6 Jul, 15 | by Iain Brassington
One of those things that’d simply never occurred to me before was highlighted a few days ago in a story on Buzzfeed: how do you reconcile Ramadan fasting with recovery from an eating disorder? Indeed: can you reconcile them at all?
“Food is obviously a big part of the holy month,” Sofia says. “Usually after breaking fasts, my family have bigger meals than usual, my mum cooks a lot of extravagant Pakistani dishes for iftar. It’s also a time when my extended family tend to visit more, or we go to the mosque and eat there.
“It’s really difficult to eat in public, especially because I’m still uncomfortable around a lot of foods. And what people usually don’t understand is how seeing all that food can make you feel so pressured. Last Ramadan I remember having to force myself to eat because everyone kept telling me to – and I couldn’t say no to them. When we came back from the mosque, I spent most of the night crying, because I felt I had no control.”
She adds: “I know in my head that I need to stick to the diet and do what my doctor says. But it’s still uncomfortable preparing food while my family aren’t allowed to eat or drink.” At times she “feels guilty while she’s eating”, she says, and there are moments when she’s tempted to go back to fasting again.
How central is the not-eating to Ramadan? I mean: I know that there’re exemptions for things like medical conditions; but is there a mechanism for people not so much to be exempted, but to make an equivalent sacrifice? Is fasting valued in itself, or because of what it symbolises? If the latter, than some sort of substitution would seem possible without that counting as an exception. If the former, then that wouldn’t be so clear.
Either way, the article suggests that part of the problem here is that there simply isn’t the support. Inasmuch as that anorexic Muslims will be a minority of a minority, I suppose that that’s not surprising – and it’s compounded by apparent misunderstanding in south Asian communities. But it’s no less worth noting for that.