Monday 6th of June, marked the beginning of the blessed month of Ramadan, which is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslim’s fast from sunrise until sunset, when they are without food and without water.
So what does Ramadan mean for Muslim diabetics? What does that mean to me?
As a Muslim and a diabetic, I am exempt from fasting. Islam makes exceptions for those who are ill or on medication, for pregnant or breast feeding women etc.
Something you may not know about me, when I was first diagnosed it was also the very first time I tried to fast. I was excited to attempt the fasting and had set my mind to really giving it my all.
Day one was a struggle. I felt awful of course because I did not know that my diabetes had begun to manifest. I felt exhausted. I had an urge to drink constantly and why did I need to urinate so frequently? I hadn’t taken one drop of liquid all day. I slept and slept, but still could not find the motivation to do the things I needed to do. I thought to myself, maybe this is how the fasting was supposed to feel. It was was a struggle but I made it to the end.
Day two came and I felt like it was even more of a struggle than day one. I continued to tell myself that, this was how the fast was supposed to feel. The symptoms from the day before seemed to be amplified. I walked around with my eyes half closed from sheer exhaustion and a thirst like no other. It completely drained me but I made it to the end of another day. I remember breaking my fast and consuming ridiculous amounts of water, juice anything to quench my thirst.
I had started to lose weight, my clothes were hanging off me. If you knew me then, you’d know how skinny and tall I was. Therefore any amount of weight loss was extremely evident. My Mother noticed the severe amount of weight I had lost and some of the symptoms I presented. She insisted that I stop the fasting. Even though I felt awful, I also felt sad to stop fasting. It pained me to think that I was not going to be continuing, but deep down I knew that I could not continue as I was. And as they say the rest is history, you can read my diabetes story in more detail here.
After my diagnosis and every year Ramadan came around, I found it hard to truly find my place. Everyone in my family was fasting and I could not partake in the fasting so what else could I do?
I had to find other ways to be a part of this special month. As I investigated and connected more with my religion, I began to understand that there were other aspects to Ramadan and that Ramadan wasn’t solely just about the fast itself. It was only one portion of the whole month.
So what did I learn?
- Connecting with the Creator – One of the first and most important aspects that I learnt was, that for the entire month I had to try my best to live in an environment where I was more conscious of my creator, every second of the day. It was also a time for spiritual reflection and deep devotion of oneself to worship and pray to God and to try my best to solidify my relationship with him. Reading as much of the Quran (the holy book for Muslims) and really taking my time to understand it properly.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself – It was also a month where I could evaluate my own behaviour and attitude towards myself and others. It taught me how to control my anger, ego, arrogance and to show humility and politeness, kindness and forgiveness to others (something I try to do every day, regardless of month).
- Offerings – It was also a time to be generous and give charity (Zakat) to those in need. Because I wasn’t able to fast, with this aspect I give money to support someone (with food) in need for the entire month. It also became a time for me to strive to do as many good deeds as possible.
- Leave off that bad language/ attitude/ everything – For those who know me, I don’t use bad language. I leave off the F and P’s and Qs and try to avoid it all together daily. However, during this time it is important that we aim to do these things and to be more aware of the language we chose to use. Staying away from desires and sins becomes very important for observing this entire month.
- Brain training – One of the benefits of fasting is that it helps to repair and build new connections in the brain by generating new synapses and ultimately keeping the mind young. I have had to find other ways to challenge my brain to allow it to grow and strengthen itself and in turn keep it young. I do this by constantly learning new things, new languages (currently tackling Korean), reading on subjects I knew nothing about or reading around subjects in more detail.
So what are the benefits of fasting?
By fasting, it demonstrates our ability not only to conquer hunger but also our capacity to control psychological aspects of our behaviour, such as our reaction to things that we dislike. There are also many scientific benefits such as;
- Improving Insulin Sensitivity – A study done (Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men) showed that after periods of fasting insulin becomes more effective in instructing cells to take up glucose from blood.
- Speeds up metabolism – Fasting Intermittently, gives your digestive system a break whilst promoting your metabolism to burn through calories more efficiently. Intermittent fasts can regulate your digestion and encourage healthy bowel function, and therefore improving your metabolic function.
- Fasting can improve your immune system – It does this by reducing free radical damage, reduces inflammatory conditions and also eliminates the production of cancer cells.
- Improves Brain function – This fantastic lecture by Mark Mattson who is the Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, and one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, outlines some of the benefits fasting can have on the brain.
- Fasting for Clarity of mind and soul – Fasting is not just a practice for Muslims, many other religions also chose to fast, just ike many members of my own family, who fast during Lent. It is a way to help many people feel connected to life by practicing things such as reading(holy text), meditating , performing yoga and martial arts. Because the body is deprived of food for a period of time this allows the body to make more energy. It gives the body a respite and a chance to heal and to reorder its systems. It allows us to feel better both physically and mentally (the mind is able to repair, develop new connections and reset itself). With a lighter body and clearer mind we become more aware of our surroundings, our beliefs and of course our actions.