Optometrist Shamina Asif talks to OT about how to best support Muslim colleagues and patients during the Muslim holy month
07 May 2019
Locum optometrist and founder of Optom Academy, Shamina Asif, often fields questions from curious patients during the month of Ramadan. She shares her insight on the significance of the month and the best ways to support those observing the fast.
What happens during Ramadan?
The holy month of Ramadan begins in May this year, which means that Muslim colleagues in optics are going to be met with curiosity over why they aren’t eating or drinking during the day.
Ramadan follows the lunar calendar and as a result changes every year. This year it is in the summer, which means that the fasts are quite long. In the UK, fasting starts around 2.30am in the morning and ends around 9.30pm in the evening.
The whole idea of Ramadan is that it is supposed to be the month of kindness, self-reflection and spiritual connection with God. When you are not eating and drinking you can relate to those people who are less fortunate. Muslims are a lot more generous as a result and therefore the amount of charity that is given during Ramadan is exceptionally high.
How can optometrists support patients who are fasting for Ramadan?
Patients who are ill are exempt from fasting, which includes people who have diabetes. However, you will find people who have diabetes who will decide to fast even though they don’t have to.
You are also allowed to have drops in your eyes if you are a diabetic, but a lot of people who are of the older generation have the perception that it does break the fast. In my practice, during the month of Ramadan, the number of diabetics decreases considerably. They will either come in before Ramadan or afterwards.
Diabetes UK has made a very good fact sheet about Ramadan and diabetes. For those people who do decide to fast, it gives them ideas about how they can make sure that their diabetes doesn’t go up and down. It might be worth practitioners printing that off and giving it to patients.
The whole idea of Ramadan is that it is supposed to be the month of kindness, self-reflection and spiritual connection with God. When you are not eating and drinking you can relate to those people who are less fortunate
If a person comes in for a diabetes screening and they are fasting, I use punctal occlusion to make sure that the drops don’t end up in the throat because that way they feel a bit more comfortable about me putting the drops in.
You can carry on using glaucoma drops if you are fasting. The International Glaucoma Association has done a fantastic job of putting promotional material out there on this point.
How can Muslim colleagues be supported during Ramadan?
It is important to be considerate towards colleagues who are fasting. Adding in an extra appointment can be particularly difficult for an optometrist who is fasting.
There needs to be flexibility from employers; ask Muslim employees if they want to have a shorter lunch and start later, or have a shorter lunch and finish earlier. Employers could be flexible in how employees take annual leave so they are doing shorter days.
Having prayer room facilities or allowing Muslim employees to close the door if they need to do their prayers during working hours or during lunch time is helpful. It’s important not to organise training sessions in the evenings during Ramadan as these can be difficult for Muslim colleagues to attend.
Keep in mind that many Muslim employees will take time off for the celebration of Eid following Ramadan. Try to plan for this in advance so that it does not affect the practice too much.
What not to say
‘You’re Muslim; why aren’t you fasting?’
If there are Muslims who are not fasting in your practice, don’t ask why they are not fasting. There are Muslims who are exempt from fasting; women who are pregnant, those who are ill, young children, the elderly and women who are menstruating. This question can be a little awkward sometimes.
‘I feel bad for eating in front of you’
Do not feel guilty about eating in front of colleagues who are fasting, they are used to people eating in front of them. You don’t have to apologise when you are eating in front of a Muslim colleague, just act normal.
‘You can’t even drink water?’
We are used to it and, no, it doesn’t really affect us.
‘You must have lots of food when opening the fast!’
Yes, there are a variety of dishes made, but more Muslims are becoming conscious of eating healthy food, less fried food and spacing it out. There is a brilliant community feeling during Ramadan with food being exchanged with neighbours and friends. If you want to experience opening a fast, then visit your local mosque at sunset; you would be very welcome.
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