Masira’s blog: Ramadhan and Mental Health
As Ramadhan begins, our SMI Programme Manager Masira Hans writes about the holy month and how to look after your mental health during it.
Muslims fast annually during the month of Ramadhan. The rules remain the same, yet, as Muslims we are repeatedly asked the same questions:
“Not even water?!” (no, not even water)
“Do you not get hungry?” (yes, I am starving as I write this blog)
“Do you like doing this?” (sometimes, but definitely more than I like this conversation)
“I bet it is hard?” (of course it is hard – it is supposed to be)
And we are made to roll through the whole spiel once again. This time, I would bid you all to listen, learn, remember and internalise. Do you own research but as always do not be afraid to ask and be genuinely interested in what we immerse ourselves in.
However, I am here to share some of my musings on Ramadhan and mental health.
What is Ramadhan?
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one which is eagerly anticipated despite the expectations of long intermittent fasting where adult Muslims arise before dawn for the early ‘suhoor’ breakfast meal and wait until sunset for the ‘iftar’ meal.
There are some exemptions to fasting – for example, children, those who are mentally or physically unwell, those who are pregnant, those who are breastfeeding, those who are old and those who are menstruating. Although fasting is exempt, these individuals are encouraged to pursue other spiritual acts during Ramadhan.
Other spiritual acts include: giving more to charity, pondering upon your character, practicing mindfulness, practicing restraint, and reflecting upon one’s spiritual footprint on the world.
While this month does also help Muslims to empathise with those that are less fortunate, the ultimate aim for Muslims through fasting is to become closer to God and submit ourselves to a higher deity. Religiously we are told we would be rewarded for this selfless act by God alone, something which I find to be both comforting and mysterious at the same time.
Ramadhan and Spirituality
The truth is, although Ramadhan can be a poignant and beautiful month, and utilising spirituality in one’s care can be amazing, for those with mental ill health it can be a very different story.
Thinking practically, for those individuals who require a routine to make their days easier, or for those who need a certain amount of sleep to feel natural, how hard must Ramadhan be for them?
Over the years, with people I have been fortunate enough to support, they have found Ramadhan has had detrimental effects. They have found it difficult to conjoin religion and spirituality.
I have found people to internalise their guilt and feel they are not worthy or loved enough as they have been inflicted with a mental illness and as such, unable to fast or engage in certain acts of worship. They are often told there is something lacking within them which results in how they are.
This is something I have always struggled with as I find all religions speak of care, compassion and empathy, so perhaps ill mental health is actually a sign we are much closer to our religion and humanity?
Personally, I believe thumbing prayer beads itself should not reflect how religious we are, and our mental health need not necessarily be a reflection of our faith.
A true sign of faith is sitting with those who are struggling and how much we do to support and help them.
Ramadhan for me
For many years now Ramadhan for me has been a spiritual retreat, where I attempt to forego all distractions and focus only upon the character I have. I try to reject the notion of gluttony and futile speech and interaction within Ramadhan. I attempt to reflect within, understand my impact on the world and take actions to set goals for the future.
Nonetheless, I am not ashamed to share how I, a mental health practitioner, a severe mental illness programme manager, has also struggled with my mental health in Ramadhan. I have spiraled in the past and stumbled into some dark places. Maybe it was the dehydration, the exhaustion or even the pressure of how many acts of worship I should engage in. Maybe it was due to lack of sleep, lack of food or simply due to my excessive attempts to soften my heart, become humble and truly submit to a higher deity. Whatever the reasoning may be, I find myself further emotional in Ramadhan and have to work harder to ensure I am taking care of myself in a holistic manner. Inner reflection and healing is no small feat and we must not treat it as such either.
How to protect your mental health during Ramadhan
One piece of knowledge, I attempt to find comfort in, is how the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) himself who was the closest to God and the pinnacle of spirituality experienced periods of great depression due to very normal life stressors such as bereavement, ostracisation, and poverty (among others).
This for me, adds weight to the fact that we cannot simply ‘Pray away the sadness’. We cannot pray to rid ourselves of feelings of clinical depression, psychosis, or an eating disorder. Prayer and spirituality although a fantastic tool, is not the only clutch we can utilise to ensure wellbeing. We must be patient with ourselves, to not compare our religiousness with others and learn to be content with our own efforts. Push yourself yes, but learn when you must rest.
I also suggest to remain honest about how you are feeling, and try to embrace the change for one month and utilise the quiet towards a higher version of yourself.
Last but not least, people are here to support you. Services are here to support you and we will all muddle through. Together.
I wish you all a peaceful Ramadhan and a period of love, care and compassion.
Posted on: 4th April 2022