This is a mini blog series that includes the perspectives of different members of the community that celebrate Ramadan in their own way - because we know there is no one size fits all approach to anything related to diabetes.
Key terms that will be used throughout this series include:
- Sehri/Suhoor - the pre-dawn meal before starting your fast.
- Iftar - the meal you break your fast with at sunset.
- Eid - a day of celebration at the end of Ramadan.
- Fidya - a religious donation of money or food to help those in need when a fast cannot be observed.
For this last post in our series, we sat down with one of the younger members of our community. Ayla and Saira sat down to talk a little about how her diagnosis with diabetes impacts her experience as a child participating in Ramadan, along with the power of the diabetes community. Ayla was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December of 2019, when she was 7 years old. She is now 9 years old and attends an Islamic school.
This entire blog series was honestly written keeping Ayla and my own daughters in mind. Children with diabetes have it hard enough code switching from their peers who don’t understand the struggles of living with diabetes, robot parts, or the awful feeling of being low. Feeling different is rarely fun. Ramadan is such a huge part of the lives of so many Muslim communities around the world, and at Ayla’s age the conversations are usually about how long they made it before they felt hungry and how many fasts they were able to keep which are worn like a badge of honor. Having to explain that you didn’t make it past 10 am because you went low is not something any of the other kids have to do. And it’s not fun.
It is typically with good intentions, but friends, family, and community members often don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to just claim the diabetes card. If you have ever been told you couldn’t do something, whether it was because of diabetes or any other reason, you know. You know that it can have the power to distinguish a light inside you, or it can be the fuel to your fire.
We know the power of community. Connecting with people with diabetes is powerful enough. Connecting with people who understand not just the nuances of living with diabetes, but the unique challenges of diabetes during Ramadan - that feels like coming home. Bonding over how darn hard it is to bolus for that samosa after a lowered temp basal for hours, about the challenge in ‘choosing’ to fast with diabetes knowing that it is so much harder for us, the struggle in showing ourselves the kindness we aim to exude into the world this month. Those are things that only people that have walked a path similar to yours can relate to.
As a child, I had no examples of people doing hard things with diabetes. The thing I am most grateful for since the years of my own diagnosis, is the stories of people living full lives all the same. The greatest example of the power of this is Ayla’s story, and her confidence in being able to try fasting - knowing that Ramadan will be what she makes of it and not something she had no choice in.
What are your favorite parts of Ramadan?
I love our advent calendar, counting down the days of Ramadan until Eid is always fun. We put ours up right here in the kitchen. I like going to the masjid for taraweeh (an optional prayer during Ramadan) with my family, and it is just a really exciting time at school too. I love that we get less school work. Iftar every day is also one of my favorite parts.
What are your favorite things to eat at iftar and sehri?
I love samosas and pakoras for iftar, and for sehri sometimes I’ll eat waffles and chicken, and I try to drink a whole glass of water.
You were diagnosed with diabetes before last Ramadan, did you fast last year and how was it?
Yes, I kept my fast a few times last year. It was fine. I remember having lows around 10 am and feeling hungry around then too.
How does having diabetes impact Ramadan for you, and how does it make you feel?
I know that I don’t have to fast with diabetes, but that makes me feel sad. There are so many kids in my school that do fast, and I don’t like having to be different. I get angry that my friends can fast and they don’t have to worry about blood sugars, they don’t have to think about if they are going to go low. I don’t want permission to not have to fast with my friends.
Are a lot of your friends fasting this year?
Yes, a lot of my friends do. I want to fast for at least 5 days this year. I try to keep my fasts on the weekends so I can sleep in after sehri and not have to go to school later.
Does it help knowing there are other Muslims with diabetes who do fast?
It is helpful to know that I’m not alone and I like knowing that it is possible. That it’s ok to try. Even if it’s hard.
How do you feel about Ramadan this year? Have you been able to keep any of your fasts so far?
I feel accomplished in being able to fully complete a fast more than once with diabetes (even in the heat because one of those days it went to over 100 degrees!) My parents and I had to learn from the first day and make adjustments to settings and eat lower carb at suhoor, but I stayed in range the entire 2nd day that I fasted! I feel so accomplished and encouraged and look forward to trying again.
Thank you to every single one of our participants for this series. Your time and experience is so appreciated. You can find the entire blog series here:
- Part 1 - Dr. Himala Kashmiri from Children's Health of Orange County shares his insight as a clinician on fasting with diabetes.
- Part 2 - Sarah shares her insight on how her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes at 14 years old impacted how she spends Ramadan.
- Part 3 - Fatima shares her experience with shifting her priorities for Ramadan over the years since her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes as a teenager.
- Part 4 - Raza shares his experience in adjusting how he observes Ramadan as someone who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult.
- Part 5 - Mohammed shares his insight as a medical student and diabetes educator observing Ramadan in Palestine since he was 12 years old.
- Part 6 - Ayla and Saira sat down to talk about how her diagnosis with diabetes impacts her experience as a child participating in Ramadan, along with the power of the diabetes community.