Ramadan is a great time to build a deeper connection with Allah, your family and yourself, but it can also be a challenging time for various reasons. One challenge I come across every Ramadan is a difficulty around body image, that comes with altered eating habits.
Whilst Ramadan should ideally be a time for family, personal growth and looking back at our lives, you’re not alone if fasting causes you difficult feelings. Mental health conditions related to body image and eating disorders are more common in LGBT+ people. I think it makes sense to forgive yourself for them. We accept that some pregnant women and Muslims with physical illness or injuries are exempt from fasting, but I haven’t always felt like there is as much understanding for Muslims with mental ill health. Thankfully, everyone’s understanding is growing as mental health is discussed more and more.
‘Mental health’ is just as important as ‘physical health’, and your wellbeing should always be a priority. If fasting is affecting your overall wellbeing and doesn’t feel possible for you, that is just as valid as refraining because of your ‘physical’ health! I truly believe in a compassionate God (whatever name you choose for God!) and I think we all deserve to give ourselves a bit more love too.
As we move into the last part of Ramadan, I’m reaching out to fellow LGBT+ Muslims to remind you to be kind to yourself, put your health first, and do what feels possible for you. I’ve not felt able to fast at all for quite a few years. I fasted some days last year and for part of this year. First and foremost, I considered what would lead to the happiest and healthiest outcome for me. This year, I noticed when fasting started negatively impacting my mental and emotional health; so I stopped, and I feel much more steady now. I remind myself “baby steps, Siraaj.”
I’m so lucky to be supported by my doctors and my family. But there is support out there for all young people experiencing mental health problems, including at Mind, Beat and the NHS. If you’re LGBT+ and Muslim like me, you can feel closer to others like us at Hidayah, Inclusive Mosque and Naz and Matt Foundation.
For all young LGBT+ Muslims: peace, love and solidarity during Ramadan.
Siraaj is an LGBT+ ambassador for Just Like Us, based in Bristol.