Ramadan For Muslims Who Don’t Fast

Before Ramadan we had a halaqa (group discussion) for Muslims who don’t fast during Ramadan. This was created for Muslims who have a tricky relationship with food or who experience disordered eating or who get a period. We created it for Muslims who are fighting self-neglect and can experience fasting as a danger to their health including their mental health. We created this for all the disabled Muslims and Muslims on medication who know they shouldn’t fast but who find the conversation about Ramadan doesn’t include them; except to say they are exempt. This is a minimisation of our reality and an erasure of our relationship to Allah, to Islam and to our community, all of which are front and centre during this month-long ritual.

We wanted to explore what Ramadan can look and feel like for Muslims who don’t fast. We used verses in the Qur’an that lay out the principles of Ramadan, the purpose of fasting and why it is part of Islam to guide the discussion. Everyone brought up such powerful points and we learnt so much about how a month of fasting and the cultures around it can fundamentally alter how we understand ourselves before, during and after Ramadan.

Here’s what we learnt and below are some of the verses we used to bring the conversation back to what it means to observe Ramadan beyond abstaining from food and drink.

  • There are many ways to observe Ramadan without fasting because its principal purposes are to a) become more mindful of God b) practice self-restraint over a fixed period of time.
  • Many people shared the ways that they struggled to give themselves permission not to fast but when someone with authority spoke to them clearly and firmly about why fasting was not good or right for them, they felt better able to give themselves permission to forego fasting. We need more scholars and sheikhs to not just remind people they are exempt from fasting, but to proactively recommend that some people not fast, especially when fasting becomes a form of self-punishment. We would welcome more specific public opinions from Muslim scholars who encourage Muslims not to fast when fasting is dangerous for them. For example: when we are taking medication, experiencing an eating disorder, experiencing ill health, chronic illnesses, autoimmune illnesses, or for people who need to prioritise their mental health.
  • We need to repeat this kind of event, where we address the reality for Muslims who don’t fast, every year, maybe multiple times a year. It would normalise our existence even just for ourselves if not for others too. 
  • Muslims who don’t fast want to connect with each other, to see themselves in each other and to know that there are Muslims everywhere deciding to observe Ramadan and connect with Allah in other ways.
  • Many people at the event shared the ways they will practice self-restraint or God consciousness without abstaining from food and drink. Someone talked about the self-neglect she’d been experiencing and her goal this Ramadan was to eat regular meals throughout the day to remind herself she needed and deserved food. Others talked about connecting more consciously and purposefully with family and friends as a way of connecting with God. Someone talked about spending more time alone in reflection and contemplation.

Here are some of the sources we used to help guide the discussion:

“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God” (M.A.S Abdul Haleem translation of chapter 2 verse 183) – We talked about the ways that the practice of religious fasting and the month of Ramadan in the calendar both existed before the Islam of Muhammed (saw)’s era. We noted that we have inherited a practice that has been evolving for millennia. We too are allowed to evolve it. There is an anthropological function to fasting as well as a spiritual one.

Hadith: “Whoever does not give up lying and evil actions, Allah (swt) is not in need of their leaving food and drink” – this hadith highlights the purpose that fasting should serve beyond abstaining from food and drink.

Fasting exists in many traditions. This Buddhist parable of Prince Siddhartha adds dimension to the notion of fasting:

Siddhartha joined monks who were living in the forest and fasting – eating as little as a single grain of rice per day. In their travels, they came to a river one day but Siddhartha was too weak to swim. He was rescued by a woman who brought him to shore and fed him. The monks were horrified that he had broken his fast. But Siddhartha realised his starvation had made him so weak he was unable to function. What help was he to anyone if he fasted to the point of being unable to take care of himself?  

We were very over subscribed for this event which shows how needed these kinds of discussions are. Inclusive Mosque needs regular donors to cover the cost of venue space and hybrid tech to continue running these events. Please consider becoming a regular donor to help us run more halaqas like this.