I arrived at my destination a little later than intended. As I walked into the building, registration quickly pointed me towards the meet-up. And for the first time since I had converted, I was surrounded by, not only friendly faces, but fellow Queer Muslims.
I had taken the train from the town I live in, to the centre of Manchester. From there I navigated toward my goal; a pre-Ramadan Queer Muslim meet-up. This is hot off the heels of an essay I published on my professor’s blog about trauma and Islam. Clearly I knew my angle and what I’d talk about; disability and Ramadan. Therein I spoke about the challenges of being not only disabled but an isolated Muslim. It’s from this experience I want to write this essay you’re reading now.
An honest, truthful, and frank discussion about disability, specifically mental health & disorders, and Ramadan.
Content warnings for; dissociation, disorganised eating, trauma disorders, and trauma as a topic.
I have a diagnosis of C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which I got when I was ~20, due to childhood trauma, and epilepsy which I was diagnosed with when I was a young teenager. However recently, I feel like this C-PTSD diagnosis is not accurate. Again, check the essay about Islam & Trauma for more information about this.
Let me be blunt, fasting is difficult. Even for people who have no disability, fasting is difficult. It’s supposed to take something that requires extra effort. That’s indeed why Allah makes clear so many exceptions for fasting during Ramadan. It’s supposed to impose and extra difficulty onto our comfy lives that makes us appreciative; appreciate what Allah has given to us and to be closer to Allah.
Obviously, our lives are not necessarily comfortable.
For me, food has always been an unhealthy coping mechanism. When I’m overwhelmed, or especially dissociated, I learnt growing up that overeating sometimes helped with this. It replaced my dissociated self with a content one, or perhaps, a manic one (after consuming much chocolate as a teenager).
Naturally, my connection to food is a tenuous one. A to-and-fro. On one hand, I must eat to survive, on the other overeating is unhealthy, yet helps sate my dissociation. There’s a balance that must be maintained in order for healthy eating; a balance I’ve rarely been able to achieve.
I’m fortunate to be much lighter than I have been at my heaviest, alhamdulillah. But I have gained weight over the last 2-3 years. Due in no part to extremely stressful and traumatic experiences. Since those events, I’ve found it nigh impossible to get my eating back under control.
So this, combined with the dissociation, and also the pre-existing disorganised eating, creates a complicated relationship with Ramadan.
2021, I, like almost everyone, was deep into lockdown. Though for me, it was a relatively painless experience. I graduated during lockdown, finished my dissertation online through lockdown, and I got my first career job during lockdown. No, instead, my greatest challenge would come with The Holiest Month. The year prior, before I took shahada, I had quasi-attempted Ramadan; I had misinterpreted what was meant by a fast and kept drinking. So this year, 2021, would be my first true shot at it.
Roughly 6 days into Ramadan. I wake for my suhoor, a hefty bowl of porridge and some fruit, alongside a large bottle of water. I message my partner, “I’m awake.”
“Awake”, however, is a generous way to describe my shape. I was extremely tired, barely able to focus on my prayers. Then I dragged myself back into bed. I tossed and turned, my eyes were heavy but unable to close. Lo, as I glared at my phone yet again, 04:45 had turned to 05:45 without any sign of sleep. Eventually, I relent. Get up. Open my work laptop. And log in.
Ramadan, by its nature, disrupts the regular flow of the day. This, I interpret, is by design, Allah designed the rotation of the Moon, Earth, and the entire universe. So She knew that Ramadan would come with shifting fasting times throughout the month. This movement within The Holy Month makes it impossible to have two identical days, thus giving us the opportunity to reflect on and engage with the status quo of our lives.
Allah through the Qur’an constantly challenges us to betterment, and this can only be achieved through re-thinking the norm.
38:3 How many a generation have We destroyed before them. They called out when it was far too late.
38:4 They were surprised that a warner has come to them from among themselves. The ingrates said, “This is a magician, a liar.”
38:5 “Has he made the gods into One god? This is indeed a strange thing!”
38:6 The leaders among them went out: “Walk away, and remain patient to your gods. This thing can be turned back.”
38:7 “We never heard of this from the people before us. This is but an innovation.”
38:8 “Has the remembrance been sent down to him, from between all of us!” Indeed, they are doubtful of My reminder. They have not yet tasted My retribution.Yuksel, Edip. Quran: a Reformist Translation (Koran, Kuran in Modern English) (p. 293). Brainbow Press. Kindle Edition.
The Qur’an, as shown in the ayah above, warns us about becoming stale in our ways. We’re in a constant state of change, whether that be emotionally, culturally, socially, and/or physically. As such, Allah via the Qur’an is challenging us; change. See our change, encourage our change and growth.
Fundamentally, change is scary. The Qur’an is littered with stories of people who, ruined by fear, were ultimately their own undoing. We must be open to change and new ideas, for ourselves and to appreciate as many of Allah’s signs as possible. For we’re not perfect, by design, and a part of this life is recognising what we need to change within ourselves, and within society, in the direction of justice.
Each day of Ramadan greets us with innovation, change, and we should embrace that. This is The Holy Month, when our connection with Allah is at the forefront, and with Their help we can achieve real positive change.
However, with this designed change creates problems. Especially for people with disabilities. Allah through the Qur’an lays out clear, and generous, exceptions to fasting. Namely that exception of being exempt due to illness.
Allah, fundamentally, does not need anything from us. We, mere humans, are in constant need of Allah and Allah’s guiding hand. Yet don’t I deserve the right to fast Ramadan? Disabled I may be, but I deserve to experience that closeness with Allah.
Programming is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Like speaking English, it’s something I don’t need to think about. Where others see lines of code; I see relationships between data, and the manipulation required for them. However, at 10:20, the Java I have been writing has lost all meaning.
Like the Meroitic script of the Kingdom of Kush, the once deeply meaningful text has since had its reason lost to time. Much effort was going in to attempting to read the code. However much I tried to focused my mind, it failed to move beyond the 1st gear.
I’ve never been able to stick to a routine. I constantly find myself in a state of exhaustion, but unable to sleep. My trauma disorder eats away at all my mental energy; like oxygen to copper, the symptoms corrodes away at my infrastructure. I, Atlas, damned to hold up this world for my sins.
4:132 To God is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; and God is enough as a Caretaker.Yuksel, Edip. Quran: a Reformist Translation (Koran, Kuran in Modern English) (p. 98). Brainbow Press. Kindle Edition.
Yet everything on Earth and in the heavens belong to Allah. So there is meaning in a Ramadan for people like me. People for who the fast, disruption, and obligations add so much on to their already heavy shoulders.
To understand what Allah is teaching me, I turn to my original thoughts; Ramadan is about change and appreciation. Change can take many forms, if, for others, the disruption to their status quo is that change. Perhaps my change will be routine.
Routine is, despite how poorly I keep to mine, vital for those with disabilities. This is what I am going to change this Ramadan, insha’Allah, with Allah’s help. Specifically around bed times, this Ramadan I am going to create a schedule and routine. I will probably fall out of it here and there, but that’s okay. So long as I try towards betterment, that’s all that can be asked of me.
Though despite my meditation here, I’m still dissatisfied; dissatisfied with this limitation. This ambivalence is disturbing and unpleasant but, insha’Allah, this Ramadan it will fade. I will learn my own Ramadan, my own tradition, my own way of expressing my faith.
While others will be fasting, I will be trying to look after myself. Try to unwind, try to perform healthy self-care. I will be giving up take-aways, something I am too reliant on, I will be trying to pray more when I can, and I want to write dua. Whilst I may be limited by this body and this brain, my mind is a wonderful tool of expression. It is a gift, and I want to use it this Ramadan.
For the first hour and a half, I rarely spoke. Instead absorbing the words of my fellow Muslims and absorbing what they had to say. At some point, I knew I’d have to talk about my Ramadan experiences.
“I look at Ramadan, and I think; what is Allah trying to teach me? I am disabled, severely so. And I’m proud. Yet what does the Qur’an start with? Bismillah, irrahman, irraheem. The Most Gracious, The Most Compassionate.
The Most Compassionate doesn’t want me to suffer, They do not need anything from me. So why would I suffer? It’s not for my betterment. No, instead, Allah is telling me to be humble. That I need to accept my humanly limits. I’m not responsible for my disability. Allah loves me and I love Allah in return. We all deserve to have the holiest Ramadan.”
O’ The Most Knowledgeable, if thought were a needle and language the thread. Then by Your grace is creation in a quilt of expression and meaning. As Your Guiding Quilt lay over mankind, it actions within us the knitting of our understanding. With You, we may achieve the most clean of edges and most dense of weaving, that we may cover our children and warm them from the chill of the night. Ameen.
Anybody Can Heal.