With over a billion Muslims in the world, it would be naive to think that every single one of them looks forward to a month which brings with it so many challenges. Yet to say you don’t enjoy Ramadan is still something of a taboo. After all, Ramadan is supposed to be a month of blessings, a God given opportunity to wipe the slate clean and renew your spiritual batteries. That doesn't mean you’re going to feel enthusiastic about it at all times though. All Muslims have thought at one time or another, ‘Urgh! I really don’t feel like fasting today,’ or wished that they could just fast forward to sunset because they've got a thumping headache!
These issues require us to take off the rose-tinted glasses of Ramadan for a moment and delve a little deeper.
Although Ramadan is intended to be a time when families, friends and communities come together, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness if you don’t have anyone to share it with. This is common when people don't have a family or are separated from them for some reason; they live in a neighbourhood where there‘s just the odd sprinkling of Muslims; or they are new Muslims feeling lost in an unfamiliar environment.
Meanwhile, other individuals who may have difficulties during Ramadan include those who find fasting particularly uncomfortable, people who have demanding jobs, and perhaps those with hectic schedules who feel stressed by the added workload which Ramadan often brings. There are also those who cannot participate in fasting, for a variety of reasons, and consequently feel as though they’re disconnected from the ‘Ramadan experience.’
All of these factors may result in a sense of detachment from fellow Muslims and make it difficult to contemplate the spiritual aspect of Ramadan. But if such a substantial number of Muslims are affected by these difficulties, why do so many keep their feelings to themselves?
One reason could be social acceptance; no one wants to go against the tide of people counting down to Ramadan and posting ‘yay! Ramadan is coming’ statuses everywhere. The more pressing factor however is more likely to be guilt. This feeling often comes in one of three forms: guilt that you’re not fasting (despite a perfectly valid reason not to), guilt that you’re not enjoying what is intended to be a joyous time, or guilt that you're lacking the motivation to do anything particularly productive or spiritual.
All three scenarios tend to leave the person feeling heavy-hearted and more likely to be discouraged from doing other positive activities, like reading, sharing with others and contemplating the spiritual aspect of Ramadan. People laden with guilt tend to enter a downward-spiraling guilt cycle which is tricky to pull yourself out of.
Acknowledging that we all enter Ramadan at different stages in our personal and spiritual lives is essential. We are all presented with challenges along the way which are unique to each of us. For individuals who find Ramadan a gruelling struggle, getting through the month of fasting without giving up is surely just as significant as someone who gets through the Koran twice. Perhaps overcoming these negative feelings or a lack of motivation is their particular challenge for the month. In the end, it's all about intention and Allah knows our intentions, personal situations and where we are in our faith so we don't need to worry about proving ourselves to others. It's between you and God.
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One of the main reasons for feeling disconnected in Ramadan is being unable to fast. You may not be able to fast for a variety of reasons: maternal matters (pregnancy, breastfeeding), menstruation, or on medical grounds (i.e. chronic conditions or sudden illness).
But remember, you can take comfort in this: both fasting and refraining from fasting (due to necessity) are tests of humility. In the Psalms, for instance, David fasted in order to humble himself before God and ask forgiveness for his Bathsheba misdemeanors. Yet at the same time, it’s also a humbling act to accept God’s mercy and refrain from fasting because you are physically unable to. There are exceptions to the obligation to fast for a reason; God doesn't want our lives to be hard. Accepting God's mercy when we are unable to do something humbles us before God and keeps our ego in check.
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Mariam at [Insert Witty Title Here] shares her thoughts on the times when we cannot fast.
With their usually warmth and humour, Nye Armstrong and Rebecca Minor tackle the issue of not fasting during Ramadan in their video: Can't Pray or Fast During Ramadan? (Nye's infectious giggle will make your day!)
SuhaibWebb's article Closed Doors and Open Eyes: Spirituality for the Non-Fasting addresses issues relating specifically to women during Ramadan, offers practical, do-able advice, and suggests that:
"In order for us to find a sense of spirituality during this time, we may need to amend our way of thinking about it, and perhaps even the paradigm we construct about worship and spirituality as a whole."
Meanwhile, Muslim Matters have provided many useful articles, including: A Women’s Guide to Spirituality in Ramadan during Menstruation and Postnatal Bleeding
& What I Learned About Fasting From Not Fasting
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Over to you!
What do you do when you're unable to fast?
Or if you're a non-Muslim, how do you connect with God in your daily life?
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