Fasting is one of the most important rituals of Islam, and Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
“O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be God wary” (2:183).
Now, as Ramadan is around the corner and the novel Coronavirus is continuing to spread globally, many Muslims worldwide are wondering if fasting could pose a higher risk of catching the COVID-19 virus, due to dehydration. They may raise some more questions, as is it safe to fast during this global pandemic? Doesn’t it weaken our immune system? And some wonder if they could be exempted from fasting to prevent catching this disease and remain healthy.
Let’s have a look at this question -to fast or not to fast? - from two different aspects: Science-based and religion-based.
According to the WHO and health experts’ recommendations, people are advised to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and stay healthy. Still, it will not prevent anyone from catching the new Coronavirus.
“Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, said the claims are incorrect. While medical professionals typically recommend keeping up fluid intake, Schaffner said drinking more water will not keep anyone from catching the virus. “We always caution anyone healthy and people who are sick to keep up the fluid intake and keep mucus membranes moist,” he said. “It makes you feel better; there is no clear indication that it directly protects you against complications.” 
No, in fact, many scientific studies have shown the wide-ranging health benefits of intermittent fasting in boosting our immune system and living a longer life. The New England Journal of Medicine has recently published a review of research on the beneficial effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging, and disease:
“Evidence is accumulating that eating in a 6-hour period and fasting for 18 hours can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, with increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity.” 
Even more interestingly, although some study claims that prolonged water fasting could have a slightly detrimental effect on the immune system, it also shows that immunity returns to a better state soon after eating and drinking again. 
First of all, the obligation of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is an individual duty, and anyone who has the conditions to do so must fast, regardless of whether it is obligatory for others or not. According to Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani, one of the well-known Islamic jurists, if a Muslim fears that he/she will catch Coronavirus, even if he/she takes all precautionary measures, he/she will be relieved of the obligation for each day he/she remains in fear of catching the disease – if he/she were to fast. However, if he/she can reduce the probability of catching the disease so that it becomes reasonably insignificant – even by staying at home and not mixing closely with others, using a mask, medical gloves, frequent disinfection and so on – such that it does not cause unbearable difficulties for the individual, his/her obligation to fast is not waived. 
Another Islamic jurist follows the same line and adds that if a doctor forbids someone from fasting, due to the high risk of getting this virus, that person is not allowed to fast. But this should not lead to disrespecting others that fast and eating in public . Many other Islamic jurists also confirm the fact that one should decide if fasting is risky for him/her or not. If “an individual has a reason to believe that fasting will cause illness, intensify or prolong an illness, or delay one’s recuperation,” he/she is not obliged to fast. But he/she should make up for the missed fastings later in the year . However, some other Islamic jurists consider fasting an obligatory practice whose obligation is not lifted in this period, except if one thinks there is a high probability of getting the disease by fasting .
After all, it is essential to note that fasting in Islam is expected of those who are healthy enough to do so: “Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you” (2:185)
And sick people who fear that fasting may make them worse, risk their health or slow down their recovery are permitted not to fast:
“But should any of you be sick or on a journey, let it be a [similar] number of other days. Those who find it straining shall be liable to atonement by feeding a needy person” (2:184).
In conclusion, regarding the feedback received from the World Health Organization, fasting has nothing to do with the possibility of an increased risk of catching coronavirus. On the other hand, it is not easy to say for sure whether fasting offers some level of protection and immunity against the COVID-19 virus during this global crisis, so we’d better stick to the things we know would work: social distancing, avoiding gatherings, performing rituals separately, hand-washing, hygiene, and self-isolation.
When my nephew was about two years old, he experienced his first meet up with a cockroach. My sister and I found him sitting very close to a cockroach, looking at it, smiling and enjoying his discovery. As soon as we saw the cockroach, we started screaming out of fear of the cockroach. In a way that the poor little kid ran away and started crying. From then on, whenever he saw a cockroach, his first reaction towards the poor insect was to start screaming and running away.
We, unwantedly, passed on our fear and hatred of the insect to that little kid. This hatred was shaped in us when we were kids and is passed on to next generations. Hostile actions are being shaped against cockroaches. Different poisons are made to destroy them. And still, they are the biggest enemies of people of some nation. The same story exists with British people and their spider enemies.
We never even start asking ourselves, if we can have a different attitude towards these insects. In our understanding, they are dirty, aggravating creatures that should be destroyed. Yet, it has happened to me to watch some well-made documentary films about insects. And think to myself why I am so ignorant and hostile towards these beautiful creatures of God.
Prejudice, as described in Merriam Webster dictionary, is a “preconceived judgment or opinion; an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.”  Prejudice is usually based on ignorance. For example, using the following phrases: ‘all men, all women, all Christians, all Muslims, all uneducated people, all youths, all poor people, all rich people, all Americans, all Arabs, etc.’ are signs of having prejudice toward a specific gender, religion, social level, or nationality.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) says: “Avoid prejudice, as it begins with ignorance and ends up in regression.” 
In this article, we are going to analyze prejudice in Islam. And find out how much the definition of Merriam Webster dictionary is compatible with Islam’s view towards prejudice.
Imam Ali (AS) states that one of the main reasons for prejudice is “ignorance”. He explains that “As for Satan, he felt proud over Adam because of his origin and taunted him about his creation since he said, "I am of fire while you are of clay." And in the same way “the rich among the prosperous communities have been feeling vanity because of their riches, as (Allah) said: And said they: "We are more (than you) in wealth and in children, and we shall not be chastised." (Qur'an, 34:35)” 
In the Arabic text, the word that is used for “vanity” is Al-asbiyyah and Al-Lijajah, which means prejudice in Islam. Indeed, most of the times it is vanity and pride that makes people think they are better than others. As a result, they classify people and discriminate between different groups of people.
Prejudice in the following cases is blamed according to Islamic teachings:
“Among His (Allah) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. There are indeed signs in that for those who know.” (30:22)
“Do not marry idolatresses until they embrace faith. A faithful slave girl is better than an idolatress, though she should impress you. And do not marry [your daughters] to idolaters until they embrace faith. A faithful slave is better than an idolater, though he should impress you.” (2: 221)
This verse emphasizes on the fact that the only thing that elevates people in the eyes of God and should be noticed in human classification is one’s faith and wariness of God. “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you.” (49:13): unlike many people who may choose their spouse based on appearance, wealth, education, family lineage, etc.
“O mankind! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware.” (49: 13)
As it is clear in the above verses, that differences in nationality, race, color, or social class should not make a group of people feel that they are superior to others and that they have the right to insult or assault them.
Since prejudice is followed by mocking, insulting and humiliating others, Allah clearly detains people of such acts; “O you who have faith! Let not any people ridicule another people: it may be that they are better than they are, nor let women [ridicule] women: it may be that they are better than they are. And do not defame one another, nor insult one another by [calling] nicknames. How evil are profane names subsequent to faith! As for those who are not penitent [of their past conduct]—such are the wrongdoers.” (49: 11) and He emphasizes that “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you.” (49:13)
From definitions that we usually read about prejudice, we may think that prejudice in Islam is always an indecent attitude. But, in Islamic teachings, prejudice is not always a negative manner. Rather, in some cases, it is known to be admirable.
As Imam Ali (AS) points out, people should have prejudice for “good qualities and in praise-worthy habits like the protection of the neighbor, the fulfillment of agreements, obedience to the virtuous, opposition to the haughty, extending generosity to others, abstention from rebellion, keeping aloof from blood-shed, doing justice to people, suppressing anger and avoiding trouble on the earth.” 
With what we have discussed so far, we realize that prejudice comes from ignorance. And every one of us may have a negative prejudice against some people. Simply because we do not bother to gain more knowledge about other people, other religions, other cultures, etc. If we try to know other humans better and try to put ourselves in their conditions and empathize with them, and do not judge them based on what we’ve heard about them, but expand our knowledge by the sufficient studies, then there is a chance that we can help each other in the way of growth and improvement.
Some people ask why Muslims do not celebrate Christmas? Is that because they do not agree on the 25th of December as Jesus birthday? Or is that because they say Christians believe in Jesus as the son of God, while Muslims do not believe in Trinity, as well as they believe that Islam is the religion that is more complete than Christianity and all other religions that came in the past; the same way that Christians believe that Christianity is a more complete religion than Judaism.
But let’s put aside the issue of Islamic view on the date of birth of Prophet Jesus (PBUH). The most important fact that causes Muslims not to wish to celebrate Christmas is the matter of identity. Do Muslims expect Christians or Jews to celebrate Islamic occasions? Does it not sound logical that each culture celebrates its own occasions and rituals? Of course, people who were born Muslims in Muslim countries or communities would like to celebrate their own occasions.
But here we are discussing the issue of those who have converted to Islam. Or those who are Muslim and live in societies with a majority of Christians.
Prophet Jesus (PBUH) is among the Prophets whose names and stories have been mentioned in many chapters of the Holy Quran. This shows the high status of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) and his respected mother – Mary- for Muslims. Prophet Jesus (PBUH) and his mother are so beloved for Muslims that many Muslims name their children after them, and the Islamic society takes every possible chance to admire their position.
It is for this very high level of respect for the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) that Muslims will be offended when he is called the son of God. Since Allah says in the Holy Quran “ That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant.” (19: 91-3)
In the same chapter, Allah says “The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded.” (5:75)
The ruling on taking part in Christmas parties is the same as taking part in any other party. It is allowed to participate in Christmas parties if there is no forbidden (Haram) act taking place; such as drinking, backbiting or forbidden (Haram) music, singing, or dancing [i], etc.
In Islamic jurisprudence, there is no harm in celebrating the birthday of Prophet Jesus (PBUH). Also if Muslims do not wish to celebrate Christmas among their cultural occasion, it is forbidden (Haram) to disrespect Christian rituals.
“And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness …” (31:14-15)
The above verses clearly define that respecting and caring for parents in the eyes of God is not because of their religion. But He says that you have to respect them, only because your mother carried you for nine months and fed you when you were a weak baby. Therefore non-Muslim parents have all the rights that Muslim parents have. And there is no difference between Muslim or non-Muslim parents if they ask you to do something which is not accepted by God. In those cases, you have to disobey them BUT keep respecting them and behave kindly towards them.
Congratulating Christmas to Christians is not forbidden (Haram), as long as it is not considered to be a confirmation of their belief in Trinity while keeping in mind that you believe that Islam is the last religion sent by God to complete the past religions, but it is rather recommended to respect our relatives, friends or neighbors who are Christians with congratulating them on their happy occasions.
Although we discussed that Muslims who live in Islamic countries or Western countries would rather celebrate their own cultural occasions among their Islamic communities, there is a duty upon those Muslims who live in the West and may live with non-Muslim friends and families.
It is a duty upon every individual Muslim to spread the words of God as much as possible. And if a Muslim has the position of clarifying the status of prophet Jesus (PBUH) as a prophet and not the son of God or as a god, then he/ she should not take this opportunity for granted and mention the fact that Jesus (PBUH) was not but a respected Prophet of God.
However, it is not obligatory for Muslims to speak out about this issue when they participate in Christmas parties (in which no forbidden (Haram) act will take place), but if there is a chance of talking about the issue, it would be good to mention the Islamic opinion about the Prophet Jesus (PBUH).
[i] Read about forbidden (Haram) music in the related article.
[ii] “This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking [secret] lovers. And whoever denies the faith - his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.” (5: 5)