What is fasting?
During the holy month of Ramadan, most of the worldâ€™s 1.8 billlion Muslims will observe the fast by not eating, drinking and by trying not to commit any sin during the 30 Holy days. This includes smoking, swearing, cursing, badmouthing etc.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory on every able-bodied Muslim to take part in it. Interestingly, in recent years fasting has become a trend for non-Muslims as well in the form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is basically fasting between 16-20-hour window and eating in the 8-4 hour gap. Scientific studies have found many benefits in intermittent fasting including: better health, weight loss, more energy etc. However, in their case they are allowed to drink water, plain tea or coffee.
Not being able to fast
Although there are spiritual benefits and health benefits of fasting, for some people fasting is just not possible due to many different reasons. I am one of those people. I used to absolutely love fasting. When the fasts were shorter in duration, I would be up till 5 in the morning and would be bouncing with energy throughout the whole month. Gradually however this changed.
I never had any precise illness that stopped me from fasting. But my health began to deteriorate. I have mixed connective tissue disease, an autoimmune disease, migraines that knock me out, underactive thyroid and all these just weaken my body.
The idea of not being able to fast used to break me up inside. I used to love it when Ramadan was coming, soon I began to dread it. I knew I wouldnâ€™t be able to fast, but I would commit to myself that I would for the sake of Allah.
I would begin my fast and struggle through the day. I would sleep on and off throughout the day, try to limit my movements as much as possible and stay indoors as the sun and dehydration would trigger migraine amongst other things. I would be unable to move about, feel sick, and drained out. But I was adamant I would fast.
As it came to iftar time I would be excited as I would have made it through the day, I would be flying on endorphins. If being the main word. Some days I would end up sick at noon, but I would push myself to the point that my brother had to start forcing me to break my fast.
Adjusting to the situation
I would sit in bed weeping at the unfairness of it all. I wanted to fast, why couldnâ€™t I? There were people out there that hated fasting and had to do it forcefully, why could one of them not have these problems?
Not being able to fast, I thought everyone would be judging me. The truth was I was judging myself and measuring myself against something that didnâ€™t exist. I couldnâ€™t fast. What was the big deal?
But no. I would pay my yearly fidya and I would try and fast for as long as I could. I was also caring for my mum full time, so by the time it got to the evening it would become a mission trying to even move I would be so sick. Still, it wasnâ€™t so bad. I was able to keep 10 days of fasts, even if it meant being totally shattered. Problem was I couldnâ€™t really do anything but sit around or do minimum work.
So I would not end up doing any Ibadah, would not be able to care for mum properly and end up sick in the process as well.
Accepting the inevitable
Then my mum passed way in 2017 and it was the first Ramadan after her death. I was trying to run my Hijab business and to fast, I got through 8-10 days, but I was really underperforming in work and finally it hit me that I was trying to force my body to do something that it was not happy to do. I could not do ibadah the way I wanted, I could not read the Quran I couldnâ€™t really do much housework until the evening and even then, I had to be very careful. This made me realise that trying to fast was crazy for me as I was not really getting any benefit from it but was just harming my body in the long term.
I am sure there are many people out there like me that have that mental struggle, because you want to be a part of this special month, but sometimes you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Fasting is about self-restraint, not eating is just a part of the whole. Yes, we refrain from eating in obedience to Allah, but fasting is also about refraining from lying, backbiting, hurting others. It is about praying more, asking Allah to guide us, helping others, learning new things about our beautiful religion, being kind to our parents. But for some reason its embedded into our heads that if we are not fasting then we are not really a part of Ramadan.
I felt ashamed to go out, to eat as I always felt the other person was judging me. Now I put being a better person and focusing more on reading the Quran and doing other types of Ibadah to increase my Iman. I still feel guilty, but I try to eat as little as I can, but enough to get through the day and do my other activities rather than lie around counting each hour till its time to open my fast whilst reverently praying that I donâ€™t end up breaking it by being sick again!
This is important because Allah Most High does not impose difficulty upon us. He tells us, in the Quran 2:185 Allah has made it clear that those that are ill or on a journey can make up the fast on a later date or pay for it. Allah has made things easy for us, it is us humans that make things harder for ourselves by expecting things that even our bodies are unable to achieve!
I would like to make it clear for my brothers and sisters out there, that if a person is chronically ill, then you are obligated to look after your health; if fasting would harm you, then you are actually obligated to not fast. Such a person is rewarded for not fasting, because you are responding to the call of Allah in the most appropriate and correct manner.
Make use of Ramadan
When the door to one act of worship is closed, then there are many others that can be opened. There are so many different things that you can do in this holy month to get closer to Allah (swt).
- Recite the Quran every day, you can start small and build your way up! I try and complete the Quran if I can in the month, although last year I was unable to, I tried as much as I could!
- Try and go to the mosque, they have loads of classes for women and you can pick up so much about Islam. Not only can you discuss it with your fellow sisters, you can also make life long friends at the masjid!
- Try and do good deeds every day. Help a neighbour, cook for someone etc there are so many different good deeds that you can do, make the most of Ramadan and go that extra mile.
- Try and help those who are fasting, maybe you could do some of their more taxing work if health permits, or you could cook for them, so they do not have to worry about food. This could include supporting a local iftar gathering by providing food.
Ramadan is special to everyone, whether you fast or not. Fasting is just one aspect of Ramadan, focus on everything you can do and do it properly. This will get you so much more reward then trying to focus on doing one thing i.e. trying to fast and during it getting nothing else done.
In Shah Allah I plan to pray more this Ramadan and try and help to open some fasts if I can. I want to be a better person then last year, improve on myself and follow the Prophet (swtâ€™s) footsteps.
I still desperately want to fast, but if I cannot, then I will do everything that I can and pray to Allah to give me the strength to fast once again, but till then I will try and do everything else blessed and able-bodied to do.