Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Panel: What Can I Do If I'm Not Fasting?

This post provides different perspectives on the challenges of not fasting during Ramadan. 
The contributors share their personal experiences, give advice, and offer alternatives 
to fasting to help others get the most out of the Islamic holy month.


I have been unable to fast Ramadan due to several medical issues including diabetes, Autonomic Neuropathy, and severe migraines. However, I have found a way to give back in lieu of fasting. For the past four years I have bought animals through Heifer International. These animals go to women in depressed villages to provide eggs, milk, fertilizer for gardens, and so much more. When it came down to choosing something to do to help the less fortunate and fulfill my fasting obligation, I remembered the old parable, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!" My choices may not be conventional, but I believe it satisfies the longing in my heart.

Photo Credit:

Kristina ElSayed

In 1998, I married a Muslim man. That December I tried to fast Ramadan. I wanted to do that solidarity thing that married people do. I wanted to show Khaled that I was his family.

I don’t remember what was happening that day other than it was a Sunday. We might have worked, for some reason we hadn’t spent the majority of the day together. I remember Khaled coming into the apartment tired, but happy to see me. The first thing he said was that I needed to eat something.

I argued. I was fine; I wanted to be supportive, I explained. He looked at me very carefully and told me that the best way I could support him was to take care of myself. If I didn’t take care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to help him.

That was the first of many times over the last 17 years I’ve tried to fast. I don’t understand how I cannot fast. In college I used to work two jobs and go to school while surviving on diet cokes and water for 12 hours at a time! Some years, I would try to give up caffeine. Other years I would try to only drink and not eat any solid food. I usually would last until 1:00 and then I would start to get sick. Every year Khaled tells me the same thing. “It doesn’t make sense for you to fast Ramadan. It makes you sick, and you are not required to fast. Take care of yourself so you can take care of us.”

So, that’s what I do now. I am the support staff, the keeper of schedules and maker of meals.

I eat when my family is sleeping or in anther room. I keep a cup of tea on the counter to take sips from. I don’t want to make their fasting any more difficult so I don’t eat anything that smells, or that I have to cook. I have a yogurt, or maybe almond butter and fruit, leftovers from suhoor, nuts and seeds, hardboiled eggs and many cups of tea.

I am asked about my faith more often during Ramadan than any other time of the year. Muslims stop me at the grocery store, the library and the mosque and question me if I’ve converted and why I haven’t. They ask me if I fast with my children.

I used to over explain. Responding with my story and then having them respond that I’m just not trying hard enough. Several years ago I stopped answering their questions. When they ask if I’m fasting, I respond, “I’m doing the best I can,” and I leave it at that. Most often, that is enough.

Kristina ElSayed is a mother of three, a wife, a jeweler and a writer.  She creates empowerment jewelry for people of all faiths and spiritual paths at VianneFere and writes about raising Muslim children as a non-Muslim parent.  You can read more at My Islamic Life and AltMuslimah. Kristina can be reached through her website or on twitter @myislamiclife.

Photo Credit: A Minor Memoir

Jillian Pikora

I am blessed to fast this year. I really understand this now, that being able to fast during the holy month of Ramadan truly is a blessing. In 2012, one year after converting to Islam, I received approval from my insurance company for much needed jaw surgery. I had been waiting for this since I was 16 and I was now 3 days shy of 23.

It was a disaster. My palette collapsed and the surgeons moved my jaw to the right more instead of to the left. I had to have a second surgery. I was stuck on soft baby food for nearly a year. I lost 80 lbs. Then I was told I could diet or fast or change my eating habits in anyway, or they would hospitalize me.

I was heart broken. I had fasted for the first year, but not fasting during my second and third Ramadan, as the only Muslim in my home, actually felt more isolating... like I wasn't really Muslim.

I decided to fight this by creating a portable Islamic studies bag. I took a bible case and filled it with a translation of the Qur'an; a bible highlighter pencil, pen, and ruler (specifically made for the thin pages); sticky notes; a note book; a pen and pencil; a copy of Fortress of a Muslim; a biography of Muhammad PBUH; a Sufi supplication booklet; a Ramadan prayer booklet, a miniature Ramadan planner, prayer beads, a compass, and a travel prayer mat. I had everything to study with me whenever I wanted. Even on days (and months) I was too weak to give salat [the five daily prayers] I could read or make dua'as [prayers of supplication].

I still use the bible case in this way, but now I use it year round adding and removing things as I study and grow in my faith. When I cannot fast for illness or menses etc. I think about how blessed I am to fast at all, and remember those two years when fasting and prayer were impossible.

Jillian Pikora is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she studied the Middle East, Global Perspectives, and Political Science. After working on several political campaigns, extensively with the Girl Scouts, she became a writer & journalist. She has contributed to the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, and appeared on Al Jazeera, CNN, FOX, and CSPAN. She has written blog posts for the UN as a former UNA-USA Blogger Fellow at the UN Foundation. She currently lives in Egypt where she contributes to numerous lifestyle magazines and websites. In her spare time she studies Islam at Al Azhar. Jillian is blogger and YouTuber, follow her site for updates:

Related: Letting Go and Letting God: Supporting Loved Ones With Eating Disorders in Ramadan

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