Inaz Janif understands firsthand the struggle for Muslim mums trying to juggle fasting with keeping a healthy work-life balance during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
The busy mum of three works as a high school teacher in Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburbs and is also a board member on the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), representing women.
Ms Janif, 41, said those who are privileged and more supported often find motherhood easier.
“But not everybody has the same support,” she said.
For busy Muslim mums, often juggling work with raising kids and fasting, focusing on the deeper meaning of Ramadan can be challenging.
From eating enough calories during pre-dawn meals to keeping up with demanding days, it can be hard trying to do it all during the month, the holiest in the Islamic calender.
To assist Muslim mums in building a community, through her work with ICV, Ms Janif helped launch a group where making friends and supporting each other are the keys.
The mums, who come from all over Melbourne, meet once a week with their children, including during Ramadan while many are fasting.
Many believe Ramadan helps those participating empathise with those less fortunate.
But Ms Janif said it was important that mums not be hard on themselves, especially if they aren’t able to fast or participate in Ramadan.
“They should be kind to themselves and the very important work they’re doing in nurturing and raising their children [which] is also considered a religious worship,” she said.
“I’m really in awe of what mums do. Sometimes women are not appreciated.
“They are often the hidden superheroes.”
This year, more than 800,000 Muslims in Australia are practising the holy month of Ramadan, which involves a 30-day fast of food and drink from dawn until dusk, in accordance with Islamic tradition.
The month isn’t just about being thirsty and hungry — there’s also a spiritual aspect to the fast, which allows a person to look within and self-reflect, testing patience, and willpower.
While fasting is prescribed for all Muslims from the age of puberty, there are exceptions including for those who are sick, pregnant, menstruating or breastfeeding.
During the month, taking part in charity and reading the Koran are also seen as acts of great worship.
Some also participate by giving up vices or bad habits like excessive mobile phone use, or binge eating their favourite treats.
“When we’re not eating and drinking, it gives you a lot of time to really reflect,” Ms Janif said.
But the burden of not being able to fully participate in Ramadan can weigh heavy for some.
Experiencing Ramadan with mental illness
For many, Ramadan can be a chance to grow spiritually and spend time with loved ones but for those who struggle with their mental health, it can be isolating.
The Centre for Muslim Wellbeing (CMW) has been raising awareness about mental health struggles through its social media platforms.
In order to help Muslims, including many Muslim mums who suffer in silence, they shared a story posted by a UK Muslim organisation called Young Minds, where a Muslim woman opened up about her mental health struggles during Ramadan anonymously.
“Not eating and staying up until the early hours of the morning for suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) exacerbated my symptoms and by the end of the month I was in a much worse state than I had been to begin with,” the post read.
CMW executive officer Ayman Islam said Ramadan could exacerbate symptoms of mental health issues for some people.
“Muslims get less sleep during the holy month due to late-night prayers and pre-dawn meals, and because ingesting anything is prohibited during the fast, those who take medications often forgo their prescriptions, which can have serious side effects,” Mr Islam said.
These issues can also be experienced by struggling working mothers.
For these women, Mr Islam said it was important to remember that their mental health is not a reflection of their faith.
As sickness can be an exemption from fasting religiously, mental illness can also be seen as just as valid a reason not to fast, he said.
“Prioritise sleep and healthy foods and reach out to family, friends or someone that you trust if you are facing a difficult time,” Mr Islam said.
“Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your feelings.”
‘The more you fast, the easier it is’
The founder and CEO of creative project Bukjeh, Aseel Tayah, juggles owning her own businesses with being a mum to her six-year-old daughter.
Ms Tayah said for her “fasting isn’t that hard” but takes some planning.
“The more you fast the easier it is,” she said.
In accordance with the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed, Ms Tayah also fasts outside of Ramadan.
“I fast every Monday and Thursday and every full moon. I fast half the year,” she said.
She said this makes fasting during Ramadan much easier.
Making Ramadan live up to Christmas and Easter
Another challenging aspect of Ramadan can be managing the expectations of children, who often compare the holy month to other holidays like Christmas and Easter, which are not traditionally celebrated by Muslims.
Many Muslim mums send their kids to school where these holidays are integrated into school activities, which can be difficult to navigate.
Ms Tayah said making sure her house was looking beautiful with Ramadan decorations was very important.
She said she does this so she can show her daughter the importance the month holds while keeping up with the hype of other holidays.
Meal preparation is also key to making things easier she said, as well as lots of planning, and a family focus on mindful eating.
For her family, the feast during eating hours isn’t as important as the meaning behind the fast.
“I taught my daughter that we don’t really need to make a whole big feast at the table, because there are many people that cannot afford it,” she said.
“We would rather give that money to charity, instead of filling the table with food that we would not eat for the next few days.”
‘Us women are given that extra bit to keep going’
For mum-of-five Samyaa Raad, from West Hoxton in Sydney’s outer-west, this Ramadan has come with many blessings.
Having just had her fifth child nine months ago, the 33-year-old said despite its hurdles Ramadan is a “joyful month”.
She often finds herself busy cooking all day and running errands while fasting.
“Being a mum is hard any day of the week, and in Ramadan it’s just more rewarding knowing that it all isn’t going unappreciated,” Ms Raad said.
Like many Muslims, she said the month accentuated her sense of fulfilment, both spiritually, and religiously.
“I’m not going to doubt that I get tired because I do, I’m only human, but to be honest it doesn’t hit me as I feel such a great buzz in Ramadan,” she said.
She added that she felt that being a mother gave her extra impetus to keep going.
“It’s like us women are given that extra bit to keep going. It’s beautiful,” she said.
This content was originally published here.