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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  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 47.

    I loved Ramadan (I am an agnostic with an Anglican upbringing). I spent two Ramadans in Syria, one in Egypt and at least four in Malaysia. The sense of joy, community spirit and festivity is wonderful! And I put on so much weight, eating Iftar with all my friends was always a massive feast! And as this comedian says - when you're surrounded by people fasting, it's so much easier to do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Islam has always had concessions for Ramadan - elderly, sick etc. Also worth remembering many put weight on during Ramadan. I lived with some Afghani's during Ramadan and I was not frowned upon for not following the religious fast, the time was a happy one and they felt closer to their religion for observing the fast and Eid was particularly enjoyable.

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    Comment number 45.

    I read up on Islamic fasting. Is it not detrimental to our health if we don't hydrate our bodies (from sunrise to sunset)? What's wrong with drinking some water during that time? And, then, after to sunset to eat virtually anything, does not make sense. What good does all of that do?

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    Comment number 44.

    @zathros Islam does give you leverage when you have disability. For example, if you have to take medication after surgery. However if your mind and body is functional for you to live day by day then by all means a muslim has to fast. If your an amputee for example you still have to fast. If you are about to faint for example you can break your fast.

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    Comment number 43.

    It's kinda similar to Jehovah's who say blood transfusions etc are against the rules, but they all break them! Besides its probably not rules per-say just guidelines....which sums all religions in my book.....

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    Comment number 42.

    To Northern1
    If by vile you mean teaching someone the ability to control ones desires and to restrain ones instincts. The same traits that are needed in creating a just and coherent society, because what would happen if everyone acted on their own whims, desires and greed? Surely the banks/bankers that caused the credit crunch could learn a few lessons from Ramadan.

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    Comment number 41.

    Fasting from food is one thing, but no water during daylight? Not a good idea in summer, particularly in hot regions. Imagine someone doing manual labour outside in the heat, with no food or water all day.
    It's a good way to make yourself ill, and heatstroke and dehydration can be very dangerous.
    A pragmatic approach to this religious ritual should be taken, and water made acceptable.

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    Comment number 40.

    37.Graphis - "All the muslims I know, here and abroad, get up ...................food intake hasn't gone down, just the timing of meals moved around a bit."

    Yup, to all intents & purposes just like Christians' attempts to "fast" during lent.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    One year I had a very devout Muslim student in my computer class who found a particular challenge in observing Ramadan - she was OK fasting but had got into a habit of eating Polo mints when using computers and really missed them! But she persevered...

    Ramadan mubarat to everyone out there observing the fast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Even this holy time is used by some forces to torture victims. e.g. At some detention camps, including the now defunct Abu Gharab, meals were delivered on a regular basis during Ramadan. Custodians brought/bring food twice daily, first at midnight and during fasting time to make the detainees break the religious duty of fasting.
    This torture is very likely continuing. Who is there to check?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    All the muslims I know, here and abroad, get up before sunrise and eat a huge meal, then go back to bed. This sustains them throughout the day, until sundown, when they eat again. In fact, it's not really "fasting" at all, despite the pious attitude of some. Their daily food intake hasn't gone down, just the timing of meals moved around a bit.

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    Comment number 36.

    I couldn't do fasting. . . . . . .By 11am everyone in my office would be deafened by the tummy rumbles

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    Comment number 35.

    I am sure Allah will give you extra credit for all those years you did fast... Take care.

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    Comment number 34.

    I don't think it's a stupid article, nor is it a stupid practice. Though I am not a Muslim, the Ramadan fast seems to me a sign of devotion, which also reinforces the sense of belonging to a community of faith, and is worthy of respect. Fasting and abstinence were once common observations - and probably remain so, at least for the devout, in some Jewish and Christian traditions, too...

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    Comment number 33.

    As a non Muslim I have always enjoyed Ramadan, especially while living and working in Muslim countries. I have been lucky enough to have been invited to the breaking of the fast by several friends and their families, and I must say the food that is traditionally served has almost converted me a few times. Though I have noticed that Ramadan has different traditions depending on where are.

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    Comment number 32.

    To Shellscript: You are absolutely right in your thinking but you should have also said that all science, math and medicine and modern tech that we are enjoying came from Islamic civilization. They were champions of both faith and inspiration... and one thing more... reason. Educate more perhaps visit www.muslimheritage.com or watch Islam:Empire of Faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Jewish day of atonement also includes fasting - it is only one day and children are exempt.

    Curious why no Imam in western countries has not exempted children from Ramadan fast at least on school days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    My Turkish friend fasted for approximately one day, and then he couldn't do it anymore. No disabilities, he just wants to eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I can honestly tell you I don't know what Ramadan is nor do most American's, except being a Muslim Holiday that lasts 30 days, and includes fasting. Each person experiences it it privately and few share their spiritual experiences.


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