Words Of Comfort For Those Who Can’t Fast

It has been a good three years since I’ve last fasted Ramadan. Now I know what you’re thinking: GASP! THAT’S HARAM! Why would she do that?! Sit back, and let me explain. 

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November of 2016. An incurable autoimmune disease that can oftentimes be debilitating, MS prevents me from fasting due to the toll it would take on my body and mind. No two people with this illness are alike. Some are thriving, and are still able to fast the entire month of Ramadan, and some just can’t. I’m in the latter category.  

The first year I fasted having this disease, I was in bed almost every single day.  MS causes a considerable amount of fatigue to a person, whether or not they are fasting. We can only exert 30% of the energy of the average person.  If the body is deprived of its daily nutrients and proper hydration, this fatigue intensifies, and renders one useless.

I was unable to read Quran, I could barely leave my bed to perform my daily prayers, and the difficulty that I experienced trying to spend quality time with my family, to make iftar, and to remember Allah together in our ibadah, was unreal. My brain was foggy, and my concentration was off. The mundane daily tasks seemed impossible to attain.  

I had spent thirty plus years of my life fasting every Ramadan, except for the years I was pregnant or nursing, which I made up for later, of course.  When I realized that I could not fast any longer because of my MS, it was one of the hardest things I had to come to terms with.  I consulted with doctors, Islamic scholars, and my family and friends to try to come up with ways to continue to fast when all directions pointed to not fasting.  It was a glaring and painful realization, and one that filled me with tremendous guilt.  How could I, a committed, practicing Muslimah, not perform one of the most fundamental pillars of Islam that had set a strong foundation in my faith? What kind of example was I setting for my daughters?

The sense of camaraderie in joining the millions of fasting Muslims around the world was suddenly and painfully snatched away. I struggled for some time, and to be quite honest, I still do to this day, although the guilt is not as deeply felt as it was three years ago.

In the midst of my internal conflict, and after many prayers of istikhara and much dua, I came across some discoveries that put my heart and soul at ease.  At that point, I knew Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, was guiding me and calming the angst within me. While many Muslims consider Ramadan to be the month of “fasting,” it is known throughout the Quran and Sunnah as the month of many virtues.  To me, Ramadan transformed from the “month of fasting” to the “month of the Quran,” “month of mercy,” “month of charity,” “month of duas and thikr,” “month of pardon and forgiveness,” and the “month of Salah.” This transformation helped me focus on what I could do in Ramadan instead of what I couldn’t do.

With this shift in focus, I increased my Quran reading and prayers.  I began to look for various avenues in which I could give charity, and my escalation of thikr and istighfar shot up to a level I had never before achieved.  All of this highlighted Allah’s infinite mercy in my life.  I learned that if Allah, the Creator Himself, was so merciful in allowing me this exemption from fasting, why couldn’t I be a bit more compassionate and forgiving to myself? My illness and inability to fast because of it were due to Allah’s will and Qadr.  He knows best why this was my lifelong path, and in hindsight, I am starting to recognize these blessings.         

So to those struggling with the guilt of no longer being able to fast the month of Ramadan, know that Allah has designed a different path for you to take, one that is full of other hidden gems intricately constructed just for you. Make this Ramadan the month of perfecting your prayers; or the month of truly understanding and reflecting upon the verses you read in the Quran; make it the one you cook delicious meals to feed the hungry a few times a week; or spend it in thikr and istighfar during the late hours of the night just between you and the Most-Forgiving. However you decide to spend this Ramadan, may Allah make it one that is full of barakah and blessings, and may it be your best one yet!   

Heba Subeh-Hyder is the author of the popular children's book series 'Maymunah's Musings'. You can follow her @maymunahsmusings on Instagram, and on Facebook and find her books here. 

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