Muslims: Dietary Guidelines
Muslims have strict guidelines concerning some aspects of their diet, particularly in relation to the consumption of meat and alcohol. Muslims also fast as part of their religious observance and discipline at certain times of the year.
An increasingly common problem for Muslims is the spreading availability and use of pre-prepared foods: foods that contain meat from an unidentified source or that may have been contaminated with pork fat are unacceptable. This includes most 'ready-meals' and items such as sausages and burgers.
what is halal and why?
Halal foods are those declared by Allah as being good to eat, and listed in the Qur'an as permissible (halal) to eat. Eating only from the list of permitted foods represents a large part of the religious discipline of a Muslim and this self-discipline in turn serves to remind them constantly of their submission to Allah's will.
For meat to be considered halal, the animal must be killed by a single blow to the throat with a very sharp knife while the name of Allah is pronounced over it. The body is then hung up by the hind feet to allow the blood to drain out of the flesh. Meat from an animal that was either killed by arrows or found dead is considered unclean and cannot be eaten.
Foods that are not permitted include:
- wine and other alcoholic drinks, or anything (including medicine) that contains alcohol,
- blood, bloody meat or any product made with animal blood or blood products,
- pork and all other pork products including fat,
- meat not killed in accordance with strict halal conditions,
- fish without fins or scales (such as shellfish).
dietary issues in hospital
Continuing to eat a normal halal diet while in hospital often proves to be one of the biggest challenges for Islamic inpatients and staff. If the hospital does not have a halal menu or kitchen with Islamic kitchen staff, then many Muslims may refuse to eat food prepared there. There is a fear that cross-contamination between halal food and pork fat, for example, may go unnoticed by kitchen staff who are not themselves strict Muslims.
how do you address dietary issues?
Dietary issues can be addressed in several simple ways:
- make sure fruit is always available, as it is considered acceptable and halal. Dates are traditionally used to break a fast;
- allow the family and community to bring in food for inpatients (providing hospital policy and medical diets allow this);
- offer a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, be aware that some Muslims may find such a diet intolerably bland, so make sure a patient is eating enough.
A minimum good practice requirement is to ensure that the kitchen can supply either certifiably halal meals or a vegetarian alternative to staff and patients.
During Ramadan – the ninth month of the Muslim calendar – every Muslim undergoes the religious discipline of a month-long fast as they celebrate the gift of the Qur'an and its revelation to Muhammad. For the duration of this month, no food or liquid can be consumed between sunrise and sunset. A meal is allowed after the sunset prayer, and another meal is usually taken before sunrise. Plenty of fluids must be taken in during the night to compensate for fasting.
Muslims who are temporarily ill or have a chronic condition are not permitted to fast. This definition includes women who are menstruating (in hayd) or who are within 40 days of having given birth.
It is important that healthcare staff realise that this fast may compromise medical diets or tests, such as blood-glucose tests.
The discipline of fasting during Ramadan prohibits the intake of anything through an open route into the body, and therefore also covers injections, swallowing liquid medication or tablets, intravenous drips and even nasal sprays as haram (forbidden) during this period. Of course, this applies only to patients who are well enough to observe Ramadan, and undertake the fast, but discussion may be needed with the patient and an imam about scheduling regular medication during the fasting period (insulin injections, for example).
issues for healthcare staff
The major issues faced by healthcare staff are the conflicts of shift work with the routine of the daily salaat schedule, the temporary problems that may be caused by fasting and the availability of suitable halal food. Understanding should be shown when arranging duty times and scheduling clinical appointments so that they fit in with Muslim prayer and fasting schedules.
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