4 Muslim women on being unable to fast during Ramadan

Fasting is synonymous with Ramadan, but what is it like for women who are exempt from not eating and drinking for health and lifestyle reasons? Stylist speaks to four women about the unexpected beauty of Ramadan without fasting. 

There’s something fascinating about the concept of fasting during Ramadan: hundreds of millions of people united in their choice to abstain from food and drink during a month of sacrifice and community. But, what if you’re unable to fast? 

The popular image of Ramadan often eclipses the very real experience of those who cannot fast, no matter how much they might like to.

For people who deal with certain chronic illnesses, disabilities or mental health conditions, fasting from dawn until dusk is not always possible. Being pregnant or breastfeeding also temporarily prevents someone from fasting.

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Islam places huge importance on preserving wellbeing, so if fasting threatens someone’s health they are not expected to participate. Depending on each person’s unique circumstance, the religious exemption from fasting might be short- or long-term.

But, those who aren’t able to fast can struggle. It can be isolating not to be able to take part in such a communal experience and many worry about being less connected to their faith. But, being unable to fast to prioritise your health is its own experience of resilience and sacrifice.

The Ramadan experiences of those who cannot fast are often overlooked. So, Stylist spoke to four Muslim women about the uniquely beautiful ways they find community and spirituality when they are unable to fast.  

Islam places huge importance on preserving wellbeing, so if fasting threatens someone’s health they are not expected to participate.

“It’s very difficult to see others around you making Ramadan goals”

Afifa, 25, is a microfluidics engineer and art content creator. She is unable to fast this Ramadan while she breastfeeds her baby. 

“I have been feeling internal guilt about not being able to fast. I felt this last year due to my pregnancy and I knew this Ramadan I would not be able to do much as I nurse my baby. 

I’ve tried to keep my expectations of what I’ll be able to do this year low — focusing on praying my full daily prayers on time and reciting Quran. But, by the third day this Ramadan, I started to feel frustrated. I had to re-evaluate and remind myself that I’m serving my baby around the clock.

It’s very difficult to see others around you — especially with social media — making Ramadan goals, attending iftaars and tarawih prayers and decorating. With a baby, I need to be mindful of her needs, her sleep schedule and feedings and constantly prioritise them over my wants. Caring for her requires so much patience, self-control and compassion — but I’m hopeful this will be rewarded just as fasting would, if not more.” 

The Ramadan experiences of those who cannot fast are often overlooked.

“I’ve learned that Ramadan doesn’t only revolve around fasting”

Miss Ali, 33, is an Islamic studies teacher who has chrons disease and anaemia.

“As someone who struggles with crohn’s disease and anaemia, it has been difficult and challenging to watch family and friends fast during Ramadan while I cannot. Over time, I learned that Ramadan doesn’t only revolve around fasting.

There is more to it. I make sure I spend more time improving my relationship with the Quran, which is very rewarding.

I try to fast when my body allows me to; when it is impossible, instead of feeling disheartened, I use my days to pray and offer iftar to my family and friends. 

There is just so much more to talk about apart from ‘Are you fasting?’ Yes, fasting is an essence of Ramadan, but it’s not the only thing. Even the people fasting are encouraged to do good deeds, spend more time praying and avoid wasteful acts or arguing. It is not about just staying hungry and thirsty.” 

I put up decorations to ‘feel Ramadan’.

“If you’re not fasting in a non-Islamic country it’s difficult to ‘feel Ramadan’”

Nouma, 39, is a social worker who has a neuromuscular condition that means she is not able to fast. 

“My disability started when I was two years old — it’s a neuromuscular condition that changes and progresses with time. It took me two or three years to come to peace with my new norm and not being able to fast.

Fasting is certainly a big, big part of Ramadan. But I was seeing it as almost the only aspect of Ramadan.   

Eventually, I started to feel there is more than just not eating and drinking. 

This year I put up decorations because if you’re not fasting in a non-Islamic country, it’s very difficult to ‘feel Ramadan’. So I try to play certain nasheeds [hymns] and change my environment a little bit to remind me.

I enjoy family gatherings during Ramadan. Usually, people have different schedules, but with Ramadan we get together more. I also love tarawih very much, even if most of the time I’m doing it at home.”  


“At work, there are people who ask me why I am not fasting”

Aisha, 22, is unable to fast due to health and lifestyle reasons. 

“When I am unable to fast, I still get up for suhoor [the dawn meal] and help prepare food for my family. I also increase my daily adkhaar [remembrances], listen to Islamic lectures and learn more about Islam through reading books.

I know I might not be the only one to experience a ‘spiritual low’ when I am unable to fast during this holy month. Fortunately, my family has never given me a hard time when I am unable to fast, but at work, there are Muslims who openly ask me why am I not fasting out of curiosity.

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Some things I enjoy about this month are feeding the community and my neighbours. Giving out food packages to our fellow Muslims when they are fasting gives me great joy. Preparing dinner with my husband and eating together also allows me to really appreciate the small moments we have together.” 

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