When I was a child, I would beg my mother to allow me to fast during Ramadan. I could see her and my older siblings observing the holy month through fasting and I so desperately wanted to join them.
“You are fasting” my mother would assure me kindly, “in between your meals!”. It was her way of soothing me because of course, at 10-years-old, I was far too young to be fasting.
The holy month of Ramadan is a time for celebration as well as inner reflection. Friends and family often meet up to have iftar (break their fast) together. There are plenty of community events to attend and every iftar is like a mini party, complete with a feast for all to enjoy.
I’ve always loved Ramadan, as it brings a real sense of community and happiness. However, in recent years my own Ramadans have not been so easy or filled with joy.
I struggled with an eating disorder in my late teens/early twenties which was so serious that it meant I had to take time out of my studies during my final year of university. Now aged 28, I have largely recovered, but I still find Ramadan a very triggering month.
I have always been very afraid to admit that, because it almost sounds sacrilegious – even to my own ears. Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for those who observe it, so I resent being unable to enjoy it in the same way as my fellow Muslims.
Despite trying to fast during Ramadan in recent years, it hasn’t worked out well for me. The feeling of sustained hunger took me back to darker days and although I tried to take it easy by not fasting every day, the toll on my mental health was too much to bear.
That is why this year, I am making the decision not to fast. Instead, I will try to focus on my inner reflection and work on my personal development, as well as reading the Quran and trying to do more charity work. I’ll still be spending time with my loved ones, and hopefully attending as many iftars and community events as I can.
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It has taken a lot for me to get to this point in my life, and I still do feel the odd pang of guilt that I will not be observing Ramadan in the conventional sense. I would often ask myself if I was any less of a Muslim because I wasn’t fasting, and sometimes I would question my own connection to God.
It states in the Quran that you do not have to fast if you are suffering from ill-health. A lot of the time, that is interpreted to mean only physical ailments but of course, mental ill-health also counts.
There needs to be greater awareness in the Muslim community about those suffering from mental ill-health and how that may affect the ways in which they are able to observe Ramadan.
Because while fasting is indeed a big part of Ramadan – it is not the only way you can celebrate the month and you certainly are no less of a Muslim if you cannot fast for any health or personal reasons.
For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this article, eating disorder charity Beat‘s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677. NCFED offers information, resources and counseling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.