*Mirwaiz smokes about five to six cigarettes every day. He is not a staunchly practising Muslim but he does observe Ramadan owing to his family's beliefs. This means that he tries to avoid smoking his morning cigarette for a month but a 15-year-old habit is difficult to give up on especially when he is personally not ardently religious.
“My family is not aware about my smoking habits but I try to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoke regularly during Ramadan but it is difficult,” says *Mirwaiz.
According to many Muslim leaders and community members, smoking as a practise shouldn’t be encouraged any time because it is an intoxicant, which would make it haram or forbidden. But it isn’t specifically banned the same way as alcohol is. However, many feel that it shouldn’t be done even outside of Ramadan, particularly because of the health effects. Smoking isn’t specifically prohibited in the Qur’an either, but it does have passages that tells its followers not to put their own life in danger. A tobacco fatwa was first issued in Morocco in 1602 because of the health problems it can cause and later spread to other countries. Fatwas are part of Islamic law and are not usually binding. But smokers who stop smoking during Ramadan may experience withdrawal symptoms for three to five days within stopping, which includes irritability, anger and reduced concentration powers.
“I don't experience any of these symptoms because I can't and don't quit smoking completely but l know of people who become increasingly frustrated during this period because of giving up on alcohol, nicotine and sometimes even shisha,” he says.
While chain smoking might be considered more of an addiction than one cigarette a day but even a single smoke counts as addiction if an individual cannot do without it. It is the nicotine present in the cigarettes that most people are easily addicted to. Some also crave smoking so much that they chain smoke after ending their fast, inhaling a lot of smoke in a very short time, and right after a heavy iftar meal. Some believe that traditional shisha is a healthier option. Ramadan is a time when people smoke shisha for hours socialising after ending their fast in iftar tents or restaurants. This can be more dangerous than regular smoking.
*Shama is an international student from Bangladesh and is staying with her relatives as she completes her Undergraduation at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Although, owing to her family and personal religious beliefs she observes Ramadan, periodically, mostly during the weekends when she is at home.
“I'm not as strict as my parents or even my cousins here and although, my friends have an understanding of Ramadan, observing during University hours can be difficult especially during the evenings when we all go out for our chill Shisha sessions,” she says.
Over the last few years, the Shisha culture has caught up speed with the Muslim youth, many of whom don't drink but consider smoking vapes healthier than cigarettes. But additionally, these Shisha places have become 'cultural' spots for socialising and networking for religious minorities like the Muslims and serve as “safe spaces” from the fundamental Muslims. But this often means that people like Mirwaiz tend to lead a “double life” wherein, their families are unaware about their association with substances and during occasions like Ramadan, they struggle to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
While some of these reactions are manageable, others can affect daily life, mobility and mental health. The urge to binge on carb-heavy foods to avoid smoking is another side effect – leading to weight gain.
*All names have been changed for purposes of maintaining anonymity of the sources.