Life in the ‘fast’ lane by Farhana Begum

Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, may last only a month, but preparations for it start well in advance. It may not be a conscious thing for many, but in my experience the discussions of what it feels like to fast, what it means to fast, when to cook, what to cook, the challenges and also the comforts afforded by Ramadan punctuates conversations between family and friends in the run up to the month in question. Now this may not be ‘preparation’ in any physical sense but it is a definite exercise in shifting ones mindset and readying oneself for the month ahead.

For many diabetic Muslims, however, this time of preparation does indeed require physical readiness too and I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone with diabetes to talk to their GPs about managing their condition without compromising their spirituality – it can be done and my mum is the perfect example!

Every year, my mum’s GP, dietician or diabetic nurse will ask her if she intends to fast or not. And without fail, my mum will say that she does- a statement which is now no longer a surprise to any of the medical professionals who help her manage her diabetes! In Islam, it is stated that no one should put their health at risk in order to fast, and diabetics are excused from having to fast. Nonetheless, millions of diabetic Muslims around the world make that choice every year to take part in Ramadan – and my mum is one of them. She’s a type 1 diabetic controlling her diabetes with insulin and has been doing so for the past 17 years. She’s been a Muslim though, for her entire life and cannot even imagine not participating in Ramadan. You’d be forgiven for thinking that physical health and wellbeing would be paramount for her; this is the case for most, if not all, of the year round but Ramadan is a month in its essence which transcends the physical. It’s about thinking beyond materialistic and physical concerns. It is a time for reflection, for family, for forgiveness, for charity and for compassion.

In an unlikely parallel, Ramadan is also a time which encourages Muslims to adopt a healthier lifestyle by observing self-control and making dietary changes – which is something anyone living with diabetes surely contends with on a daily basis!

As neither diabetes nor Ramadan is static, every period of fasting is different and every year my mum and her diabetic nurse/GP discuss the possibility of hypos – for which she will of course break her fast and then make up for it at the end of the month – how best to medicate herself, as well as the types the food she should be eating (FYI: complex carbs are great for Sehri and the tradition of breaking fast with a date at Iftari is also spot on).

Although such drastic spells of fasting are medically inadvisable for diabetics, careful and timely management with the help of healthcare professionals allows my mum to safely balance her spirituality and desire as a Muslim to practice the Five Pillars of Islam with the practical implications of being a diabetic – and thousands of others can do the same.

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