Ramadan with an eating disorder.
This week, we've passed the column baton over to our wonderful listener, Rahma El Sayed. You might know Rahma's name from our Facebook group, where she starts some searing conversations on everything from cultural appropriation, MAFS and burn out. On Sunday, a quarter of the world's population began observing Ramadan. So, we asked Rahma to write about her complex relationship with this time of year. This is what she had to say...
As the days get colder, and we begin to prepare for the chilly mornings, my family along with millions of Muslim families around the world are getting ready to observe Ramadan.
As a Muslim girl, I have been observing Ramadan from the ripe age of six. It was never because my parents ever forced me, but because it always excited me. I was determined to start it as soon as I could. Growing up, Ramadan was always an amazing time of year. After all, I got to connect more with my religion.
So, how exactly does Ramadan work?
The ninth month of the Islamic year, Ramadan is considered to be our holiest month and while there are constantly different variations on why we fast, religiously it is to commemorate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad (a prophet [peace be upon him]).
During this time, from sunrise to sunset we are required to fast from food and liquids, including water. It doesn't just stop there, though. We are also to abstain from sinful behaviour – that means no sex, no smoking, no cursing, no bitching. We undertake this for 29-30 days every year.
Obviously, there are exceptions to fasting – those who are elderly, ill, pregnant, breastfeeding, travelling, and even menstruating are exempt from fasting. (Yep, you read that right, we ladies are exempt from fasting when we have our periods but we do have to make up the days afterwards.)
I remember, as a kid, coming home from school, doing my homework, listening to my dad read the Quran and then help cooking with my mum. However, the older I got, the more anxious I became and the less exciting Ramadan became for me. Life after high school changed dramatically; I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and began developing disordered eating habits.
By the time I was 20, my relationship with Ramadan became far more complex. Working in the media, you don’t see a lot of Muslims in the industry. My first media agency didn’t get it - I would continue to work long hours often not being able to break my fast on time and often get home pretty late.
I would miss Iftar with my family. No longer would I listen to my parents read the Quran, no longer would I be there to help my mum prepare food. Slowly, I started to lose touch with Ramadan and the connection it brought with my religion. As the years passed, the harder I worked, the more anxious I would become and the stronger my disordered eating habits would grow.
Through this time, Ramadan stopped being the holy month for me.
I would wake up, have a coffee and go to the gym for a two-hour workout without food or water. I would keep fasting until I got home late in the evening and everyone had eaten. There, my mum would leave a plate waiting for me, but I would take two bites, put it away and go to bed.
I would repeat this cycle for 29 days.
Last year, though, the cycle didn’t break at 29 days like it did the years before. I kept it going for months and months, the fasting spiralling into an eating disorder.
While it hasn’t been an easy recovery, I am doing better than I was before and I hope one day, I get to fall in love with Ramadan again and connect to it the way I did as a child. I’m anxious about fasting again but hopeful as my family and my friends are more aware. While I won’t be home in time to eat with my family, I’ve committed to leaving work at a more reasonable time and my little brother will be waking up with me so we can eat Suhoor together.
I wish everyone observing Ramadan this year a peaceful month, and may all your prayers be answered. To those who aren’t but know people who will, just make sure you are there for them. Even if it’s offering a glass of water when it’s time to break their fast or eating with them when they might not be able to go home and eat with their families. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, too!
Just make sure you save us a slice of birthday cake - we can eat it later.