Ramadan as a widowed Muslim mother: Ruba’s story

February 2024

Ramadan Mubarak to all of those in the Muslim community and to WAY’s Muslim members. We understand how difficult this month can be without your loved one, especially this year when the start of the month coincides with Mother’s Day. After sharing her story last year, South London-based WAY member Ruba, 32, is speaking about some of the challenges of being a young widowed Muslim mother and how she is marking Mother’s Day and the Holy Month of Ramadan without her beloved husband, Aqeel.  

Child looking at Mum with blue sky and sunshine in the background

The month of Ramadan is one of the most significant and holy times of the year for Muslims. The exact date when the month starts changes each year in line with the lunar system on which the Muslim calendar is based. This year the month begins around 10 March. This also happens to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, making this part of 2024 particularly difficult for those that are marking Ramadan, as well as being widowed and with children.  

I lost my husband, Aqeel, in late 2020 at just 33 years old. I was 29 and our daughter, Zainab, was just shy of two years old. Like all stories of partner loss, our experience was and still is deeply devastating and we struggle to live in its aftermath every day. Ramadan is particularly difficult, being a family-oriented month where our loss is felt even more deeply, and where my role as a widowed mother becomes even more prominent. 

Building a wholesome life 

Over time, I have developed ways to establish the most wholesome life I can for myself and my daughter, including during difficult periods like Ramadan. Islam talks often about the notion of an “Amanah” – the idea that you are entrusted with or have responsibility to something or someone. Our physical bodies, our souls, the environment around us – these are all examples of Amanah, things we are spiritually obliged to nurture, care for and look after. In the same vein, I see Aqeel’s death and the responsibility of raising our daughter without him as my Amanah. So, whilst viscerally painful and extremely challenging, my situation also confers on me a special and deeply held spiritual responsibility that I am entrusted with upholding.  

I use this notion to inform the way I raise Zainab in the midst of our loss. Focusing on my Amanah allows me to build a life that is centred around my spiritual responsibility and that works best for myself and my daughter in our circumstances. I’ve built traditions in Ramadan with Zainab that I know Aqeel would appreciate – lights and decorations at home and a Ramadan calendar where Zainab has a good deed to complete each day, together with a well-earned treat. We incorporate Aqeel into the month, eating his favourite foods, sponsoring Iftar (fast breaking) meals in his memory and making charitable donations in his honour.   

Tackling challenges 

Widowed parenting, especially in the month of Ramadan, is not without its challenges. The family-centred focus of the month is often difficult when you are no longer part of a traditional nuclear Muslim family, but are continually nursing a gaping hole in its core. Spiritual discussions throughout the month can also bring a reinforcement of traditional conceptions and expectations of what an ideal family should look and behave like, making a unit like ours feel alienated and misunderstood. 

As in any community, there is always space for growth to accommodate those in our situation, as well as other families with non-traditional set ups. In the meantime, my role as Zainab’s mother is to focus on our individual and unique traditions and try not to let the pressure of community expectation overwhelm me. Our story is heartbreaking, devastating and sad – but it is ours to nurture and care for, and ours to own and tell.  

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 

This year will combine the difficulty of Ramadan as a young Muslim widow with another day where the harsh reality of being a widowed parent comes to the surface, Mother’s Day. Aqeel and I had two Mother’s Days and Father’s Days together with Zainab. Whilst we didn’t usually do anything specific to mark these days, they nevertheless gave us an opportunity to see how far we had come and to take pride in the family we had built, as well as celebrating our newfound roles as parents.

For me, these days have now become more about the loss of what could have been. It is not lost on me that the role I assume now as Zainab’s sole surviving parent comes at the expense of Aqeel having lost his chance to be a Father to his daughter beyond the mere 20 months he was able to have with her. This is made even more heartbreaking by the fact that, in almost every condolence message I received after his passing, Aqeel’s friends, family and colleagues referenced his love and admiration for Zainab and his beaming pride at being her Dad. It was what everyone remembered the most about him. On Father’s Day, in our new normal, we usually visit Aqeel’s grave, take flowers and take the time to honour the proud Father he was and mourn the exceptional Father he no doubt would have been. 

The loss of Aqeel’s fatherhood sometimes also makes me feel like I need to overcompensate in my own parenting, or to somehow try to perform the role of both Mother and Father to Zainab. But I have learnt quite quickly that this just isn’t possible. First, it is impractical to think one person could do the role of two. And secondly, Aqeel is as irreplaceable to me as a husband as he is to Zainab as a Father – I won’t ever be able to do justice to his role. My goal is to be the best Mother I can be for Zainab in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and to respect and honour Aqeel’s memory in that process. I set no expectations or benchmarks and try my best to avoid comparing my capabilities as a Mother to those raising children in a dual parent household. 

Widowed parenthood is a heavy burden to bear. My advice to those navigating this is simple, but easier said than done – do what you feel is right for you and your children. If Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is too difficult to commemorate one year, then don’t feel you have to mark it. If you are Muslim and navigating Ramadan with your children, don’t put pressure on yourself to recreate the Ramadan that existed when your partner was alive, but take small steps to create a Ramadan you can share peacefully with your children in honour of your partner. 

There is no rule book, manual or guide to being a widowed parent. It is an overwhelmingly difficult position that you are thrust into without getting a say. The weight it places on you can be unbearable at times and most importantly, is very different to the sorts of pressures two parents raising a child together can face. Be gentle with yourself and remember that your partner chose you as their companion to raise children with for a reason – because you can do it. 

Thank you so much to Ruba, who is a member of WAY’s Cultural Diversity Working Group, for taking the time to share her story.

Ruba will be holding drop-in Ramadan support sessions for WAY members who wish to join. Login and visit our events page to find more details.

Celebrating Eid

Eid Mubarak to those celebrating. 

Eid marks the end of Ramadan and can be a difficult time for WAY members. 

On Eid, communities gather in communal prayer, share gifts & donate Zakat El-Fitr, traditionally to feed those in need. 

Please consider supporting WAY on what is a special day of giving.