A husband and wife are in the kitchen, preparing iftar. The wife sighs in irritation as her husband blocks her path to the refrigerator. “Why are you always standing in my way?” she demands.
Her husband snaps back, “At least I’m helping you! And don’t add too much salt to the soup like you did yesterday!”
They’ve been fasting for thirteen hours, and the remaining 30 minutes until sunset seem interminable. They know they shouldn’t be bickering, but their nerves are frayed after a long, tiring day. Will they stop themselves before their squabbling becomes a full-scale fight? Will they reap the benefits of their fast or nullify it with harsh words?
Abu Huraira reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Whoever does not leave evil words and deeds while fasting, Allah does not need him to leave food and drink.’”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari #1903)
During Ramdan, life’s pressures don’t magically disappear. We still have to deal with a host of stressors like work deadlines, traffic jams, bickering children, difficult colleagues, and spouses who get on our last nerve. One of the biggest challenges of our holiest month is trying to cope with aggravation patiently when our mental stamina is depleted. To “leave evil words and deeds” as our Prophet advised may sound easy, but in our weakened state, it can actually be quite difficult.
Some individuals handle fasting fairly well, but others seem to have a much harder time self-regulating when they are hungry, tired, and thirsty. For them, Ramadan tends to be a very challenging time of year. And because of their moodiness, it’s also more challenging for the people around them.
Understand the Reason
If you are one of those people who struggles to control your emotions during Ramadan, it might be helpful to know that your impatience is based on a genuine physical response. According to an article in Healthline, “Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can occur during periods of calorie restriction or over periods of fasting. This can lead to irritability, anxiety, and poor concentration. A 2016 study in 52 women found that participants were significantly more irritable during an 18-hour fasting period than they were during a nonfasting period.”1
This is not an excuse to indulge in negative, selfish behavior, though. Fasting is not meant to be easy; it is meant to test us.* Allah in his wisdom ordained fasting upon us in order to increase our taqwa, our God-consciousness. This invaluable prize, taqwa, comes only with self discipline, sacrifice, and patience. The harder we fight to control our bad mood, the more rewards we will get, inshaAllah, God willing. Allah knows the exact toll that fasting takes on each individual, and He sees how much some of us must exert to remain calm and non confrontational.
Enjoy Some Positive Effects
Achieving taqwa is the number-one benefit of patiently fasting, but there are other bonuses, as well. While the women in the previously-mentioned study on fasting displayed increased irritability, they also displayed an unexpected but positive response. According to Healthline, “Interestingly, the researchers found that, although the women were more irritable, they also experienced a higher sense of achievement, pride, and self-control at the end of the fasting period than they reported at the start of fasting.”2 Keep these powerful feelings in mind when your patience is depleted. You might feel “hangry” now, but you will reap the rewards later, in this life and the next, inshaAllah.
Another thing to remember is that while it does cause temporary grouchiness, fasting can have an overall positive effect on our mental health. According to Dr. Nada Omer Mohamed Elbashir, “Individuals that fast have experienced improvements in their symptoms of depression, anxiety and even stress. They also reported decreased fatigue within the second week of fasting. This could be attributed to inducing ketone metabolism and its anti-inflammatory effects that contribute to lower stress levels.”3
Be Self-Aware and Strategic
When our blood sugar is low and we notice that our body is reacting with signs of hunger, imbalance, and irritability, what can we do? Since eating is not an option until sunset, we must employ other self-regulating strategies. Here are a few to try.
- Ask Allah for protection from evil influence. “And if you are tempted by Satan, then seek refuge with Allah. Indeed, He alone is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (Surah Al-Fussilat, 41:36)
- Praise, thank, and glorify your Creator. If your lips are constantly making dhikr, your mind will be too busy with worship to bicker or complain. Plus, every good deed is magnified during Ramadan, so your beautiful words will be heavily weighted with blessings.
- Make wudu. The Prophet advised us to perform ablution if we are upset. The connection with Allah, the soothing ritual, and the cooling water help us get into a better frame of mind.
- Change positions. Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said to us, “If one of you is angry while he is standing, let him sit down so his anger will leave him; otherwise, let him lie down.” (Sunan Abi Dawud #4782)
- Breathe deeply. We often forget how effective breathing can be in regulating our feelings. Mindfully inhaling deep into our belly and breathing in through our nose and out through our mouth for several minutes can alleviate anxiety and calm our nervous system.
- Make dua. The last hour before breaking the fast is often the most difficult. But guess what? It’s also a special time when our supplications are guaranteed to be answered. So take advantage of that last hour of fasting to ask Allah for all you want and need. Make a list, if possible, so you don’t forget any crucial requests. If you’re occupied with beseeching Allah, you will be less likely to vent your frustration onto others.
Dealing with stressors during Ramadan is challenging, but we must strive to do our best each day. The moment we recognize that our temper is short and we are not acting with good Islamic etiquette, we must take concrete steps to remedy the situation. If we remember that the angels are recording our deeds, and that Ramadan is a precious, unique, irreplaceable opportunity and gift, we should be more able to tame our emotions and reap the full rewards of this blessed month.
*This pertains to people who are in good overall health. Some people with serious illnesses are exempt from fasting. Allah does not test us beyond what we can bear, and our bodies have a right on us. If you have a serious physical or mental illness and/or rely on medications that can’t be delayed, consult a medical doctor to determine if fasting is safe for you.
Laura El Alam is a first-generation American Muslim and the author of over 100 published articles. She has written a children’s book, Made From the Same Dough, due to be released in 2023. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.