Ramadan: Why I gave up on fasting

Muslim prays at Ramadan

The American comedian and actor with cerebral palsy has always chosen to fast during Ramadan, even though the Koran excuses her due to her disability. This year, however, she has had to admit defeat.

On 10 July, my days of fasting for Ramadan came to an end. One of my cerebral palsy symptoms is that I shake all the time, just like Shakira's hips. It was the first day of the holy month 2013 and, frustratingly, that shaking was finally getting the better of me.

By noon, I no longer had the coordination to tweet and by the time I prematurely broke my fast at 20:00 I could barely breathe. I knew I had fasted my last.

About the author

Maysoon Zayid

Maysoon Zayid is an American actress and comedian of Palestinian descent. She is the co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival

Even though I didn't need to, I'd been fasting during Ramadan for three decades.

I was born and raised in the United States. I spent my school days in New Jersey and my summers in the West Bank.

The first Ramadan on which I fasted was no joke. I was eight and on summer vacation in my parent's village. The Middle East is a sauna at this time of year, making it particularly difficult to observe the Ramadan fast which involves abstaining from food, beverages, smoking and sex.

Despite the challenge, I have never had an issue with fasting - I'm one of those crazy Muslims who really loves Ramadan. Having cerebral palsy means that, technically, I am exempt from fasting even though it is one of the five pillars of Islam and extremely important to the faith.

The Koran states clearly in Surah 2, Ayah 185 that those who have medical conditions are pardoned. So when I chose to fast, I was treated like a champ - my family was over the moon.

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I knew that by fasting against the odds I had been born with, I'd totally get into heaven ”

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I refused to show any weakness because I knew that by fasting against the odds I had been born with, I'd totally get into heaven and more importantly, would get amazing gifts for Eid, the three days of celebration which mark the end of 30 days of Ramadan fasting.

Regardless of the heat, it's fun to abstain when you're in a country where the majority of folks around you are also fasting. It's not as much fun in the US when you are in the minority.

In my school days, American teachers weren't as culturally savvy as they are now. Some genuinely feared for my life and were convinced that I was being forced to fast by my horrible parents. They would try to slip me a butterscotch candy at lunchtime. I would shove it away and tell them I could eat whatever I wanted at sunset, thank you very much.

Maysoon Zayid in Jerusalem In Jerusalem: Fasting is easier in company

Every Ramadan, without fail, my mother has told me I don't need to fast if I can't. Those who cannot do it make a donation that will feed a hungry person for the duration of the holy month. and if you can't afford to, you should perform any acts of charity within your capability instead.

My mother has donated on my behalf every year, even though I've fasted, just in case it ever got to be too much and I had to give up. How is that for faith?

My most challenging Ramadan came in the form of a 10-day road trip in 2011, in America's deep south on a comedy tour called The Muslims Are Coming. Ramadan - which moves back 10 days each year - had landed in August. I was performing nightly as well as filming on the streets during the heat of the day.

For the first time in my history of Ramadan, I complained. I was hot, thirsty and tired. Some nights I wasn't breaking my fast until 22:30, but I survived.

The first time I ever had to abandon my daylight fasting was on another tour.

We were at Elvis's house in Tupelo, Mississippi. The statue of The King started to speak to me. I was getting delirious and I realised that if I didn't drink water soon, I'd be as dead as The King himself. And I did not want to die where Elvis was born.

Elvis's birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi

It's OK to miss a day or five, if you are sick, or travelling, or are on your "ladies' holiday". You then have a whole year to make it up. Some Muslims are slick about it and balance up their fast deficit in the dark month of December when the sun sets at 16:00 - this means they only have to fast for six or seven hours. Presently Ramadan is hovering around the months with the longest days in the northern hemisphere.

More on Ramadan

And for Eid...

And so back to this Ramadan. The day after bringing my Ramadan fasts to an end, during daylight hours I reluctantly drank some water.

It felt a bit like drinking poison. It didn't seem right that I was quenching my thirst. I associate Ramadan with some of the happiest days of my life and it felt like a tradition had been lost.

I'm not ashamed that I cannot fast, but I know many people with disabilities or illnesses who do feel the shame.

My newest mission is to remind those who can't fast that there is no reason to put themselves at risk. Muslims fast so they can suffer a little. It is important not to die in the process. If you channel your devotion into charity, this will not only help you stay healthy, it will also help someone who is genuinely suffering.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Surely faith is trusting and believing in the unseen; that which has been promised; that which is to come?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    You are missing the point. One sees faith as a set of rules while some one else sees faith as inspiration. One sees celebrating God as dieting, while someone else sees celebrating God as giving the world scientific discoveries, art masterpieces or incredible examples of human kindness. Thats the difference between religion and faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


    The problem with this article is that it stereotypes Ramadan as nothing more than an exercise which demands people to avoid eating or drinking. This is very sad as it portraits Ramadan as some kind of diet. Ramadan is about celebrating God and revelation of the Quran.


    But the only part you can actually evidence is the going without food bit. The rest is mumbojumbo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I'm sorry you had to give up fasting, but happy that you got to experience it for all those years. It does not, of course, get rid of toxins (what toxins would we be talking about here, any way?). People who say that are one step away from recommending leeches. For those of us who observe traditional religions, however, it is a wonderful spiritual exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Good on you... a nice balance between faith and reason. Though if you want to continue in the spirit of sacrifice you might adopt some particularly absurd fad diet during the daylight hours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @Zasman, read up on Cerebral Palsy. I am surprised that an Imam has not told her to stop fasting and due the charity. By fasting and putting herself in danger, she casts a poor light on Islam. I am not a Muslim but have many Muslim friends. I am Christian. I am disabled also. There are things I just cannot do. Is God testing me, or you? Peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    'Why I gave up fasting for Ramadan' because it is a pain in the buttocks and is based on utter nonsense born out of vile religious superstition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    A silly, trivial article that makes one wonder about the BBC's editorial policy.

    Or perhaps it's just a joke on the licence-paying public...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I pray that you get triple rewards for your efforts: twice for fasting even though the Quraan exempted you and once for your spiritual and physical cleansing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I doubt she's been fasting for decades. Fasting has many benefits, such as a clean intestine, a re-active mind. It teaches you patience as you have to keep your cool when your hungry. For those who enjoy sports, some athletes have fasted whilst playing a game i.e Lassana Diarra for Real Madrid where he scored a few goals. Fasting Promotes detoxification, corrects high blood Pressure and more

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I wonder, why in this age of science and precise calculation of movement of earth and moon, the last day of Ramadan has to be determined by moon sighting. Often, in the same country, Id-Ul_Fitr are celebrated on different days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Kudos to you for overcoming your disability and fasting for THREE DECADES! That in itself is a victory.

    Fasting is a wonderful experience which not only helps your body rid of its toxins but also feels amazing mentally and spiritually. The hunger pangs and the thirst in the last hour (17 hours in Toronto) just goes to remind you of the millions who die every year for food/water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    What a lovely woman.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As far as I understand it, you only have to fast during the daylight hours. Between sundown and sun-up, it's eat as you wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The problem with this article is that it stereotypes Ramadan as nothing more than an exercise which demands people to avoid eating or drinking. This is very sad as it portraits Ramadan as some kind of diet. Ramadan is about celebrating God and revelation of the Quran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Not a Muslim but fasted thinking it would be good for my MS perhaps. Trouble with a fast is that it is so SLOW. Gave it up after one day. I felt nauseas and faint and dizzy. Didn't do a thing for my MS naturally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Prolonged fasting is pointless, irrational and potentially harmful it upsets the metabolism and impedes normal functioning of mind and body but then again 'Muslims fast so they can suffer a little'. Forgive me for saying so but it sounds like a very petty human logic, hardly one a deity (or at least a kindly one) would require of their flock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Thank you for this article, which helps me understand a little bit better my many Muslim neighbours and countrymen and women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    when you have a medical problem where fasting threatens your health exemptions exist in the Qur'an, we are not expected to feel guilty about watching our health. if you are not sure consult your doctor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Alan USA- everything is a choice, you can obey the law or not, you can choose to follow a religion and its laws or not. Individuals/organizations force their beliefs onto others not the other way around.


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