I became Muslim in the early months of 2009. The last time I was able to fast for Ramadan was 2011. Around that time I was diagnosed with severe intestinal problems. Missing a meal, stress, a change in schedule, would inflame my intestines so bad, I usually ended up in the ER. Afterwards, I would be bedridden for at least three days. After I was able to manage that condition came two pregnancies back to back, breastfeeding, and now a new condition that prevents me from fasting. I remember after being diagnose in 2011 when Ramadan came around. I was devastated. I recall crying on my husband’s shoulder when everyone else was fasting and I couldn’t. He told me then, “You have an excuse, it’s ok”. But it wasn’t ok. I was so hyper conscious of how other Muslims viewed me. When people would come up and ask me “Sister, why aren’t you fasting”, I would get really upset. I remember hiding whenever it was time to eat. When I would be home with my husband in our tiny one bedroom apartment; I would take my food into the bedroom as to not upset him. He would yell from the living room, “You don’t have to do that!”. Part of me knew I didn’t have too, but there was so much shame and sadness.
That shame I was feeling didn’t start when I had to stop fasting completely due to my illness. It was there even when I did fast. When I would have my period; I had to become so secretive of something that happens to most women naturally. I don’t even remember when the shame of having my period during Ramadan even set in. Suddenly, something that never really bothered me became so shameful. Looking back on it, I am not surprised. Society at large treats menstrual cycles as something shameful and taboo. Commercials for pads and tampons are always about discretion and how well you can hide that you are on your period. Last year a woman posted an image on Instagram with period blood on her sweatpants and Instagram instantly removed the image. They will leave up videos of violence and sex indefinitely, but period blood was removed within a matter of minutes. Back when I was fasting I remember hearing brothers say things to sisters about having to be discreet when they are eating. As to not disturb the brothers who were still fasting. I’ve seen women have to take their food to bathrooms and stairwells because they were so careful as to not disrupt any men in the area.
Now that some time has passed and I know better; I am the number one advocate for telling people not to fast. That doesn’t mean I am telling just anyone to abandon their fasts. But I am vocal advocate for both men and women with medical exemptions or conditions like their period to go ahead and take the mercy that Allah has given you. Allah has said in the Quran “O you who believe! Make not unlawful the Tayyibaat (all that is good as regards foods, things, deeds, beliefs, persons) which Allah has made lawful to you, and transgress not. Verily, Allah does not like the transgressors” [al-Maa’idah 5:67] . It is lawful for those who are suffering a hardship to not fast. This includes: sickness, weakness, insufficiency, abundance, traveling, indecisiveness, and fear. It also includes: pregnancy, nursing, menstruation and irregular vaginal blood flow [menorrhagia]. Therefore, if Allah has made it lawful for you to not fast, DON’T!
And to those who, like me, are suffering with a condition that is unseen or misunderstood. Such as anorexia, bulimia, any other body disorder or mental condition know your condition is valid. I know often times these conditions carry their own shame. People do not understand or care too. Know that your condition is real and if you cannot fast, then you are excused as well. Do not let people tell you, “ Oh my uncles, wife, daughter has that and she fasts all the time”. One person’s condition is not another. How one person deals with a situation does not mean that that is how everyone responds.
And to my brothers (and a few of you sisters). You would think in 2017 I wouldn’t have to say this. Stop shaming sisters for having their periods and being able to eat while you fast. That shaming goes directly against Allah. How dare you try and tell a sister she is “rubbing it in you face” while she eats. If you can’t be around her when she eats, then maybe you should find another place to be. Or kindly tell her that you’re struggling right now and would she mind moving. Don’t berate her, don’t shame her. I’m tired of having to have that conversation with men who think they can somehow shame women who are not obligated to fast. I need people to do better. As Muslims we should be showing mercy to one another during Ramadan. Not breaking them down. If you see someone not fasting, make dua’a for them. They are probably suffering on multiple levels. Their conditions that makes them unable to fast, and the deep feeling of loss that they cannot fast alongside their fellow Muslims. If you know someone who shouldn’t be fasting because of a condition. Let them know it’s alright. Be a comfort to them and not a burden. And maybe we can all have a better Ramadan.