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Shared experience

I no longer fast during Ramadan, but it hasn’t truly been my own decision

Managing type 1 diabetes through Ramadan – Nadeem’s story

It is almost that time of year again. Spring is upon us and the clocks will be winding forward once again, the long nights left behind. Supermarkets have already stocked their shelves with chocolate eggs, hoping to capitalise early on one of the most significant celebrations in the Christian calendar. But for Muslims around the world the holiest time in the Islamic calendar is fast approaching.

Ramadan

The month of Ramadan is due to begin on 10 March, dependent on the sighting of a crescent moon, and will continue for 29 or 30 days thereafter, culminating in the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. For around a month the vast majority of Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset, refraining completely from eating and drinking between those hours. This year they will also contend with the afore-mentioned switch from GMT to BST, their fast becoming an hour longer in the space of a day.

Fasting and type 1 diabetes

Some Muslims are exempt from fasting: those with chronic illnesses, pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding, prepubescent children, people who must take medicine, and a few other groups. I fall into the first category because I live with type 1 diabetes. For the last few years I have made the decision to no longer fast during Ramadan, but it hasn’t truly been my own decision.

After being diagnosed in 2006, every year I would try my best to get through the day without having a hypoglycaemic episode, which would compel me to break my fast. Conversely, a case of hyperglycaemia, or high blood sugar, would make me question if fasting was in fact the best thing for my body. After all, I had a valid exemption, and I could instead offer fidyah (feeding a person in need for a day, for each fast missed). This alternative comes direct from Allah SWT. It is facilitated by the many Islamic charities at our disposal, in the form of a donation.

Managing type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can be extremely difficult to manage. It is relentless. You hardly ever switch off from it, even during the night when you could wake up with a hypo and have to eat something to bring your blood sugar levels back up. Every person is different. The effects of diabetes on each body presents us with our own challenges.

I am a very active person, and this has a huge effect on my blood sugar management. Whether I am walking from A to B, doing DIY at home, cooking, shopping for groceries, cycling or loading a vehicle, my blood sugar is constantly on the move. I have to monitor it, constantly. Very often I need to take action, and for the most part this means eating something.

Alternatives to fasting during Ramadan

During the last few years I have found it increasingly challenging to keep my blood sugar under control, so for this reason I no longer fast during Ramadan. However, I take comfort from the fact that this holiest of months is not just about fasting; it is so much more. I use the time to pray more often than usual and recite the Qur’an daily. I concentrate on being a better version of myself, more respectful towards others. I try to increase my knowledge of Islam, and get a little closer to God.

I do miss fasting, and joining the vast majority of Muslims around the world in a common act of worship, for one month. I miss experiencing that hunger and thirst during the day, and the joy of that first sip of water, that first bite, when the sun sets. But still I don’t resent having diabetes. It is because of it that I never miss the opportunity to get closer to God in other ways. And for that, I am grateful.

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