Tuesday 15 July 2014

Ramadan and Pregnancy – Respecting a Womans’ Choice

I am part of the Facebook group for Multi-Cultural Kids Blogs, where there are lots of pointers to useful resources, people asking interesting questions and conducting research amongst the member bloggers and lots of debate and discussion. Recently someone posted a link to this article on the very popular Babycentre website which discusses fasting during pregnancy. The article didn’t particularly bother me (although some of the people posting on the thread were a little annoyed at the focus of the article). What really interested me was the comments that followed the article. This was for two reasons – one that many of the comments were from Muslim women and I often find that when it comes to issues that affect Muslim women, everyone has an opinion but often the view of a range of Muslim women is just not represented. The second reason was the diversity of the comments – from both women who have fasted in pregnancy and those who have decided not to and the different reasoning behind both.

I am currently seven and a half months pregnant and have tried fasting for a day and realised that it is not the best choice for me and my baby this Ramadan. I am deficient in iron, vitamin D and B12 and so have to manage my nutrition through the day to combat exhaustion and make sure I and baby are well.

That doesn’t mean that I think there should be a blanket ban on all pregnant women fasting. I fasted with my three older children, for all whom Ramadan fell between the sixth and eight month of pregnancy. I also happened to be 10 years younger and a lot fitter and Ramadan fell in the winter months. This meant a healthy breakfast and lunch a few hours later than usual (in winter the fast is 8-9 hours and breaks at about 4pm in the UK, in contrast to the 17 hour summer fasts).

With Darling I fasted a few days and found myself feeling too tired, so fasted intermittently. This time round, the one day I fasted, meant it took me the whole of the following day to recover from exhaustion. The decision not to fast was not taken lightly but seemed the most sensible thing to do within the guidance and mercy of my faith which allows pregnant women to abstain from fasting and make the fasts up later when it might be more manageable.

The thing that really surprised me, although it shouldn’t by now, was the amount of people who thought they knew best on my behalf. I had a number of work colleagues ask if I was fasting and when I said no responded with “good!”, which rather irritated me. Then I had a number of sisters from the local community that surrounds our masjid and from the school run asking me if I was fasting and encouraging me to try. I am by nature a contrary woman (my husband has come to realise this), I don’t like to be told to do things and the quickest way to make me want to do something is to be ordered not to do it.

I think these people need to:

  • Not assume that the choices they make or would make are best for everyone else.
  • Allow women to monitor their own health and make choices based on what they know about their own bodies.
  • Consider that women should be respected enough to make their own informed decisions regarding matters that effect them.
Another thing that caught my attention was how everyone seemed to be confident about the religious position on pregnancy and fasting – declaring I must not fast or I must fast. My understanding I as follows:

“With regard to the pregnant woman: it is permissible for her not to fast if she fears some harm which she thinks will most likely affect her and/or her baby.”

This is based the Quranic injunction not to harm ourselves alongside the following:

Ibn ‘Abbas said: This is a concession allowed to old men and women, who can only fast with difficulty; they are allowed to break the fast and to feed one poor person for each day of fasting missed. This also applies to pregnant and nursing women, if they are afraid.” Abu Dawood said: “i.e., if they are afraid for their children, they may break the fast.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, 1947; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Irwa’, 4/18, 25).
So for me it is not a clear ban on fasting if you are pregnant, but rather for the pregnant women to assess whether it is safe and manageable for her and her baby and to make a sensible choice.

Another aspect that has influenced my decision to fast in the past is my strong belief that if you do something for the sake of Allah (SWT) He will make it easy and place barakah in it for you. He may ask you to make a sacrifice or undergo something challenging for Him, but he will not necessarily exact it from you (think of Ibrahim AS being asked to slaughter his son, but not actually having to). Hence the fact that it seems easier to fast in the middle of summer for Ramadan when Allah’s (SWT) help and mercy is with you, than make up fasts outside of winter even in the short cool days. With my older children I fasted with the intention that I would make abundant dua (supplication) for my babies whilst fasting with greater confidence that they were being accepted.

At the moment I also have the added factor of my children starting to fast. Watching them fast but not doing so myself feels very strange. I have tried to be discreet, but now I have the boys asking me every few days why I am not fasting – I have told them it’s because I am not well and need injections from the doctor (B12) so cannot. Little Lady and I had a running joke to see how long before the boys clocked we were expecting another blessing. We never thought it would last this long, but now at almost seven and a half months they still haven’t realised (Gorgeous just isn’t very impressed that I have gotten fat). So now we have decided not to tell them and see how they react when a new baby comes home – I had no idea they would be so oblivious.

Not being able to fast means that I have been looking for other ways to make the most of this month and not miss out on it’s rewards, this has been difficult because I find it hard to pray salat because of my bulk and exhaustion. Instead I have been trying to make more dhikr, share food at iftar time and encourage the children to do more good deeds (Gorgeous likes the idea of a good deed list and Little Man is looking for one good deed that will give him an enormous reward).

I would love to hear suggestions from other sisters about what they do at this time for spiritual fulfilment and reward if they are missing out on fasting, whether due to pregnancy, illness or menstruation.

I pray for my sisters who are fasting and for those who simply could not and ask for your dua’s for all of us and for Allah (SWT) to accept whatever little we can manage during this blessed month.


  1. Salaam Umm Salihah - I agree with you completely. Last year, I was advised by my doctor (non Muslim) not to fast due to my age and health conditions. I did try to fast, but was dehydrated, and feared risk to my child. Like you, I did a lot of research and consulted local Alimahs. Each sister knows what is best for her, so its best not to judge. Alhamdulillah, this year, even with nursing, I am able to fast the long days. Allah knows Best! I did feel like I missed out on fasting last year. I'm in the US, so our fasts are long as well.
    I did make up for it by: 1) attending Taraweeh regularly, 2) Devoting extra time to reading Qur'an. I would listen to extra recitation of the Qur'an whenever possible. I also made an effort to try to memorize a few extra Surahs, by writing the transliterations out on paper. I think that helped me feel connected.
    Ameen to your du'as and may Allah (SWT) accept whatever we humbly offer and make it easy for all sisters everywhere!

  2. I think you are also making a great sacrifice by supporting your husband as he does special work in Germany.

    As part of my faith, we regularly fast one Sunday per month, plus other times when we need extra blessings. I get diabetic when pregnant, so fasting it's not an option. I fasted once while nursing, and I lost half my milk overnight. Like you, I struggled trying to teach my children to fast while I was not. I tried to eat before they got up. Another thing is attitude. Being able to eat doesn't mean indulging yourself. Eating to nourish the baby doesn't have to mean eating sweets or complicated meals. I would usually have a small sandwich and a glass of milk. It was enough.

    I think whatever you decide to do, it is the right thing for you. And it's nobody's business but yours and God's. He sees the intentions of your heart. He knows you would do this if it were safe, as you explained.

    I wish you the best! I love reading your posts!