Ramadan and eating disorders: fasting for Allah or anorexia?

Islam's holiest month proves to be too much for some young Muslims

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The Independent Online

The holiest month in the Islamic calendar is set to begin next week.

A time of quiet and peaceful reflection, Muslims the world over will fast every day for a month during Ramadan with the hope of teaching themselves the values of self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity.

The month is also meant to act as a reminder of the suffering of the poor across the globe who have little – or virtually no – access to food.

There will, however, be some Muslims who will be more anxious for the holy month’s imminent arrival for a completely different reason: the all-consuming thought and thrill of starving themselves is almost too much to bear during this celebrated time.

Last week, the NHS revealed the number of teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders has almost doubled in just three years.

In the year 2010-11, the NHS saw 959 teenagers aged 13-19 being admitted with the illness. This number rose to 1,815 in the year 2013-14.

It was last year that American-Muslim, Safy-Hallan Farah, took the bold step to write about her tumultuous relationship with food in a frank post on global food-purpose website, MUNCHIES: “I’d spend a ridiculous amount of time on pro-anorexia and bulimia sites,” she wrote.

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

Safy-Hallan also explained how some sufferers feel like they are being ‘rewarded’ anyway when starving themselves because Ramadan is the one month they can get away with it.

Journalist, blogger and mental health campaigner, Habiba Khanom, has been vocal about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia and, last month, spoke candidly about the irony surrounding Ramadan: “Food seems to be everywhere. Iftar preparations [break-of-fast at sunset] fill the whole day and everyone talks about what they are going to eat, how hungry they are, and invite you out for an Iftari meal.

“There is really nowhere to hide. Ramadan is, still, all about food, food and more food.”

Habiba urges other sufferers to put themselves first and to work to fight their disorder and adds: “Maybe one day, I will be healthy and in the right mind-set to fast in Ramadan and not only that, but actually fast for the right reasons.”

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, please contact Beat - the UK’s leading charity which supports anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food - on 0845 634 1414 or 0845 634 7650.

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