The Stream

What challenges does Ramadan pose for Muslims with eating disorders?

The Stream asks how those who struggle with eating disorders can be best supported during the holy month.

Safy Hallan Farah is a young Muslim-American woman who has had a complicated relationship with food and dieting since she was in school. This Ramadan, in an effort to help people in similar situations, she is encouraging Muslims to unplug and deactivate social media accounts so they can stop comparing themselves to others.

During the holy month of Ramadan millions of Muslims around the world fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation and enhanced connection to God. There is an outpouring of charity and generosity. Self-restraint, prayer and intense study of the Quran are practised. And the end of each day is celebrated with family and friends as the fast is broken over food.

This special time of the year, though, can be difficult for Muslims struggling with or recovering from eating disorders, and related mental health issues. The Quran does make exceptions for those who are ill, but the challenges can be immense nonetheless. Julie Larah, a Muslim who has struggled with anorexia in the past, feels there is a lack of awareness in the community, which silences people. She adds: “It’s not a weakness in your religion and you can incorporate it into your religion. When we make Ramadan all about food and not about the use of the physical process, we are driving people more into the disorder.”

Research shows that the the prevalence of eating disorders in the Western world is higher than that of non-Western countries, but Muslim women are just as susceptible to bulimia and anorexia, regardless of their cultural background or where they grew up. The bulk of scientific research on eating disorders, however, has been carried out on white, affluent women.

We’ll discuss how Ramadan can affect those with eating disorders and look at how communities can support them.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Julie Larah
Activist & mental health counsellor

Safy Hallan Farah @safyhallanfarah

Nadim Ali @nadimlpc
Imam & licensed professional counsellor

Rania Awaad @AwaadRania
Clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, Stanford University

Read more:
What it’s like to have an eating disorder during Ramadan – Teen Vogue
How to support those with eating disoorders during Ramadan – Dazed 

What do you think? Record a video comment or leave your thoughts in the comments below.