Learning to be gentle on my God-given body

{CW: mental illness, mention of suicide ideation}

My cousin’s passing, both sudden and tragic, has put much strain on both my physical and mental health. This turmoil, so close to Ramadhan, serves to put into perspective how fragile health can be.

God, in His Infinite Mercy has provided me with a functional body and mind as a vessel for my spirit in this temporary life [dunya]. This vessel remains, despite its remarkable ability, in need of tenderness and care. So while I am dedicated to holding the fast throughout Ramadhan, I have had, since day 1, to consider my responsibility towards my God-given body versus my dedication towards this personally important act of devotion.

Let me note that I *love* fasting. It was my first introduction to Islam and ever since my first Ramadhan in 2009 (three years before conversion), the physical strain of the fast has been a beautiful and cherished reminder of the resilience of my body. It is my favourite act of worship and it brings me blessings by the very state in which it puts me, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

So it was a bit of a shock to me on the first of Ramadhan this year when I found my mental health crumbling under the pressure. The grief, already difficult to manage on a full stomach, became unbearable by noon. I was holding back tears with difficulty and horribly dark thoughts kept crossing my mind. Satan may be trapped in hell during Ramadhan, but my otherwise manageable mental illness was out in full force.

I live in Ottawa, Canada where fasting days at this time of year begin at 3:30am and end at 8:30pm (approximately). To compare, in Saudi Arabia, fasting currently begins at 4:15am and ends at 7pm.

Seeing my mental health degrade over the day, I made an executive decision: instead of fasting the local 17-hour day, I would cut my fast early, passed the 15h observed in Mecca.

There is precedence for this and there has been opinions [fatwas] issued by scholars [sheikhs] on the matter.

So I broke my fast early.

My preference to follow local times hasn’t faltered but I had to acknowledge my responsibility towards my body over my preference for longer fasting hours.

So the next day, I began my fast again at local times.

I’d been doing well with a stable body and mind until last night. I failed to wake for pre-fast meal [suhoor] but woke up regardless an hour passed fasting hour. I was parched and could feel a headache coming on. Still groggy, I had to do a mental assessment of my needs and desires.

I accepted that my body had this right over me, that I be gentle and offer it hydration. While I could be stubborn and tolerate a headache for an entire day of fasting, it was not just to my God-given vessel to expect it to function under unnecessary strain.

So I poured myself a tall glass of water, drank, thanked God, and reprised fasting.

I will, once again, be fasting at least 15h today. However, that’s not exactly the point I’m trying to make.

Our bodies, while ours, are a gift from The Divine that we are obligated to care for, gently, tenderly. While we are expected to make the most of God’s gifts, we are also expected to show care in how we use them and not gamble them away out of greed. This greed, I have come to accept, is not only for material gain but also for the blessings of Our Lord.

I cannot gamble my God-given health for the sakes of His blessings. My body has a right over me.

So keep this in mind this Ramadhan for yourself and those around you. Support your brothers and sisters who find themselves unable to fast from food or drink as they care for their vessels. Do not shame or guilt them or yourself. Do not push them or yourself to exert unnecessary strain on body or mind.

Be gentle, be kind, to yourself first *and* to one another and pray for me as I learn to do the same.

Peace and blessings!

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