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After a health setback a few years ago, I was under medical instructions not to fast for Ramadan. In the years since, I kept thinking “maybe I can fast next year.” I wrote about this in 2016. It is now 2018 and it doesn’t look like I will be fasting again any time soon. Although I mention it in my 2016 post, the medical reasoning behind my not fasting isn’t relevant to this post (and you shouldn’t EVER ask people who aren’t fasting for their receipts anyway); what is relevant is that not fasting is yet another symptom of the disconnect I feel with the Muslim community.
So every Ramadan for the past few years, I thought that “next year“ would be the year I finally fixed my life— that I would get to fast and have iftar with someone. I kept hoping that my personal life and my health would be in order.
Last year, I was very angry at Ramadan. I was mad at being alone, I was tired of being low-key just sick enough not to fast, I was jealous of my friends who lived in Muslim countries, I was mad at everyone. I hated Ramadan so much last year, I had a crisis of faith I still haven’t totally risen above. I blew up some close friendships, and generally hovered within inches of a mental breakdown. There’s a sense of injustice I feel in my personal life that Ramadan exacerbates because it brings my two deepest hurts to the forefront— my health and my solitude.
I don’t have the emotional capital to sustain that kind of anger this year. I’m emotionally and physically tired. So this year I decided to stop wondering about next year. Maybe my health and personal life are things that cannot be fixed. Maybe it is time to dream new dreams. Maybe my present is the new normal. Which means, if a Ramadan sick and alone is my new normal, what does that look like? What can that look like? Because, after all, once I accept a situation, that gives me power and agency to make decisions about what I want my life to look like. Hasn’t it somehow been a waste of time to keep hoping for a perfect life next Ramadan? What if this Ramadan is all there is?
At the same time, I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Ramadan experiences vary wildly according to gender in our communities, and I don’t miss for a second the extra chores I had just a few short years ago. I remember working a twelve hour day as a paralegal and coming home with people waiting for me to cook dinner. For every time I am upset I don’t have an iftar to go to or someone to cook for, there’s another woman trying to hold it together and do it all. I know there are surely people, especially women, who would trade lives with today’s me in a second, and I have to count my own blessings.
This year is the Ramadan I stop waiting for next year. I have thirty days to decide what my new normal is going to look like. Normally, this would be the point in a Ramadan post where people drop advice bombs about all the things you can do that don’t involve fasting. But you know what? This year I don’t have any of the answers about how to “do Ramadan”, and that’s ok. Changing my mindset has opened up so many possibilities to me- is there another part of the Qu’ran I want to learn? A class I want to go to? Do I want to make an iftar for people? My physical and mental limitations mean I still can’t dream too big— I have to do things this year in a spirit of self-care.
That said, I do have a couple pieces of advice on how NOT to do Ramadan. First, my anger last year at Ramadan only hurt me. Even though in a lot of ways I was dealt a crappy hand and am a victim of circumstance, I still had the choice to not be angry, and I blew it. This year I won’t be angry. Second, I needed to learn that at the end of the day, Ramadan is about me. It isn’t up to my Muslim friends to include me, and it isn’t their fault if they can’t be what I want them to be. My faith is about being the type of Muslim—or not— that I want to be, trying different things, and being willing to change my mind if I try something once and don’t like it. I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for other people to come to me or to include me. I have the power this year to choose to walk away from people or situations that don’t help me in my deen, and I also have the power to change my mind about what I want Ramadan to be.