I am absolutely terrified about the start of Ramadan in a few days.
This is not how I normally welcome the advent of the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Usually, I am excited, eagerly anticipating a slower, calmer pace that allows us to reconnect with our spirituality, spend more quality time with our friends and families and create memories in our children that will sustain them through a lifetime of Ramadans. These are the days when I should be, as I have been in previous years, decorating our home, meal planning and stocking the pantry and preparing Ramadan treat bags to distribute to children in our neighborhood who will come knocking on our door on the night before Ramadan starts.
Instead, I break out in a cold sweat every time I realize that this is the first Ramadan in three years I am expected and required to fast fully and properly.
I’ve had an excellent excuse to forego fasting: I was pregnant during Ramadan 2016, then nursing in 2017 and 2018. It has been reported that the Prophet Mohammed once said, “Allah the Almighty removed half of the prayer from the traveler, and fasting from the pregnant and nursing women.”
Islamic fatwas have been clear about the mercifulness of God: if fasting is harmful to a pregnant woman or her child, or too difficult for a nursing mother, then the woman is exempt. As lightheadedness, dehydration and extreme weakness would always be the result when I would attempt to fast during pregnancy or during my son’s vigorous nursing sessions, I gave myself a break and never had to forego my multiple cups of daily coffee.
Well, this year, I have no fasting scapegoat, and it turns out, I’m not alone in worrying about the Return of the Fast.
Shifa Saltagi Safadi, a Syrian-American and mother of three who lives in the US and enjoys writing about parenting as a Muslim mother on Muslim Mommy Blog, has reached out to similar-minded mommy bloggers and Instagrammers to launch A Mama’s Guide To Getting Back Into Fasting.
After having her first child in 2011, Safadi couldn’t fast while nursing. Fast forward eight years and two more children, and this will be the first time she faces Ramadan with no plans to stop fasting due to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Not only is she daunted, she can’t imagine fasting “with a little toddler on the loose, especially since I feel like I am barely surviving fully caffeinated and well-fed as is.”
Safadi admits: “This time I am probably the most terrified. The biggest reason is that I am now in charge of a family of five people, three of whom are young children in need of constant attention and care. Thinking of doing this with no food or coffee scares me, and I decided to reach out to three other Muslims bloggers on Instagram.”
After joining forces with Zahra @hellohappyhues, Sana of @mommymuslimah5 and Afra of @throughmamaseyesblog, Safadi has come up with a plan to ease herself into fasting and Ramadan’s spiritual obligations.
Together, these mommy bloggers have been sharing their worries, what they perceive to be the challenges as mothers of young and demanding children and tips they’ve come up with help them return to fasting full time.
“I honestly think that talking about it and preparing yourself helps you reach the right mindset for approaching the Ramadan fast,” says Safadi.
Weaning herself off coffee before the start of Ramadan, so she can at least take a painkiller to help with the headaches until her body adjusts, is the first part of Safadi’s plan. Her second?
“Sleep early to wake up early,” she says. “The perfect Ramadan is one in which you are able to pray taraweeh [special Ramadan evening prayers] in the mosque and feel the Ramadan spirit. But the reality is that taraweeh prayers where I live start at 10pm and end at 12am, and if I were to go, that would mean my kids getting cranky from their missed bedtime and it would be harder to wake myself up in the morning and do everything I need to do as a mother. I do plan on praying as much as I can when the kids sleep.”
All the mothers agree: their children’s schedules, routines and needs will inevitably infringe on their responsibilities, spiritual or otherwise, during this difficult but uplifting month.
Like all the Muslim mommy bloggers I’ve been coming across, my fear as a mother is not about surviving from sun up to sun down with no food, water or (gulp) caffeine. It’s more than that. It’s fearing that my duties as a mother will infringe on my duties as a fasting Muslim. How do I fulfill my spiritual needs and obligations, how do I increase prayer or find time to lose myself in the comforting, balm-like reading of the Quran or strengthen the parameters of my faith, when I’m always losing my temper with my voracious six-year-old and my defiant toddler, who, incidentally, happens to be quite at home in his Terrible Two’s phase?
Safadi says, in her third tip, that mothers need to “destress and prep” ahead of time. Decorate early. Cook and freeze your meals in anticipation of those days when your energy will be depleted in the hours leading up to iftar.
“Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t,” she says. The reward is in the trying. “Focus your intention to be for the sake of God, even cooking and cleaning”.
Afra, a mother of three and a doula who lives in the US, believes that planning children’s activities, Ramadan crafts and routines well in advance can go a long way in helping mothers “handle” their little ones during their fasting days.
“Growing up in Dubai, Ramadan meant lots of visits to the mosques and social gatherings,” she says. “Moving to the US meant we have to make that extra effort to instill the feeling of Ramadan for our kids.”
Afra will be fasting this Ramadan after a five-year break. She plans to get through it by “managing the kids’ routines and integrating them into the spiritual experience of Ramadan.”
Another worry I am struggling with has to do with altering our Ramadan bedtime ritual. In years past, my husband and I would often put our children to bed in the minutes before iftar, sometimes pausing for a sip of water and a quick date to break our fast before quickly returning to the demands of the bedtime routine. We would then sit down for a proper, quiet meal, confident in our choice to put our children’s needs ahead of ours. Now, with my daughter looking forward to Ramadan and becoming more aware of the meaning of the month, we want her more involved and won’t be able to send her off to bed, yet can’t allow her to stay up too late partaking in the spiritual side of things either.
“You simply have to find the balance as a mother,” advises Sara Siddiqui, a Pakistani mother of two who lives in Abu Dhabi and will be returning to fasting this year after a three-year break. “Come up with a game plan that works for you. Here’s what I do: I get my husband to take over all bath duties in the time before iftar. He carts the kids off to the tub while I get busy cooking and preparing our meal in peace.”
Siddiqui also likes to cook one big, hearty pot of soup, full of vegetables, on Sundays, so it can last the whole week. And she takes care of her Eid shopping for the kids — buying them new clothes and small toys — before the start of Ramadan.
“I already did that last week,” she boasts.
There’s plenty of advice out there, but the truth is, I’m still scared. I just hope that going back to fasting full time will feel like riding a bike: wobbly at first, until you find your rhythm and your body remembers what to do, then smooth and fulfilling once you get the hang of it again.
Featured photo Shutterstock
Hala Khalaf is a freelance journalist and mom of two living in Dubai, who has written extensively about health and diabetes.