Every year as Ramadan is approaching, I start feeling what in psychology terms is called ‘moral anxiety’ originating from shame for feeling like someone who is not spiritually sound, as I find fasting extremely difficult.

The famous psychoanalyst Freud coined the word ‘moral anxiety’ defining it as, ‘anxiety which results from fear of violating moral or societal codes; moral anxiety appears as guilt or shame.”

The anxiety for me would become profound when a friend called in the day asking how the fast is coming along or how random people at social events would ask if I was fasting. In that moment I could feel my heart beating a bit faster while deciding what is more shameful; not fasting or lying?

I rarely kept a fast as a child mostly because I used to be underweight/moderately ill, and moving forward, I continued to find fasting very difficult and maybe inadvertently inviting illnesses to feel less shame and guilt. I welcomed the excuses whether it was a heart condition that I think I conveniently developed or the gastric issues, but there was always a reason not to fast until now.

This year, I am by the grace of God, healthy and there seems to be no reason to justify why I don’t want to fast. I was feeling relief that with the absence of ‘iftar’ parties this year, I don’t have to answer any question, but the relief was short-lived with most Zoom work or even social calls starting around the question of how the roza is coming along?

I am curious about the judgment associated with fasting as compared to other pillars of Islam. People never ask if someone has said their prayers or if they are paying their Zakat, or even question the wrongdoings they see others engaged in.

To my understanding in our society, a very significant way of connecting to each other is painted by the stroke of judgment. We judge each other on anything and everything; our actions, our religious practices, our roles in life and if we are performing them on certain traditions and values that are again totally generalised and not specific to an individual.

In my line of work with clients with anxiety, relational difficulties and depression etc., I found many to be suffering from moral anxiety. The anxiety of not being as morally sound as the nuclear family expected them to be and at a broader level, falling short of society’s demands. The idea of a ‘good girl or good boy’ or ‘religiously sound’ based less on what the Quran says but more so on cultural and societal conditioning passed like an inheritance from one generation to another.

This anxiety wreaks havoc on the body and mind of a person, leading to health issues, clinical depression, and self-harming behaviour to say the least. What is closely linked to this spiritual shaming is also the repressed sexuality that many of us experience where even talking about something natural is met with harsh criticism, inducing moral shame and anxiety. Most people that I met have a strong internalised inner critic living like a permanent guest in their house of psyche.

My work is always around divorcing this internalised inner critic who constricts healthy awareness and limits the free will of a person. This shared voice becomes stronger through a harsh parent, a judgmental teacher and a self-righteous society that becomes the ‘alambardar’ for the individual’s morals and religious practices. Considering the fact that accountability is for the individual only; this fact is conveniently ignored to make way for more and more opportunity for reason to judge and shame.

So, I decided to let go of this shame this year and told my inner critic to take a trip. I would also like to say here that I would be judging other’s intentions too if I assume that everyone who discusses fasting does it to draw a verdict on my religious morality.

But the fact of the matter is that all of us are judged for one reason or another and to find relief from this shame we start judging others. It’s the small step that counts so let’s take a risk and maybe not comment or ask about each other’s religious practices. Let’s try not asking others about their professional or personal choices or lack of goals. On this journey of life, we are alone with our own pace and choice of resting or continuing based on subjective factors. So, before we judge someone please remember that we are all riding this train of life and heading forward, even if some of us choose to get off for a while, we always get onto the next one.