Ramadan: Why I gave up on fasting

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. 

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. 

I knew that by fasting against the odds I had been born with, I'd totally get into heaven "
End Quote 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 Jerusalem: Fasting is easier in company

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.

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.

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. 

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.


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

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  5 Comments   Comment

  1. KAM from Brazil

    A sincere admission!

    Excessive religiosity and piety baffles me. What is important is living a good ethical

    and moral life. If Allah will ever been kinder to some one who displays too much


  2. H.A. from Yathrib

    Here we go again, the "TITLE LOVING" Muslims aka Khan has landed his

    "SPACESHIP" on this site. Who knows what kind of Muslims these

    people are? Does anyone care if Mr. Khan is an MD,ND, OD, PD, QD, RD

    or $$$D??? Who cares or gives an insect's rear wing?

    Why NOT leave your TITLE at work? Stop suffering the from these

    "TITLEophilia" syndrome, will you? And be a real Muslim, which is

    the REAL TITLE!

    Oh well, why ask why, LET ME TRY A FEW BUD DRY and be MODERN and

    SPIRITUAL, but NOT religious!

    That's all TITLEOPHILIACS!!!

  3. sam from SA

    Brother Khan needs a lesson in compassion,mercy and love.Seems that he has none of these.May Allah guide him....

  4. Irfaan from netherlands


    Brother why do you pull such hasty conclusions without reading

    the article properly.

    May Allah the Most Merciful bless the sister and give her Paradise,

    for she used to fast with a disability for the sake of her Creator and most of us wouldn't even be capable of that.

  5. khan from US

    My Sister MZ

    First of all, Your teachers should have been informed that Allah-swt says in Quran -'There

    is no Compulsion in Religion' and no one including parents, Spouse can force any ritual.

    Please do not spread/remind other Muslims about fasting restrictions as you are NOT an

    Aalim or Guardian of them.

    Giving up a Pillar of Islam after practicing is not good. Please read about the History what

    happened to some Muslims who gave up any Pillar of Islam after embracing Pillars of


    If the activities (Job or anything else) making tire or worsen your disease, you can avoid the

    work if you can for just a month. Allah swt will give you Blessings and Barakah. And also

    brother, I am sorry to say- that Comedy/Jokes to make people laugh with fabrication/lies

    is prohibited by our beloved Prophet-pbuh. I do not know that income is Halal? You have

    given up a pillar of Islam for the income from a comedy/Joke Job. Please check with


    I would and Many Muslims wish to die while doing the Pillars of Islam (especially during

    Hajj, Prayers etc.) Yes, you do not want to fast for some medical reason, that is fine, you

    have fasted in the past, practiced a Pillar of Islam and giving up now for worldly reasons...

    May Allah Help you and all who think and do like you.

    Your Brother