Amaliah is mindful that autism does not manifest in the same way for everyone. The symptoms mentioned in this article are not a universal representation of what it is like to experience autism. If you resonate with some of the symptoms but haven’t gotten an official diagnosis, we recommend that you do not consider this article as a diagnostic and instead consult your general practitioner or personal doctor.
Ramadan means many things for the nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world. A month of reestablishing our relationship with the Qur’an. Special recipes (ahem, desserts) at iftar. Long nights listening to beautiful recitations. And let’s not forget the post-taraweeh moves, where we catch up with family and friends over delicious snacks.
But for the fraction of Muslims around the world with autism, those definitions change.
It means listening to the Qur’an with noise-cancelling headphones because you can’t focus on it otherwise, darting for a weighted blanket after an iftar party because of the amount of people you talked to, missing taraweeh because the sounds of crying children, the booming voice over the loudspeaker, and the bright fluorescent lights strain your eyes and ears, and having to go to bed earlier than everyone else, otherwise, you are emotionally dysregulated for the rest of the day.
It means feeling guilty for all of it, because Shaytan works extra hard to plant the seeds before the blessed days begin. But to myself and to any autistic sisters, I say, “Not today, Shaytan.”
We might be a minority within a minority within a minority—an autistic, Muslim, woman—but we can internalize that none of those words are bad.
“It’s hard to understand autism from the outside, and to be fair, no two people are affected in the same way,” writes Zeba Khan, who describes herself as an autism mom with autism. We are still learning what the spectrum encompasses, with more severe cases in children who, in Zeba’s words, “wouldn’t eat their lunch because some of the carrots were too orange.”
Signs like these are plentiful throughout child development, but not so on for adults. There are commonalities, such as being overwhelmed by high volume or unable to hold eye contact, but each of us is different, especially women, and this is just one part of what makes diagnosing us with autism difficult. We are taught certain societal and cultural expectations regardless of being autistic or not, and expected to replicate them. This can lead to something called “masking.”
I define masking as mirroring without seeing myself in the reflection. A more proper definition from the National Autistic Society is: “To ‘mask’ or to ‘camouflage’ means to hide or disguise parts of oneself in order to better fit in with those around you. It is an unconscious strategy all humans develop whilst growing up in order to connect with those around us.”
An autistic woman may swallow down discomfort when someone pats her shoulder unexpectedly, because to be upset at this common gesture of affection would be perceived as rude. She learns to avoid bringing up certain topics or interests that she’s passionate about because she has been called “weird,” or laughed at.
Recently, I discovered that I would consistently dart for my headphones when my Roomba or blender was running. Without realizing it, I was overwhelmed by the vacuuming noise of each and was trying to stifle them out. This behavior had carried over into offices I worked at, where I would immediately put on my headphones upon arriving. I wasn’t trying to ignore conversations with my coworkers, I was trying to breathe beneath all of the drowning noise.
These are just a few masking behaviors we enact to hide our condition, but I encourage us all to try and put on rose-colored glasses about it instead.
The Lord who created you, knows you, and loves you said in Surah Al-Sharh, Ayahs 5 through 6: “So, surely with hardship comes ease. Surely with hardship comes more ease.”
This isn’t an Instagram caption for a bad day. It’s a reality for all of us. What makes these verses profound is that the word for “hardship,” ʿusr, is singular, and the word for “ease,” yusr, is plural. With hardship comes many eases. Autism is the same way.
There are many blessings to being autistic. We provide a unique perspective to our families, friend groups, workplaces, and more importantly, the community at large, and we advocate for other disabled Muslims. We’re exactly where we belong, in the ummah of The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He knew and loved many different kinds of people, the sensitive and the strong, the meek and the outspoken.
When we read a verse of the Qur’an or hear a story from the seerah, our hearts move and our eyes water, almost on cue. Many Muslims envy us for that ability, especially when it comes to the last ten nights. We get to belly-laugh during a joke at a gathering while others smile, and it brings an infectious joy to everyone else—even if they don’t mention it.
There was one incident like this in my old community. One evening, I came upon chin-chin, a fried dough ball with raisins. It was crunchy and sweet, and when there were leftovers, I would save it for suhoor, too. The next Ramadan, I exploded into joy after seeing it again, even garnering the comment, “You look like a kid in a candy store!”
At first, I was so embarrassed for having what I thought was a “childish” reaction as a grown woman. But later, I realized that I brought so much delight to the Nigerian family who had sponsored the meal, because desserts like knafeh and gulab jamun usually got all of the attention at the Ramadan table.
Coming up with and sticking to a Ramadan routine can be easy for us, since living by a strict routine is our normal. Many of us had our duas written days in advance and our sadaqa already automated. Rocking back and forth, a common stim that we may feel embarrassed for, carries over when we’re reciting Qur’an out loud. It allows us to become human metronomes; keeping a smooth, consistent rhythm as we read the words of Allah ﷻ for hours on end.
The ability to hyperfocus also helps us in the holy month. As Iqra Babar, autistic Muslim, WOC, and artist, says, “I also tend to forget I’m fasting halfway through the day, since I’m usually hyper-fixated on something. This definitely works as a positive for me as I then don’t think about it a lot.”
We become obsessive over Ramadan itself, too. The hours scouring the Internet for decor and activities allows us to hype the rest of our household with that same excitement and motivation. Eid, too, has the same spotlight in our eyes, and we encourage our friends to go out for outings instead of just staying at home, eating brunch, and taking a nap.
But Eid may be a faraway dream for you right now, and you may be struggling halfway through Ramadan, wondering if you can still make it meaningful. Know this:
We know now that autism is a spectrum, so some of the suggestions below may not work for you, but I implore you to experiment. We still have half of Ramadan remaining for us to play the ummah’s favorite game, “Where in the world is Laylat al-Qadr?”
This can be tricky… so treat yourself! If you like to plan ahead, it’s likely that you already know the textures and tastes you like and don’t like. Make this the month of your very favorite foods, to get yourself excited to wake up for suhoor and to break fast at iftar. Chia seeds with milk (of choice), apples, and cinnamon is my suhoor of choice, and nutritious as well.
But to some who don’t like congealed seeds mixed with liquid and soft chunks of fruit, try talbina or something as simple as dates and milk.
Similarly, you may need your food prepared a certain way, or get anxious about what will be served at the community iftar. If you’re shy to ask for accommodations, see if you can have a friend inquire on your behalf. For example, I carry the “cilantro tastes like soap” gene, and it makes eating any dish with it difficult. Eating well helps you regulate well.
I knew I needed to head to bed at a strict time, as well as incorporate a nap later on. In Ramadans past, I confused piety for sleep deprivation. Then I remembered the words of the Prophet ﷺ: “Your self has rights over you.” (Abu Dawud 1369)
In this very same hadith, the Prophet ﷺ also mentions that he fasted and broke his fast, prayed, and slept. I realized that my body is an Amanah, and for me to worship Allah ﷻ properly, I needed to take proper care of it. Taking a midday nap, I remembered, was also part of the sunnah. This sort of lifestyle might make you more of an early bird or an afternoon owl compared to the night owls in your community. But there is compromise: you may miss out on post-taraweeh moves, but suhoors at IHOP (an American tradition) or local Muslim restaurant are still a possibility, since you will be awake anyway.
One of my lifelong stims and attempts at self-soothing – pulling at or twirling my hair – makes focus or calming down painful. Keeping a tasbeeh necklace or bracelet on hand (pun unintended) makes it easier to relax. You can even find tasbeeh counters styled as rings for purchase. These are wonderful for not only keeping us from hurting ourselves, but obtaining good deeds for dhikr, too.
I also recommend wearing sunglasses indoors, especially if you’re surrounded by fluorescent lights, and if feasible, purchasing noise-cancelling headphones to help you work or read.
Focus on quality and not quantity. According to the scholar Imam Khaqani (may Allah ﷻ have mercy on him), we should read with tarteel. Tarteel is to recite slowly while pondering over the verses. Evidence for it is in the Qur’an itself:
Ask yourself: would you rather read Allah’s book quickly without understanding any of it, or slowly while comprehending what your Lord is telling you?
Goals like “one juz a day” can be overwhelming, especially if your focus is simply to read quickly or reach a khatm. While both are admirable goals if attainable, you don’t want to reach burnout. Instead, try to set something manageable: a page a day if reading, or a few lines if memorizing. Remember that Allah loves consistent good deeds, even if they’re small. (Bukhari 6465) You can always adjust later, especially if your goals may be causing you distress.
If you decide to attend taraweeh, you can do so from a Mommy & Me room (if it’s quiet enough), or from an overflow area with less people. A sister in the community may even offer a sister’s-only taraweeh at her home like our mother Aisha (may Allah ﷻ be pleased with her) did.
If taraweeh in the masjid is difficult, you can pray qiyam al-layl in your own space. Taraweeh is not an obligatory prayer, it was the idea of ‘Umar (may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him), and while many still benefit from that beautiful legacy, there is no harm in sticking to the sunnah of praying night prayers alone, just like The Prophet ﷺ.
‘A’isha reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ prayed one night in the mosque and people also prayed along with him. He then prayed on the following night and there were many people. Then on the third or fourth night many people gathered there, but the Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not come out to them to lead the Taraweeh prayer. When it was morning, he said, “I saw what you were doing, but I desisted to come to you (and lead the prayer) for I feared that this prayer might become obligatory for you.” The narrator said: It was the month of Ramadan. — (Sahih Muslim 761a)
But, if you still want to be around your community, try to pray Fajr, Dhuhr, or Asr in congregation, as these prayers generally have less people in the masjid. If you prefer to be at home to pray taraweeh, you can ask your family members, roommates, or friends to pray with you.
A bustling office may not be the most conducive for us getting work done. Constant disruptions from coworkers can disorient us. Open-floor meetings especially are hard, as many people walking by will see this as an opportunity to ask questions and make small talk, thereby extending the meeting longer than it’s supposed to.
However, office arrangements can also be made. An autistic Muslim may wear headphones to signal that they’re in deep work or don’t want to be disturbed. Providing a quiet place, especially for prayer, is important for us to reset and relax. Ask about temperature, as some of us may be sensitive to our surroundings and require a sweater or blanket to regulate.
It can be difficult for us to interpret statements like “Maybe try this instead…?” as a kind way to ask for something. Speaking for myself, I hear it as a suggestion, and without need for urgency. If we ask for clarity, it’s not that we didn’t listen, it’s that we’re confused.
We may also speak formally even when in a relaxed atmosphere, as we recognize the workplace to be a professional place—but we will open up more after we see others doing so.
Some of us are more vocal than others—especially younger autistic Muslims—when it comes to how or even if we like to be touched. My cousin, for example, hugs from the side, only when asked, and only with those he’s familiar with.
For those of us diagnosed later in life or suspecting that we may be on the spectrum, we may already be rethinking how we bring up our boundaries. We may realize what seems to be all-too-late that being hugged made our bodies jolt internally, but we masked our discomfort because we noticed it being normal. Simultaneously, some can love bear hugs and crave them more than normal, as it might make us feel loved and safe. A policy of “always ask, and always tell,” if you would like to touch us is appreciated.
A few accommodations can be made even in the masjid for more autistic-friendly spaces. Just like how pediatricians offices have a sick waiting and a well waiting, we can possibly incorporate a “Special Room,” with white noise machines and dimmer lighting for those who want to join the iftars without being overwhelmed. For those who may not be as sensitive, we may ask if you’d like to sit outside with us, or at a less noisy table.
Be accommodating if a sister enters a space with sunglasses. It is no easy thing to do, as she might suffer from migraines due to the lighting, and feel self-conscious about being seen as strange. While she might appreciate the inquiries as to whether she’s okay (as some may use sunglasses to hide crying), it could make her feel uncomfortable when community members bring up how “cool” she looks.
If something will be late, or something pops up, please try to give us as much of a heads up as possible. It can be hard for us to accommodate when something pops up so suddenly.
Designating tasks as urgent, important, and with deadlines may also help us stay organized. Investing in a task manager is extremely helpful, along with setting calendar reminders.
Believe us when we say we know how off-putting it can be when we mention a dietary restriction or ask for an accommodation. We wish our bodies didn’t penalize us for eating something “wrong” or touching something that made a shiver run down our spine. It’s embarrassing to admit that we don’t “get” certain cues that others do, and we often feel so left out that we close off automatically.
If we do feel like chatting, though, be warned: it may seem like you’re talking to a different person completely. We may have niche interests that take a while to explain. Don’t take it personally if we avoid eye contact.
I prefer communication done via text or email, as I find audio notes or phone calls overwhelming, and difficult to retain information from. However, some autistics may be different. A long paragraph can be more disorienting than a quick in-person meeting.
Social anxiety plagues many of us, and we may ruminate on our interactions throughout the day. For me, emoji are my friends—they help me realize the emotion of the person who is talking to me virtually, since I can’t sense how they are behind the screen. And should you choose to send an invitation to an iftar party or other gathering, it may not always be accepted due to our difficulties. However, the gesture will always be appreciated, as we can tell that we’re still loved despite how we function.
Just like our community—full of Muslims who pray 8 or 20, prefer potato in their biryani or don’t, wear hijab or don’t—autistic Muslim women are still loved by Allah and by his Prophet ﷺ, and their Ramadan can still be full of barakah.
How have you made your Ramadan special?
This piece was written by a member of the Amaliah community. If you would like to contribute anonymously, drop us an email us on email@example.com