I have been a resident at a mental health rehabilitation unit for almost two years. Before the spread of Covid 19 we didn’t have many restrictions and I could freely visit family or go shopping. This piece is about how life has changed due to the nationwide lockdown and how I have managed to fast during the month of Ramadan

My father arrived in the UK in the 1960s to work in the cotton mills of Oldham. My family originate from Bangladesh, a poor but beautiful South Asian country. My family have been very supportive of me for over a decade and have never left my side. Visiting me when I was in hospital and supporting me emotionally and financially.

I have suffered from Schizophrenia for the past thirteen years and have had a number of long admissions on acute mental health wards. Due to the frequency of my admissions, doctors decided that I needed to be at a rehabilitation unit.

The unit I am in houses eighteen male patients varying in age between late twenties to late fifties, with different mental health needs. The building itself is a two storey mansion with twenty bedrooms, an office and a lounge for patients, with large gardens at the front and back of the building.

For the past few weeks, things have changed drastically due to the national lockdown and the start of Ramadan. To protect the clients most leave has been restricted. Service users are no longer allowed out even to go to the shop. Psychology sessions have continued however and our Occupational Therapist organises regular activities to keep us busy.

As I write, we are in the third week of Ramadan, with about ten days of fasting remaining. There are nearly 1.8 billion Muslims in the world who fast in the month of Ramadhan, it is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims from every country from China in the East, to Egypt in Africa, refrain from eating, drinking or smoking between dawn and sunset.

It is a month where giving in charity is emphasised along with feeding the poor. After going through hunger and thirst for a month it creates a profound feeling of gratitude. Fasting is not just a question of abstaining from food and drink. It is also a spiritual month in which lying, backbiting and slandering is especially discouraged. It is a month when you learn to control your eyes, ears and tongue. Not to look at wrong. Not to listen to wrong Not to speak wrong.

My main regret is not being able to go home to see my family over the Ramadhan period; my parents are elderly and vulnerable to Covid 19 so I would never put them at further risk by going to the family home. I have never had a Ramadhan on my own before but my brothers drop off food for me twice a week.

I believe in a Kind and Merciful God who can change things in an instant. My religious faith has helped me through many dark times when I felt depressed and hopeless. I always pray for myself, my family and friends and all of humanity, certainly after every hardship, there is ease.

It is important to realise that hundreds of millions of people are going through the same problems as we are, locked down and isolated. At least we have shelter, clean water and food, unlike nearly a million displaced Rohingya people in Bangladesh where they live in squalid refugee camps without basic amenities like clean water and sanitisation.  

In these unprecedented times, rather than be bored or inactive and watch TV all day, there’s much we can do, we just need to be positive and optimistic. I have always been passionate about reading and writing so I decided to fulfil my dream of writing a novel. Over the past few weeks I have written the first draft of my book.

I thank the doctors, nurses and other staff on the rehabilitation unit for making it possible for me to fast this month and for being so caring. My medication times have been changed to coincide with fasting and non fasting hours. The staff allow me to use the ward kitchen so I can have a meal before dawn and I also have permission to cook at sunset for my end of fast meal.

As a diabetic, I am exempt from fasting and since I am a resident at a mental health rehabilitation unit I am exempt twice over. However, along with the advice of doctors, I prefer to fast during this special month.

It does get lonely on the unit, as I am the only one fasting, but I have invited my friend to join me regularly for the end of fast meal, so I can share the special moment with someone. Ramadhan is followed by Eid, a day of happiness and celebration, I hope by that time the lockdown will be eased further if not completely and then we can really celebrate.

I look forward to the day when I will be able to go home and see all my loved ones again and go out whenever I want, wherever I want.

By Muhammad Khan