Phycological and emotional challenges faced when observing Ramadan in the western world.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month of fasting and praying for all Muslims around the world. Muslims follow the Islamic calendar to see what time and when they should start fasting and break their fast. During this holy month you are not allowed to eat or drink between dawn and sunset. Every year the month of Ramadan falls under a different year, based on the cycles of the moon lunar calendar. This year Ramadan started on Thursday 23rd March 2023. Each year that passes it roughly begins 10 days earlier, eventually falling in the winter months too. During the summer the days are much longer so you fast for longer however during the shorter winter days, you break your fast much earlier in the day. Fasting is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam and a very holy month. The teachings of Islam empower and guide an individual to achieve inner peace and tranquillity. Ramadan helps people self-reflect through prayer, good deeds and spending time with loved ones.
All adults are required to fast except for those who are unwell. Children, pregnant women, women on their period and those who are travelling are also not required to fast. There is the option to fast the days you miss after you feel better in your own time after Ramadan. At the end of Ramadan there is a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, on this day the new moon is seen in the sky and the end of fasting is celebrated.
During this month, families are bought closer together. The most amazing traditional foods are cooked and the dinner table is set up to break your fast with your family. You break your fast with a date and a prayer of gratitude before you begin to eat. The tradition of breaking your fast with a date is sacred as the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) did the same. It brings you closer to Allah and is purifying. Dates control excessive eating after Iftar and have a lot of nutritional benefits.
Challenges and benefits faced
There is no doubt that fasting for hours without preparing your body may initially be difficult. You may experience dehydration, muscle and fat loss, weakness, dizziness, and get headaches. Your mood may be low, and you may get irritated more easily however, there are many benefits as well as difficulties investigated.
It is particularly tough for children who are in school and have exams, it can take a toll on your education, and you may not have enough energy to revise or study. It can also be daunting to see others around you eating normally and really test your self-control. In an analytical case study conducted in 2013, it was found that the stress and depression levels were significantly reduced after fasting.
It is important to note that, previous fasting experience is an important factor to consider. You may have negative psychological states such as more stress and a greater appetite. From this we can find that, the more you fast the easier it gets.
Hussin et al. found that those who fasted enhanced their mood and significantly decreased levels of tension, stress and anger compared to the control group. Particularly amongst the elderly, it found to increase their quality of life by helping their chronic pain, cardiovascular system, and brain. Fasting during Ramadan works in the same way as intermittent fasting, further research found that it has the same benefits as exercise. Fasting during Ramadan can also allow individuals to have more compassion and empathy, improving their mental well-being.
The effect of fasting during Ramadan and mental health needs more scientific research however from what we have found , there are both negative and positive outcomes based on your current and past health problems, your lifestyle and mental state. Muslims try keep a positive mindset during this time and do the best they can to pray and be the best versions of themselves. Due to this mindset, a lot of individuals don’t have difficulties and if anything are motivated and tested by their own limits.
Written by Maryam Fazalzadeha