes I have to use lunchtime or break time to fulfil my obligatory prayers and may even be forced to combine my prayers in unusual situations.

Many hospitals provide prayer areas within chapels for Muslims to pray or even have a masjid (mosque) within the hospital. However, this may not always be the case. Whatever the situation, try to find a spot where you can reflect on your prayer, reconnect with Allah and your intentions for fasting, and reenergize yourself.  In time, you’ll find many unexpected gifts from Allah peppered throughout your day, giving you a firsthand view of the fruits of hard work and good intentions. Remember that Allah knows your circumstances even more than yourself. You may become discouraged that because of your time constraints, you cannot fulfil your desire to be fully engaged with Allah during your Ramadan. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that rut; your two rak`at (units of prayer) are worth more than you think.

Establishing the Right Mindset

Establishing the right mindset is half the battle. I can’t tell you how many times throughout medical school my Muslim peers would make excuses as to why they don’t need to fast during Ramadan. The most common excuse I heard was, “How could I possibly concentrate on my studies if I’m fasting?”  Another common cop-out was, “Bro, I’ll just make it up later once finals are done with.”

To many of you, this may sound outlandish or even blasphemous, but it is commonly seen in people who deal with the physical and emotional demands of being a medical student or physician, which brings me to the point of this section. Establishing the right mindset means more than just telling yourself that you will fast during Ramadan. It means training yourself that your “starvation” is in fact the easiest part of Ramadan. The real challenge lies in your remembrance of Allah, making all of your actions a form of worship, and fulfilling your role as a representative of Islam in the midst of a watchful environment.

To be honest, Ramadan is the best time to showcase the beauty of our religion and its focus on self-control. For example, how many times, in any occupational platform, have people come up to you, after finding out that you are fasting from food AND water (for some reason they are always impressed with the water part),  to inquire more about your fast and your faith? This is the perfect time to explain to them what fasting during Ramadan really means, that abstaining from our material desires, including food, sexual relations, backbiting, and slander, are only the physical vehicles that allow the spiritual self a viable platform to elevate itself. People in the healthcare industry understand what it means to make sacrifices. It might sound like clockwork to you, but for many of your colleagues, it is the most profound thing they will ever hear.

Time

Amongst medical students and physicians, a quite broad category in and of itself, a high demand on time handcuffs their abilities to have an effective Ramadan. The amount of information required of medical students to learn, memorize, digest, and apply is quite daunting, and they often find themselves missing out on prayers entirely, whether during Ramadan or other times of the year. The key is to prioritize your time around your prayer by redistributing it. The epicenter of your day is your prayer, and you should make everything else the ornamentation to that foundation. As hard as it many seem at the time, you’ll eventually find yourself both excelling in your prayers and concentrating on patient care as well. Keep in mind that the workday has its gaps and moments when you can take quick breaks. For the student, study breaks are a part of the daily routine. Rather than rushing to the TV for a break, take a moment to reconnect with the Qur’an, even if it is just for a few minutes. Ramadan comes only once a year. Don’t let the month leave without cashing in on those precious moments that usually go wasted.

Spiritual Connection

Finally, put your work into perspective. The type of work you do in medicine exposes you to various situations that challenge your mind and your soul. You are given the task to heal people’s ailments, whether physical or mental, and are able to provide them with a service that nurtures and improves the thing most precious to them: their health. Personally, I can relate to the spiritual challenges faced by physicians on a daily basis at the hospital. Just a few weeks ago, I took care of a young man in his early 30s who seemed to have the world ahead of him. A minor ailment initially brought him to the hospital, but his health deteriorated quite rapidly.

2:156

“Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” [Qur’an, 2:156]

The team working to save his life moved quickly and diligently, doing everything humanly possible to resuscitate him. The exact moment Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) took his soul was quite evident, and the organized chaos in the room instantly transformed into a deafening silence. Despite exhaustive measures on my part and on that of the medical professionals around me, we were not able to save his life. Muslims and non-Muslims alike had to deal with that situation, and the fear can choke the air out of your throat. Moments like these can shake one’s faith if he is not prepared, but it can also strengthen one’s resolve and solidify his love for Allah.

Use Ramadan to strengthen yourself. Seek refuge from Allah from all your insecurities. Use the training that Allah has blessed you with to fulfil His commandments. Take every opportunity to show Allah that more than anything else, you are trying to purify yourself and humble yourself under His Presence. Medicine is a field that carries much responsibility and much prestige. Use your status amongst your peers as a pedestal to serve your Lord and as a mechanism to eradicate arrogance.  The Qur’an gives us pearls every time we read it, and perhaps the verse that can be used by medical practitioners the most to correct their intentions and set the tone for their daily work lies in Surat al-Ma`idah,  entitled  “The Table Spread.”

5:32

“Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, 5:32]

With this verse in mind, we can truly use the month of Ramadan as a springboard not only to serve our fellow human beings in need of medical treatment but also as an opportunity to use our skills  as a means to please our Creator, Allah, exalted is He.