Failing Ramadan? On Fasting and Being “Non-Practising”

Failing Ramadan? On Fasting and Being “Non-Practising” July 8, 2015
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The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

If fasting were a class or a course, I’d give myself an F this Ramadan. This is strange for me, as I have never had any problems fasting, even during long hot summers, and I’ve been doing it since I was ten. This is the first Ramadan I feel I have “failed.” It was clear to me that I couldn’t do it when I woke up and I just did not see the point of not eating and not drinking. So, without planning to, I broke my fast. I remember “cheating” once or twice as a child during Ramadan and feeling incredibly guilty. This time, I didn’t feel guilty at all, because I did not see the point any more. I couldn’t convince myself it was worth doing. Maybe there is no mystery to this. You might think it is all explained by the word “non-practicing.” OnIslam has a definition of what that means here – with the analogy that a non-practicing Muslim is like a doctor who gives up working as a doctor and instead decides to sell sweets.

Now, of course, being the daughter of Muslim immigrants, I get the doctor part, but why not say shopkeeper, is there something symbolic about selling sweets? Is it like I have allowed myself to be led astray from my higher calling (to save lives!) to something unessential and self-indulgent that will also give me rotten teeth?

Although I am happy they make a distinction between apostate and non-practicing, OnIslam annoys me, with their pious holier-than-thou tone. I can’t stand that tone. I suppose this is partly the reason that for the past few years, I have been gradually becoming more of a cultural Muslim. But to me, labels like “non-practicing” don’t explain much.

I stopped obsessing over prayers years ago, but I kept fasting throughout that time, even making up my missed days religiously, if you’ll pardon the pun. Sometimes I even did extra sunnah fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. I couldn’t tell you why. It was just something I liked doing.

This month, this last pillar of the faith, this last ritual seems to just make no sense, and it feels like the last few threads connecting me to faith have fallen away.

So far this Ramadan, I have fasted for about two-thirds of the time, and given myself a break on other days. I noticed that when I was eating I was able to focus better on my work, and to get more out of the day. I would look around me and see those who were fasting had become vampires and zombies: turning night into day and doing little to no work, moving around as though in slow motion, and it exasperated me. I know, logically, that this is not inherently a problem with fasting but with how people choose to fast, but it still annoys me. The people who waste hours standing for twenty rakas for taraweeh while yawning and daydreaming and clearly not focusing annoy me. Sit down, read a couple of verses and really focus on them. It would be a much better use of time.

All this led me to thinking, are the difficulties that non-practicing Muslims tend to face around Ramadan? What about ex-Muslims? Is this a thing? As it turns out yes, it is actually a thing. See, for example, this video, where Imtiaz Shams and Aliyah Salem share some hacks for making it through Ramadan when it no longer makes sense to you.

I found some things to relate to in this video, though it is for ex-Muslims – and that is not how I define myself. I don’t like the words “lapsed” or “non-practicing” but they reflect something, not the whole truth, but something about where I am.

I believe in God and the Prophet, I pay zakat, would like to go to hajj, pray occasionally, and it turns out, I sometimes fast during Ramadan. In her beautiful and honest article, Practicing Islam in Short Shorts, Thanaa El Naggar writes “I feel very Muslim.” And though I am in some ways less “practicing” than El Naggar right now, I too feel very Muslim, if that’s a thing you can feel.

I would like to find my way back to faith, but to some form of faith that makes sense to me. And next Ramadan, maybe I will be able to make more sense out of fasting. I hope I will.


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  • MaryamHajar

    This article really speaks to my situation…a convert if 7 yrs, I now consider myself a cultural Muslim…I can’t fast bc of my many health issues and agree with how fasting ppl look, live during Ramadan ..vampires and zombies. I wear hijab, eat halal, , follow etiquette of modesty, etc but don’t make salats regularly or believe that Allah accepts or doesn’t accept prayers based on wudu, every time… Allah is everywhere and hears all prayers. I can’t accept the reward and punishment ideology either…doing good deeds for the sake of rewards is disingenuous to me. But I do believe in Allah and his Messenger…I just can’t follow some of the strict rules, and misogyny at our masjids and attitudes Muslim men have toward women…there are so many things, I wonder why I keep following, but I do..I love Islam.

  • mono

    if you’re struggling wth some ideas of islam the index page of partytilfajr.tumblr.com is incredibly useful. and i will leave you with a quote i found incredibly eyeopening…don’t inherit your religion, learn it. iA the last few days of this Ramadan will be made easier for you. 🙂

  • MLTK

    I can fully relate to this article, and I think it is completely normal to go through stages with regards to your deen – some days, some years you feel much more spiritual, some days, some years less so. In my opinion, being Muslim is more about your attitude and intentions – so if you are honest to yourself and to God, you shouldn’t feel guilty. It is still better than just blindly following rituals and judge yourself by the visible aspects of Islam. The Muslims surrounding me here are also zombies who turn the night into the day and don’t function properly during the day. They speak a lot about fasting and then indulge in a feast every evening. The females wear hiijab, then men go to pray, yet the break-ins and stealing goes up exponentially during this month. To me, this is not Ramadan. The hadiths might give you the five pillars full of rituals that are supposed to bring you closer to God (and for many, practicing these rituals ‘religiously’ helps a lot), but the Qur’an also holds up the values of justice, honesty, integrity, knowledge, … and as long as you don’t forget those, during or outside Ramadan, I would say, God will be pleased with you.

  • MLTK

    “Read the hadeeths on all Allah’s promises to us” … shouldn’t that by the Qur’an. Hadeeths were written by humans…
    And I believe the difference between us and other religions should not be based on rituals – if you pay too much attention on the rituals, you are not necessarily going to be a better Muslim since there are many so focused on the rituals that they loose sight of the true ideals of Islam. If someone is ‘non-practising’ in regards to the rituals, it doesn’t automatically mean that they are less Muslim – the author of the article is honest, to him/herself and God…what is better than honesty and integrity? Isn’t that an Islamic value as well?
    Instead of pointing out the differences to other religions and trying to make ourselves special, we are repeating the same mistake the very same religions have made before. The core message of all religions is the same – love. That should be overriding many calls to rituals (and I mean this without diminishing the importance that rituals hold for many Muslims in order to attain their spirituality and connection to God – everyone is just different in their approach, and we should respect plurality)
    Peace be with you

  • Thanks for saying this. We are all just trying to do our best