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A ‘bad’ Muslim’s guide to the rest of Ramadan

22 May 2019

Illustration by Soofiya

I’m Agi and I am a bad Muslim girl. I’m 28-years-old, Afro-Swedish, and was raised in Essex by relaxed and somewhat liberal Gambian Muslim parents. But, since my mother came back from Hajj last year – sanctimony and piousness intact – I have found it harder to reconcile my religion with my “heathen” lifestyle. The anticipation of Ramadan this year was completely terrifying as my mother’s eagle eye has not let up, ensuring a spicy and angst-ridden Ramadan.

My mother is wonderful but as she strives for enlightenment and strength in her faith, I can’t help but confront how seriously I take mine. For instance, my best friend is an affable South Korean gay man whom my mum adores but has a long way to go in terms accepting his “lifestyle”. Our interpretations of the holy teachings differ drastically when it comes to sensitive matters such as sexuality and gender identity, whilst I confront them head on and aim to be as accepting and spiritually open as I can, her tunnel vision worship doesn’t allow for a reconciliation between faith and non-heterosexuality.

She raised me well and I can’t fault her – never stifling my creativity or questionable sartorial choices and always encourages me to be independent and to pursue any career that my fanciful Sagittarius sun and Scorpio moon seem fit. However, I can’t help but feel like I’ve fallen short of her expectations of what a good Muslim daughter should be: my penchant for sauvignon blanc, lack of impulse control and general “bad” behaviour affects my relationship with God. Even though I may consider myself to be a “bad” Muslim I don’t let this take away from my intention to become more spiritually and religiously intact. I use Ramadan as a set period to challenge why I don’t maintain the same energy year round.

Every year I am plagued with nagging thoughts, like how do I champion the rights of the Muslim LGBTQI+ community (like the amazing charity Imaan do) and maintain an interpretation of a faith that all but forbids its existence? How do I promote sex-positivity whilst also trying to have one foot in a very conservative door? Ramadan is one of the few times I will gladly claim to be a hypocrite and I know I’m not the only one. That’s why I’ve put together an atypical Ramadan survival guide for those of us who need to try a little harder when dealing with compromises: the detoxing, the staying in and the worship.

1. Be honest with your intentions and don’t freestyle it!

For many of us born into Islam, when we grow older it’s a heavy conscious decision and a struggle to wholeheartedly practice. I spent my early years pretending to know how to do ablution, how to pray, and being scolded in a Gambian prayer school whilst failing miserably at Arabic. Getting older, I grew weary of the anxiety that came whenever anyone asked me to recite a dua or asked me why I didn’t wear a hijab. I lacked a sense of direction, a semblance of which I aim to achieve during this holy month, and it wasn’t until I came to terms with what Islam meant for me that I was able to set realistic goals. There are reasons we may consider ourselves “bad” Muslims so take this time to methodically confront insecurities concerning your worship. Keeping a diary or a checklist of personal goals you want to work towards can be great for when you look back – as a point of reference for your growth.

2. Delete all those dating apps

To be honest, after a few months of “mosting” and disastrous dates, I’m advocating for a complete dating sabbatical for the rest of my life. Whilst I have put dating on the back burner until the end of summer, I would definitely recommend holding off during Ramadan. Let’s be honest, it’s not entirely halal and can distract you from the holy tasks at hand. The variables that dating introduces to our lives can leave you in a vulnerable state at a time when we need strength. Protect your energy, your heart and your thumbs.

3. Beat fear of missing out (FOMO) – bring your friends in on it

This one here is the real killer, you might be taking in part in Ramadan but your number one friend is still hitting you up with all the gallery launch and party invites. Everyone is gearing up for summer and you’re gearing up for iftar. It’s hard, like really hard, and this is something that I personally struggle with most. My remedy for this year is bringing my friends into the fold. By force or by fire they will partake – whether it’s by breaking fast with me and my family or by respecting the boundaries I’ve set in place for myself during this holier than thou month. You can involve your friends by arranging fundraisers for Muslim or non-Muslim charities together, or see if they’re brave enough to join a day of fasting and reflection with you.

4. Research iconic and relatable Muslim folx

Whenever I feel like I am slipping away from Islam I reach out to others who I can relate to. This has formed into an obsession that the execution of my faith often hinges on. I must be transparent when I say I haven’t yet found an unabashed bad black icon, but I have sought and formed a communal folxhood with other self-proclaimed bad Muslims. It’s important to create a space where we are free of judgment, encourage each other to do better and release the pressure that comes with navigating and taking up multiple identity spaces.

5. From self-care to heightened spiritual nourishment

We are about halfway through Ramadan now and I am nowhere near achieving the lofty pious goals I set for myself. Anxiety and guilt have only pushed me to eat more, my mother and her consistent watchful eye willing me to pray only make me want to do it less. The only FOMO I feel is when I see my good Muslim friends doing it right. This wave of thinking is futile and if you’re prone to going there take this time to centre yourself all the way back to step one, remember why you are taking part and be proud of the strength and effort you have put into trying to better yourself thus far. If you’re not comfortable going to a mosque, create a space of worship and reflection that mirrors you and alleviates the Ramadan slump, we all have our own speed, don’t rush.

6. Enjoy yourself!

Let’s say you don’t reach all the spiritual milestones you set in place, only fast for a full week and never manage to get up for fajr prayers. Maybe you get drunk at the Hinge date with the guy you swore you’d never text and will then spend the remaining time planning your Eid outfit. So what? The beauty of God and Islam is forgiveness. Without getting too preachy seek it not for the sake of anyone or anything else, but for yourself. Have faith that you’ll do much better next time.