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Karachi Heat Wave: Some Muslims Can Eat During Ramadan, Cleric Says

NBC News' Waj Khan found people taking shelter wherever they could in Karachi, to escape the heat wave that has claimed hundreds of lives.
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KARACHI, Pakistan — A senior Islamic cleric has issued a rare fatwa allowing some Muslims to eat in daytime hours during Ramadan to give them respite from Pakistan’s record-breaking heat wave which has killed 750 people.

Temperatures have touched 113 Fahrenheit in Pakistan's largest city this week with witnesses describing people “dropping dead” in the streets. A chronic power crisis has led to hours-long blackouts in the city of 22 million people, rendering fans, air conditioners and water pumps useless.

However, Islamic cleric Mufti Mohammad Naeem has said ailing Muslims are free to skip their holy month fasting.

“If an expert doctor says that your life is threatened due to the heat, or some condition you may have is going to get worse because of fasting, then you can forego the daily fast,” the 50-year-old told NBC News.

“This is conditional on your medical condition and how you react to the heat, not a free-for-all,” said Naeemi, who is head of the of the Jamia Binoria Aalimiyah, Karachi’s biggest madrassa. “But only a religious and qualified doctor can assess you condition.”

"This is like the Day of Judgment. It seems all of us will die in this heat together."

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and falls between June 18 and July 17 this year.

Muslims do not eat, drink or have sex during daylight hours, but exemptions are made for anyone suffering an illness or who is heavily pregnant or elderly.

Asked if the fatwa would create controversy in the conservative Muslim country, Naeemi said: “When life is threatened, when our body needs sustenance, then even the Shariat [religious law] allows us to eat pork. So if you’re diabetic or dehydrated medically, you don’t have to fast.”

Ramzan Chippa, who runs a volunteer ambulance service, said fewer bodies were recovered Wednesday morning compared with the past three days, but added that he was expecting more casualties in the afternoon.

"We have been stuck in this rut for the last four days now,” he said. “Most of our relief activity is taking bodies to morgues. Graveyards have filled up. Just yesterday we had to break up a fight between three families about a burial site. There are not enough plots prepared to bury people."

Chippa said his entire fleet of 300 ambulances had been devoted to helping patients from the heat wave.

"Most of the bodies we are recovering are people dying on the streets,” he added. “They're just dropping dead."

With meteorologists were predicting rain within the next 24 hours, Chippa said people were looking forward to a much-needed relief. “We are waiting for the rain and doing what we can,” he said.

Mohammad Faeem Khan, director of the Karachi Zoo, confirmed that six animals — two peacocks, two monkeys, one deer, one hyena — died because of the heat.

“All animals are being treated with hydrating fluids, and we filled up their ponds and put ice in their cages, but there is an ice crisis across the city,” Khan said.

One of the city’s top police officials confirmed that officers were being told to stay out of the heat.

"Police patrolling has been pulled back from the streets as I don't want to lose men," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Dildar Shah is a resident in the suburb of Malir who lost two neighbors to the heat. "This is like the Day of Judgment,” he said. “It seems all of us will die in this heat together."