Ramadan with a disability
For Muslims, Ramadan is a holy month in which you abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Instead we feed our souls and build a stronger spiritual relationship with our Lord.
Yet, Ramadan was a month I used to dread.
When I was younger, I associated fasting with a way of being closer to God. I thought that all Muslims that didn’t drink or eat all day were good Muslims. Ramadan would be my favourite time of the year. For the most part of the month, I would go with my dad and siblings to spend my Iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset) in the mosque. The atmosphere during this month would be incomparable to any other time of year. It would be a time of excitement and love shared amongst the community. The one time of the year where everyone from different backgrounds would spend time together all evening and, until the late night, for the whole month.
My first Ramadan was at the age of 10
I began fasting properly at the age of 10 years old. I didn’t eat or drink all day, and I felt like I was fulfilling my duties as a Muslim. Ramadan was fasting to me, so as long as I was fasting, I knew God was happy with me.
I was born with Spina bifida, a condition which I’ve had from birth, which means that I have limited control of the lower part of my body. As a child, I was never worried about my diet (I mean, no kid ever does, why would I be different?). I ate everything that any child would. So when it came to Ramadan I too wanted to fast like everyone else. My disability made me different to others; Ramadan was the one time I felt like any other Muslim. It had never occurred to me that my condition would inhibit my ability to practice my religion.
But fasting during Ramadan became more and more difficult. I discovered by the time I was a teenager that by not eating or drinking all day I was damaging my kidneys. I have to drink a certain amount during the day to manage my condition. This meant that I could no longer fast. I was desperately trying not to lose the attachment I felt to my religion so rather than not fasting at all, I tried fasting one day and not the other and so on. But this led having serious medical issues or left me feeling intensely exhausted.
I started losing my attachment to my community and to my family
With all of these things happening to me, I started losing my attachment to my community and to my family. I wasn’t able to be part of the usual Ramadan activities like waking up early in the morning sitting around the table, having breakfast together with the rest of my family, bonding before they began fasting for the day. Nobody wants to wake up at 4am surrounded by their tired, half asleep siblings, but this is the part that I cherished the most. I also no longer felt a part of that tight knit community sitting together breaking their fast in the mosque.
I began feeling uncomfortable as I felt conscious if anybody saw me eating when I should be fasting. And not just in front of Muslims, but also non-Muslims who would ask me if they saw me eating in Ramadan questions such as “Why aren’t you fasting?”.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Without fasting, I no longer felt I was able to fulfil my role as a Muslim. But I am a Muslim. I needed to find a way to fulfil my obligations without fasting. So in the last few years, my mindset shifted. Even though I didn’t fast, I was looking to find a connection in other ways such as learning more about the religion through lectures, reading the Quran and not eating during the day so that in the evenings, I could sit down and eat my meal with the rest of the family when they broke their fast and still experience the feeling of togetherness.
I used every possible moment as an opportunity to show my devotion
The main thing I realised is that you didn’t need Ramadan to feel closer to your Lord. A lot of us Muslims make that mistake and use this one month to show their sincere devotion to God whereas, for me, I used every possible moment as an opportunity to show my devotion.
I was always told that God created everyone exactly how he wanted them to be created so you can’t judge his judgement. I did at times feel I was letting God down but I knew this was my opportunity to worship him in a special way which fulfils me. I am able to show my gratitude and be thankful for the blessings he has given me every day instead of relying on fasting for just one month.