Alhamdulilah the blessed month of Ramadan is with us. While like many Muslims, I am grateful for its arrival and the opportunity to reap the benefits of this Sacred Month, I must admit there is part of me that becomes increasingly anxious when it comes around. As someone suffering/ recovering from an eating disorder, the month brings with it complications and the difficult decision of whether or not to fast. I usually end up searching for articles about what other Muslims with an eating disorder do during Ramadan and while scarce, have come across some helpful resources. This year I thought perhaps it’s time to be more than a bystander and write something myself…
For a bit of background, I was born in the UK but spent most of my childhood in a Middle Eastern country. While technically I may be thought of as a convert, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself one as even though my family is not Muslim, I was surrounded by Islamic practices and friends. Eager to feel part of the Muslim community, I loved to learn about Islam and take part in its activities.
Fasting was something I started to do from a very early age, probably before I had even decided I wanted to be Muslim. I loved the collective spirit of Ramadan from hearing the Adhan at Maghreb time, watching Mecca and Medina on TV, the act of breaking fast with friends and loved ones and the excitement of staying up late with friends.
However, as I approached my early teens, and started to have more negative thoughts about myself, my body and eating, the appeal of Ramadan also became about abstaining from food and how far I could push myself. It was during a Ramadan when I was 13 that a teacher commented in class that I was “dropping in weight”. While embarrassed and wished that I could disappear, there was also a small voice in the back of my mind that was thrilled at this accomplishment.
Six months on and a couple of kilos lighter from that moment, I was admitted to hospital for anorexia. While I had been discharged by the time Ramadan approached again, I was still under medical supervision and my Consultant gave the order “There is absolutely no way you can fast.” I was heartbroken that I would miss out on the spiritual atmosphere of Ramadan; yet another thing that had been taken away from me.
Fourteen years on from then, the path has been bumpy and while alhamdulilah I’m currently in a much more stable place, my eating disorder is still very much part of my every day. Every year as Ramadan approaches I worry about whether or not I should be fasting.
If like me, you are suffering or recovering from an eating disorder and have looked for articles on how to approach Ramadan, you might also feel confused about what you have read. Some articles say you should not contemplate fasting even after recovery, others say that fasting has helped them in their recovery as it provided a more spiritual focus to eating and changed their relationship with food.
What I have realised is that each person and their struggle is individual and no one knows your thinking or struggles better than you and Allah. If you are currently under medical supervision and want to fast , you must discuss this with your medical team. My one suggestion is if you are thinking about fasting, make sure you are doing it for the right reason and if there is any doubt in your mind, it is not the right thing to do.
This year I considered fasting and when I seriously started thinking about it I started thinking about the practicalities of it (for instance meal planning) and what fasting would involve for me, one of the thoughts that popped into my mind was how little I could get away with eating for suhoor. That made me realise that fasting just now would not be sensible.
In the Qu’ran Allah (SWT) reassures us that He intends ease for us, not hardship (2:185).
While fasting is prescribed, it is only for those who are well enough to do so (2:185) and for those who can only fast with extreme difficult, compensation can be made by feeding a needy person (2:184). In more recent years, more emphasis has been placed on including mental as well as physical illness in this ruling but more work needs to be done in the Muslim community to shine a light on the importance of mental health (but that’s a separate topic!).
The emphasis of Ramadan often becomes about food but isn’t the deeper purpose to shift away from that and focus on more spiritual aspects?
Acts such as engaging with the Quran and its meaning, participating in good deeds and acts of charity and perhaps abstaining from bad habits. If you are unable to fast for whatever reason, know that there are others out there like you and not being able to fast should not be a reason to feel any less Muslim, something I struggle with myself. In fact, taking care of ourselves can be seen as an act of worship (ibadah). Try your best not to let food be your preoccupation in Ramadan and distract from the spiritual aspects you can engage in.
If you are finding this time of year hard, reach out to family, friends, loved ones and/ or professionals for support.
When it comes to eating, sometimes having to make a decision for yourself rather than having it made for you can be even more daunting. Talk it through with someone close to you and mention it in your prayers. Knowing behaviours that may trigger you down a dangerous path is an important part of recovery and being able to stay away from them takes strength and courage. Something you have so much of (you may be surprised to find!).
I hope by sharing my thoughts I’ll help others out there who are having the same feelings realise or voice their own. Wishing all marking the Blessed Month and healthy and happy one. May our deeds and dua’as be accepted.
This piece was written by a member of the Amaliah community. If you would like to contribute anonymously, drop us an email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sumaya Teli