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Penn State Health supports patients, workforce members observing Ramadan

Ramadan begins the evening of Wednesday, March 22, and ends the evening of Friday, April 21. Celebrated by Muslims around the world and considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the annual observance is held in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time for fasting, reflection, charity and prayer.

“As in the past few years, this year Ramadan intersects with Passover and Easter,” said Dr. Ayesha Ahmad, a Penn State Health physician specializing in geriatric medicine. “Though Passover and Easter always occur in spring, the Ramadan observance moves up steadily each year. For just a few years, these three major religions, which share our common and beloved patriarch Abraham and his legacy, also share these major holy observances.”

All Muslims who have reached puberty are expected to fast every day from sunrise to sundown during the 30 days of Ramadan. Women who are pregnant, menstruating or nursing are exempt from fasting, as are people who are sick, traveling, frail, elderly or need multiple medications.

As part of the fast, Muslims start the day about 90 minutes before sunrise to eat a breakfast-style meal called suhoor. For the rest of the day, they refrain from consuming any food or beverages, including water. At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a meal known as iftar, which traditionally starts with dates and water and is followed by a meal that varies based on the family’s cultural background.

Muslims may have a heightened commitment to prayer during Ramadan. The daily cadence of observant Muslims is to pray five times daily, facing toward the Kaaba in Mecca. Ramadan includes extra evening prayers, night prayers and reciting from the Holy Quran.

Ramadan is also marked by a focus on community, with Muslims spending more time with their family and community at their place of worship – the masjid or mosque. This practice is difficult for hospitalized patients. Family and friends may want to stay with the patient until sundown, or request to stay so they can break the fast with their family member.

Ramadan is also a time for charity, one of the pillars of the religion, with Muslims increasing their charitable giving and community service.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday comparable in importance to Christmas or Hanukkah. Eid al-Fitr generally starts with morning prayers, with the rest of the day dedicated to visiting and celebrating with family and friends.

Penn State Health’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provides religious guidelines that include Ramadan and reflect that Muslims will likely request time off on Eid al-Fitr to observe this important day. Eid is determined based on the sighting of a new moon, so employees may not know the timing until a day or two before the holiday.

Caring for Muslim patients during Ramadan 

Penn State Health supports its patients and workforce members who will be observing Ramadan. This support aligns with the health system’s commitment to fostering an inclusive environment that includes quality compassionate and culturally responsive health care. Here are some ways to best care for patients observing Ramadan:

  • Communicate with the patient about what is needed for them to receive the best medical care possible, listen to their preferences and discuss care options that may align with their observance of Ramadan. Patients who are sick enough to be hospitalized should probably not fast, but it’s a good practice to ask.
  • If a patient needs a minor procedure, explore whether the procedure can be performed after Ramadan. Please note that phlebotomy, injections and eyedrops break a fast, so be mindful when ordering these for fasting patients.
  • Advise food service staff if a hospitalized patient is fasting during Ramadan so food is delivered only before sunrise or after sundown. Note, however, that most hospitalized patients may not be fasting.
  • Recommend against fasting for Muslims who have uncontrolled diabetes. If the patient decides to fast, suggest a balanced caloric intake at both meals and modification of the timing of medications and injections.
  • Remind Muslim patients to hydrate well between sunset and sunrise.
  • Explore changing dosing frequency to once or twice daily, changing to long-acting formulations or choosing a different medication administration for patients on medication to allow them to observe Ramadan while maintaining their treatment requirements.

Supporting Muslim colleagues during Ramadan

To show support for Muslim colleagues during Ramadan, consider the following:

  • Avoid compulsory meetings, if possible, during Ramadan or be prepared to excuse the employee from these meetings.
  • Recognize that Muslims may not want to commit to evening events, even virtual ones, since they spend this time with their families as they break the day’s fast.
  • Be as flexible as possible if employees ask to change their work/shift time or modify their lunch break to finish the day early.
  • Wish Ramadan Mubarak (happy or blessed Ramadan) or Ramadan Kareem (have a generous Ramadan) to colleagues you know are Muslim and observing Ramadan.
  • Recognize that your Muslim colleagues may be encumbered with fasting, additional prayer and evening activities while maintaining a regular work schedule, so it is best to avoid additional work-related events during Ramadan.
  • Wish your colleagues and patients Eid Mubarak or happy Eid when the date and time for the Eid has been determined.

Learn more

Muslim Patient in Ramadan: A Review for Primary Care Physicians |NIH National Library of Medicine

Diabetes During Ramadan |WellShare International

Safe Ramadan Practices in the Context of COVID19 | World Health Organization, April 15,


What Providers Need to Know About Ramadan | YouTube

Ramadan Fasting and the Medical Patient: An Overview for Clinicians | ResearchGate

Sunrise and sundown times during Ramadan |Hamari Web

Ramadan Fact Sheet | Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding

For more information about diversity and inclusion at Penn State Health, email the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at, or call 717-531-1012.

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