Reflections

It’s Ramadan! But I can’t fast…

Ramadan has always been one of my favourite times of the year. I love the community feel and how much I can connect with Allah. Though for the past couple years, due to my long term health conditions, it’s no longer possible for me to fast. I have medication I need to take regularly and not taking it means my health can rapidly deteriorate.

So for last couple years are the first time since I started fasting as a kid, I cannot keep these or any fasts. And coming to terms with that, saying it has been difficult, is putting it mildly. I so desperately wanted to be able to fast the first year the doctors advised against it that I did actually try fasting despite what they said. And yes, it took me weeks to recover from fasting for those first two days. And not only that, but it affected my whole Ramadan.

I felt like something I love was being snatched away from me. I felt isolated, lonely and upset. I even felt ashamed that I can’t fast. It was a horrible mix of emotions and I really struggled with it. I holed myself away from people to save myself the embarrassment of having to say that I cannot fast. Because I don’t look ill, you can’t see my pain or health problems like you can see a broken bone. And people told me “i’m too young to be this ill” it made me doubt whether I actually was unwell enough to be exempt from fasting.

But this will be the third year in which I can’t fast and I feel like I am finally coming to terms with it and accepting that it’s okay. That the fact that I am exempt from fasting is a mercy from Allah, He has allowed me to not fast as it would be detrimental to my health but as I would fast if I was healthy and able, I will still get the reward for fasting inshaAllah.

Being able to take my medication regularly and eat means my body won’t shut down and i won’t be in agonising pain so that I can do other acts of worship. I can pray during the day and pray taraweeh at night even if it’s at home. I can go to the masjid when they have talks going on. It means I am not struggling to even get myself out of bed so I can make the most of this month by doing all other things. I can read Quran, study tafsir and learn some new supplications.

I know it’s still something not really discussed in Muslim circles, I get people asking if I’m really unable to fast as if I’m making excuses to avoid it. I get stared at (by men mostly) if they see me eat of drink during the day. But I do think it’s getting better. I remember it being a lot worse when I was younger so I am hopeful that people will realise that actually not everyone can fast for a number of reasons from health to periods.

It can make people like me feel really self conscious about eating in public even though it may be necessary for us, I need to eat something before I take my tablets so I have no choice. I’ve felt isolated before because I struggle with the way people stare so I won’t go out but now I’m learning that I have nothing to be ashamed of. So please if you see someone eating in Ramadan don’t make them uncomfortable they most likely have a legitimate reason for not fasting.

I had never imagined that one day I would not be able to fast, not while I was young. I may be able to fast again one day, it really depends on my health but I plan to make the most of the month in whatever way possible.

Book Events, Muslim Shelf Space, Reflections

Meeting Yasmin Mogahed

Recently I attended a class by Yasmin Mogahed. She has come to the UK and has been teaching classes on various topics.

For those that don’t know who she is, she is an Islamic teacher and author, she has a degree in psychology and a masters in journalism. And she has been one of the most influential role models in my life for the past 10 years.

Her book is one that helped me through some really difficult times in my life and I try to attend her classes whenever she comes to the UK.

And for those who want to read her books, her first book is called Reclaim Your Heart and her more recent one is called Love and Happiness and I highly recommend them both!

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So I wanted to share what she spoke about in her class, and I know this isn’t like my usual posts but it’s an important part of my life and I want to share it with you all.

The topic was about dealing with hardships and difficulties in our life and the Islamic perspective of getting through them and healing and recovering from them. It’s a topic that we can all relate to so I was looking forward to listening.

This will be an extremely condensed version of her class because there is no way to actually write everything here, it would far too long!

Her class was based on this verse from the Quran:

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” Quran (2:155)

She spoke about how Allah tells us he will test us. He will test in different things. The types of challenges we will be tested with are anxiety/fear, hunger and loss.

All of this is not to say that we should hate this world but that we should not be completely attached to it.

This world is not supposed to be perfect and if you expect perfection then you will inevitably be disappointed. That if we expect perfection from the creation, we will continue to suffer until we realise that perfection is only in Allah. One of the easiest ways to understand this is to think about the happiest moments of our life and even then, you can see that not everything was perfect.

She spoke about how we put such high standards on ourselves and those around us that we don’t allow ourselves to be human. To be human, is to be imperfect.

This can lead us to despair and hopelessness and this what the shaytan uses to get to us. But the design of Allah is to keep going even when we make mistakes.

In times of difficulty we should be patient but that doesn’t mean we bottle up all our feelings. We can feel sad that we are going through a difficult time. It’s a human emotion and even the prophet’s felt sadness. Like Prophet Yaqub (as) when he thought he lost his son forever and Prophet Muhammad (saw) when his wife, Khadijah (ra), passed away.

In today’s society we use the word sabr to tell people to be patient but what we are really saying, is be numb, do not show your emotions, act like everything is fine. But this means the person is unable to heal and move on with their life. They will continue to suffer.

She spoke about how we need to be real and honest with ourselves and address the wounds. So that we don’t despair in the mercy of Allah. That we need to acknowledge it, address it, treat it and we have to have hope in the mercy of Allah.

Grief needs to be processed and that does not mean we are not patient. Sabr isn’t to supress your emotions. Emotions don’t just disappear and if we supress it, then it can become bigger. Not only that but our whole body is connected so emotional distress, when not properly addressed, can manifest into physical illnesses.

She spoke about how we can’t always control what happens in our lives but we can control our response. We need to think about whether we view the events that occur as something that has happened to us or for us.

She reminded us of this hadith:

The Prophet (saw) said: “Strange is the affair of the Mu’min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (Sabr) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the Mu’min.” [Muslim]

She reminded us how any difficulty we go through in life is never forgotten by Allah. He rewards us for our patience and our sins are forgiven for every moment we are in difficulty. That whatever comes our way. We a stronger and wiser from it.

Sometimes Allah gives us something painful in life to force us to change, we don’t like change and often, the only time we will change will be when the pain forces us to.

She told us how what we focus on grows and if we focus on the problem we will see problems everywhere.

“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” Quran (94:5)

This means that no matter what difficult situation you are in, there will be good in your life too.

Being patient, or having sabr, doesn’t mean you are passive. It’s an active word, it means we need to take action and change a bad situation, to persevere.

The last thing she told us was a “prescription” for the heart. Things that are so important for us to do so that we will be able to face any difficulty in life and not despair. So this is what she told us:

1 Salah – This is like oxygen, if we don’t get any oxygen we will die. Just like our prayers keep our heart alive.

2 Adhkar – Reading the supplications for the morning and evenings and any others we can incorporate into our routine. They are a protection and will help us be stronger spiritually.

3 Quran – Make it a daily part of your life. Be consistent with it, so even if it is 10 minutes a day that is better than once a month.

So this is in a nutshell what she taught us in this class. I highly recommend listening to her lectures on youtube and reading her books. They are amazing!

Reflections

The Big Blurtathon – We All Have A Story

Today is The Blurt Foundation’s first Big Blurtathon. The aim of The Big Blurtathon is to raise awareness of mental health and the impact it has on people and to help raise funds for The Blurt Foundation. The theme this year is “we all have a story”.

But first let me tell you who The Blurt Foundation are. They are a social enterprise which exists to help people who are affected by depression. They are dedicated to making a positive social change and increase awareness and provide support for those affected by depression.

So lets get back to the theme of this post. Today I want to share my story with you all. It’s something I’ve been debating about doing since I heard about the blurtathon as I was kind of nervous about sharing what is a difficult topic for me. But I am going to share what I can with you all today.

So I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression 2 years ago but I know that I’ve had it for much longer than that. It just took me a very long time to actually seek help. I hid it for many years and I think I got so good at hiding it that it just became my “normal”. But eventually it got so bad that I couldn’t cope with anything anymore and I knew I had to seek help.

I kept it so well hidden that no-one even realised I had anxiety or depression. Everyone just thought I had mood swings and even I didn’t understand what was happening to me until I was about 18. But I was 25 when I first decided that I need to get help. It was probably the most scariest and stressful thing I’ve ever done. But I am proud of myself for finally taking that step.

I have good days and bad days and my mental health is also affected by how I am doing physically. I have 3 prolapsed discs in my lumbar spine and suffer from chronic pain. So one can make the other worse.

I think one of the most difficult things for me was that I had to stop working as physiotherapist, more due to my physical health but I think that’s one of the things that made my mental health deteriorate a lot more too. I’ve slowly come to terms with this now and I’ve started blogging and finding new things to keep me busy and joining the book community. It has helped me to start recovering and I am in a much better place now. It’s been a long road but I am proud of how far I have come.

I have started tentatively speaking to some of my family and friends about my anxiety and depression. I am hoping that as I get more used to speaking about it, it will help break the stigma which was one of the main reasons that I found it difficult to speak about it and seek help.

Even though I’ve struggled a lot with my condition, it’s helped me to become more resilient and persevere despite the circumstances.

So there you have it, this is my story.

Do go and check out the hashtag #weallhaveastory on social media for all the others who have shared their story today and check out The Blurt Foundation for more of their work on their Website and their social media; Twitter, Instagram and Facebook