By Amal Stapley
Living with your non-Muslim family as a new Muslim poses many different challenges. In my experience, fasting Ramadan is one of the biggest challenges.
The challenges, of course, vary from family to family, but can be particularly challenging if they aren’t open to your new-found faith or to certain aspects of it.
As in any household, there are always compromises to be made, but when the family members have different beliefs and ways of life, the balance is a very fine one that can easily be tipped one way or the other. It sometimes feels as if you are walking on a bit of a tightrope trying to please everyone, and yet keep true to Islam.
During most of the year, minor adjustments and compromises can be made, as a new Muslim tries to keep within the bounds set by Allah, but still maintaining the family ties. The timing of activities, such as prayer, can be adjusted to fit into the family routine. Islamic activities can happen outside the house, and friends not invited round to avoid arguments and clashes.
But when it comes to the fast of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, it’s not as easy to make compromises, as the timings for fasting are strictly prescribed and the prohibitions are absolute (other than due to the lawful exceptions). Also, Allah’s commands have to take priority over family wishes:
But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness… (Luqman 31:15)
So, how can you manage to do that in Ramadan? It’s impossible to give one standard answer to that question. However, here are some ideas that I have tried while living with my family or that others have tried.
Show Understanding for Their Point of View
It can be very easy in the early flushes of your new faith to be so enthusiastic about it that you forget how strange some of the rituals of Islam seem to other people. They don’t have the same belief as you and therefore find it very difficult to understand why you have to fast for a whole month and be so strict about it. They can’t understand your motivation for doing it and everything about fasting may seem to clash with their own understandings of life and how it should be lived.
If you are facing this type of challenge, one of the best ways to explain about Ramadan I have found is to research the health benefits of fasting. Although this is not our main motivation for fasting, explaining it from a scientific perspective may help your family accept it better. Booklets like the ‘Ramadan Health Guide’ produced by the National Health Service can be a great help with this, as it’s produced by a trusted scientific organization.
Being Gently Firm
Some of my biggest challenges with my family have been when they have tried to tell me what Allah does or doesn’t want from me or when they have tried to impose their interpretation on me of how I should practice my faith.
Looking back, I can see how my practice of Islam may have been confusing, as over the years, when I have learned more and grown into Islam, I have gradually adopted slightly different practices. This may have made it seem as if it is possible to pick and choose what I practice and make it seem as if I could be persuaded to change what I had planned. But in the end, as I will be the one standing in front of Allah accounting for my life; I will be the one who has to justify my actions based on my best understanding of my faith. So I have therefore had to gently stand firm for what I have understood to be the best thing for me to do and used the ‘broken record’ technique; simply repeating my position and not succumbing to persuasion.
This hasn’t always been easy to do at the time and has resulted in some emotional conversations, but in the end, when it became clear that I was standing firm, it was accepted, even though that may have been done grudgingly. Also, maybe I gained some respect for holding onto my beliefs along the way, even though they weren’t necessarily agreed with.
Drink Plenty and Eat a Healthy Balanced Diet
One of the things that non-Muslims find most difficult to understand is the fact that not only we do not eat during the daylight hours in Ramadan, but we also don’t drink anything. Contemporary medical advice encourages people to drink water regularly to keep hydrated. So, when your parents see you not drinking, they naturally get worried that you are harming yourself.
So, make sure that you do drink plenty during the night, and let them know that you are. Also, make sure to eat a healthy balanced diet and take a short nap if you need to, to show them that you are being responsible about your fasting.
Spend Quality Time with Your Family
If your family normally eats together, it will be strange for them to know that you are in the house and not eating with them. It may be even more uncomfortable for you to sit with them but not eat. The ideal would of course be if they would be willing to change their mealtimes to eat with you, but if that doesn’t happen, there are several things you could do.
You could try to make up for missing mealtimes by finding as much quality time to spend with them at other times during the day as you can. You could help to prepare the dinner and clear away after it or better still, cook meals for them! Look out for other ways that you could show your appreciation for this being a difficult time for them.
Make It Easy for Your Parents
My father used to find Ramadan so stressful that he once suggested that I should move out for the month, so they didn’t have to deal with it. It didn’t actually come to that, but instead I tried to make it easier and more natural by taking as many opportunities as I could to go out and have iftar with friends. Not eating with them on those days made me seem more normal. When I brought back food for them, it also let them know that I was thinking of them while I was out. If you are able to go away for some time in Ramadan, it may also help to relieve some of the stress and maybe going to i`tikaf (retreat) might benefit you all!
Whatever you decide to do, you will need to do it with respect, as you are living in parents’ house and this can be a powerful tool for da`wah.
May Allah help you to find the best way to please Him and also your family!