The experience of Ramadan varies depending on who you talk to. For some, the day-long fast from food and water is about patience and resilience. For others, it’s about strengthening their relationship with God. Or it could just be about surviving the day. In my case, Ramadan has helped me come to terms with my disability.
I have always believed in the existence of a higher being. Still, I won’t lie, I struggled with reconciling the fact that the higher being I believed in was also “putting me through” significant, difficult challenges. I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy when I was eleven. An already confusing time in any young woman’s life was made all the more complex.
When I was younger, my physical strength was not great, which meant I couldn’t fast during Ramadan for many years. Even though my faith was shaken, I felt a powerful pull to participate in this month anyway I could. I so desperately wanted to experience what my family was feeling. Ramadan is a reminder that our purpose in this world goes beyond our own selves, so part of me knew that participating in this month would help me come to terms with my disability and find my purpose. I was right.
As an adult when I first realised I could fast, I became more aware of my privilege than ever before. Instead of feeling at war with my disability, I was suddenly grateful. Grateful to have a decent meal at sundown, a warm place to call home, and access to facilities and healthcare that allowed me to pursue my dreams as a disabled Muslim woman. Through Ramadan, I realised that many of my struggles came from striving to uphold a standard of how I “should” behave and what I “should” look like.
I thought that I should aim to be ‘able-bodied,’ and so I struggled to understand any higher being who made me disabled. I didn’t grasp that these standards for my appearance and behavior, which I was yearning to reach, are decided by people who already fit into the mainstream. These standards have no higher value than the way I navigate my life and faith as a disabled woman. As a 27-year-old, I am beginning to understand this.
Every year, because of Ramadan, I’m reminded to face my own demons and internalised discrimination head-on, instead of letting it overcome me. Every year I am reminded to believe in my worth, instead of striving to reach a standard that is impossible for almost everyone. Few things test your spirit more than starvation and thirst. Balancing this test with the recognition of all the light around us is peak spirituality. In the face of this complex world, in the face of discrimination, a focus on strengthening the spirit will ensure that inclusion prevails.