Ramadan is finally upon us, a month filled with the blessings and mercy of Allah (SWT). It’s an extremely joyous occasion observed by Muslims all over the world and for many of us, it’s our favourite time of the year. Some of my happiest memories in life were formed during Ramadan – Family get-togethers, breaking our fast every night with a feast (hooyo’s sambuus and malawax always being the highlight), and of course going to our local Masjid for Taraweeh prayer. Ramadan is also an opportunity to recharge our imaan (faith), to seek forgiveness for our sins and wrongdoings, to repent and to ask Allah (swt) to guide us in our worldly affairs. 

However, I’ve come to realize that not every Muslim embraces Ramadan with the same level of excitement. In fact, for some people, Ramadan can be met with a lot of dread, anxiety and uncertainty. In today’s post, I want to highlight some of the mental health-related challenges people can encounter during Ramadan and offer some friendly reminders to help us all navigate through the upcoming month and hopefully, the months to follow.

❝There is no good in people who do not advise one another and there is no good in those who do not love (to receive) advice. The best of companions are those who mutually love and advise one another.❞ — Umar ibn al-Khattab (d. 23 AH)

Understanding the Effects of Mental Illness:

Navigating through Ramadan with a mental illness can no doubt bring about many challenges. For instance, depression is one of the most common types of mental illnesses and for a lot of people this means battling feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and even suicide ideations. Some mental illnesses can even manifest into physical symptoms and have profound effects on functioning causing decreased appetite, vitamin deficiencies, sleeping problems, and even lack of personal hygiene. Therefore, for Muslims battling with illnesses such as depression, finding the motivation to get out of bed, pray and even eat can be a mountain to climb. Keep in mind, that this is just one example of the impact mental illness (when left untreated) can have on someone’s overall wellbeing. The problem is even more exacerbated for people who have to rely on medications that require to be taken at specific intervals during the day to manage their mental illness. Whether it be for mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders or even trauma-related disorders, Ramadan can be both a time of struggle and a time of triumph. 

The thing about mental illness is that in many of its forms, it can be invisible to dictate with the eye which often causes people to suffer in silence. During Ramadan, if someone’s shortcomings are brought to the forefront, people can be quick to form assumptions and cast judgment. This may be due to the fact a lot of people are unaware that suffering from mental illness can sometimes be grounds for exemption from fasting. To avoid assumptions and judgment altogether, it’s probably best to refrain from asking people (directly or indirectly) to justify their reasons for not fasting. Instead of assuming the worst, here are some simple steps you can take to make people battling mental illness feel comfortable, welcomed, and heard. 

Be attentive to the people around you – especially if someone is spending Ramadan alone (e.g. international students, elderly people, etc). If you notice someone is isolating themselves during Ramadan or if there’s a revert at your mosque who may be lacking a sense of community, simply reaching out and offering support can go a long way. 

Openly Share your concerns – If you know someone is battling with a condition or you’re worried they’re showing signs of declining mental health, find an appropriate time to talk to them and gently address your concerns. Maintain a calm demeanor and tone even if the person gets defensive. 

Avoid blame and judgment – Speak to people without casting blame and refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Instead offer a listening ear and let the person know you’ll be there when and/or if they’re ready to talk.

Mental health problems are common – Share with them that declining mental health is very common to experience and can be caused by a range of internal and external factors. It’s nothing to be ashamed about so offer to accompany them in consulting with the right services. It’s important to have a professional assessment and a mental health management plan in place as this can help to elevate some of the stress.

Seek professional opinion- If appropriate, speak to a religious scholar and seek advice around the islamic rules for exemption from Ramadan. There’s a multitude of ways that an individual can participate in the spirit of Ramadan – giving charity, abstaining from sinful acts, reciting the Quran, etc. Remind them that Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and water, especially if doing so is detrimental to their health. 

It’s important to note that Ramadan can also have profoundly positive effects on a person’s mental health. During this time of the year, people can display a strong commitment to their faith and strive to develop a close relationship with Allah (Swt). Improved spiritual health can therefore manifest into other aspects of health – physical and emotional. Enhanced spiritual health can give someone a sense of purpose, a point of connection to others, and as such Ramadan can be a source of hope – a light at the end of a very dark and lonely tunnel. 

Always be kind to people, recognize that everyone is going through their own battle, and remember that Allah (Swt) does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear. Verily, Allah is kind and merciful to the people.

The Conscious Nomad
theconsciousnomadd@gmail.com

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