Ramadan a Challenge for Muslim Women With Eating Disorders

By John Lavitt 08/08/14

Muslim women with eating disorders struggle during a month when fasting is celebrated.

muslim woman praying.jpg

Although Ramadan, the holy month of prayer and fasting in the Islamic religion, was over on July 28, the repercussions for young Muslim women with eating disorders remain.

Like their counterparts in Western society, Muslim women also struggle with eating disorders. In a strangely located article on the food website Munchies, American Muslim Safy-Hallan Farah details her own past troubles and the difficulties of young Muslim women across the world.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, in which the Angel Gabriel is said to have revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting from dawn to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

“Ramadan can be the worst time ever. I know this firsthand," wrote Farah. "As a teen girl, I would intermittently starve myself and vigorously work out…In between being normal and being the version of myself that had what medical professionals call Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), I’d spend a ridiculous amount of time on pro-anorexia and -bulimia sites."

"This intensified during the summers and during Ramadan, so I know what young Muslim girls with eating disorders are going through right now," Farah continued. "Many don’t know if they’re fasting for Allah or for anorexia.”

For many Muslim women with eating disorders, Ramadan is the only month they can get away with not eating. The starvation behavior that their disease demands is not criticized or punished, but rather celebrated. Since fasting is at the core of Ramadan, it becomes a justification for their destructive behavioral patterns.

In the article, an anonymous Muslim woman explained the ugly pattern that plays out. “Only in Ramadan I question why I want to fast. It becomes a battle in my head, like I have to choose between God or the disorder," the woman said. "Ramadan has always been a triggering time. In my early days of anorexia, I saw not-eating as a way to lose weight. Though Ramadan was triggering, it excited me too, because of the thought of not eating like everyone else.”

Since bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and EDNOS have no specific weight requirement for diagnosis, they are easier to hide than anorexia and harder to spot. As a result, such behaviors can be hidden in any culture, even one as restrictive and patriarchal as Islam.

As a result, according to Farah, anonymous Muslim girls facing these challenges need solidarity and support on the Internet. They need to know they are not alone in struggling with their eating disorders.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.