Ramadan is the holy month in which Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset, and where all possible distractions – such as music, excess entertainment, food, and drink – should be removed to focus on what is most important: one’s relationship with God. Not only is Ramadan often heralded as the best time of the year for Muslims, it is also one of the few parts widely acknowledged by non-Muslims. It must be emphasised, however, that the month of Ramadan should not be limited to a one-size-fits-all experience.
I sit here writing this midway through the 22nd day of fasting, exhausted and unmotivated. For most Muslims, the ability to connect with God during this holy time is highly appealing. But in my experience, fasting without this underlying motivation is just starving yourself. Being raised within Islam but equally having spent my life in the UK, I have struggled with my faith many times before, but never so much as in the lead up to this year’s Ramadan. It’s almost exclusionary seeing everyone’s excitement for the month as they decorate the houses and plan hosting the evening meal for the family while I feel no connection to it at all. I’ve struggled to keep up with my prayers, or read any Qur’an at all. Dedicating any time to Islam is starting to feel futile. Perhaps selfishly, I wait for a time where people’s faith is less overt, and people expect the overtness of your faith less too. I can’t help but feel like a fraud whenever I participate in any aspect of Ramadan, yet a failure whenever I don’t.
Practising Muslims often describe their religion as a lifestyle rather than a practice. Never is this clearer than within the month of Ramadan, and the subsequent holiday of Eid. As Ramadan rolls on, Muslims heighten their practice of Islam and integrate their belief into the very fabric of their lives. Any participation in Ramadan on my part lacks such belief and commitment; it’s almost as if I’m lying.
It feels ludicrous to fast and take part in other acts of worship when my connection to faith is merely familial. Not participating, however, is somehow equally problematic. If a Muslim doesn’t engage with Ramadan, then it is clear to all – believers and non-believers alike – that they are ‘failing’ in their faith. Dealing with the strength of your belief is an extremely personal experience, and Ramadan brings everyone’s individual faith to the forefront of public consciousness.
There was no greater shame, for me, than to have people realise that something I had begun to dedicate my life to no longer held such significance. Ramadan only intensified these feelings of failure. Moreover, the comparison between previous years’ Ramadan and this years’ was too distinct a loss. The anticipation and love I felt for this month has diminished and instead is comparable to a chore. Having such an intense experience of loss and failure made apparent to both family and friends made this Ramadan unbearable, and I yearned for its end the way I had previously anticipated its arrival.
Despite this, there is much I love about Ramadan, such as the practice of giving plenty of charity, or making more of an effort with family and friends. Cooking for people is something I enjoy immensely, and it is only appreciated more within this month. But a core tenet of Ramadan is seeking to develop one’s faith, something I haven’t done and do not particularly desire to do. As a result, I have found that this month can feel rather lonely. And this is only my experience; I do not begin to explore the experiences of people with no family or no Islamic community around them, or people with eating disorders who may struggle more during this month, for example.
Oddly, there is a greater popular awareness of religious denominations and variations within the two other Abrahamic faiths. The sects of Islam, however, are less acknowledged. This can mean that the nuances of Islamic life are lost in public perception, and a simplified understanding of Muslims and their beliefs are generally held. Ramadan is a personal journey, so the experience of one person will likely never be the same as the experience of another. I understand that many people had a wonderful month in terms of worship and self-betterment, and I wish them a blessed Ramadan and Eid. However, I personally could not wait for it to end so that constantly maintaining a façade of piety and faith would end with it. As awareness of Islamic practices grows, it is important to realise that the experiences of Muslims are as diverse and varied as the number of people within the faith itself, and that Ramadan is not only a physical struggle, but also a spiritual one.