The typical Ramadan table is known to be over-extravagant.
We have experienced much this year both personally and globally.
Someone kicks, but we are unable to see who it is. We can only see the consequences of that kick, and in a dazed state we tend to lose the language to properly express what is actually happening. Emotions build up and affect our judgement and care for our own selves, and we either tend to try to forget or we become stronger in acknowledgement of the value of what we are already blessed with.
Ramadan offers us an opportunity to care for ourselves and our life’s transaction with God. “Certainly the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of the men, but mostly people do not know” (40:57).
Choose What You Eat
We tend to get into bad eating habits throughout the year, as the momentum of the day becomes a week, a month and finally the year has ended. Some may even shop for convenience foods because it offers less time in the kitchen. So whilst we are improving our economic situation and busy doing everything else, our health deteriorates but not always visibly. What we go through emotionally and psychologically also manifests in our deeds and in the way we eat and what we eat.
Referring to genetically modified foods, Muzammal Hussain argues that it is clear that genetic engineering is a process that we do not understand in a world where everything is interconnected (Hussain p.5). What affects one species affects another for better or for worse.
“The sun and the moon follow a reckoning. And the herbs and the trees do adore (Him). And the heaven, He raised it high, and He made the balance, that you may not be inordinate in respect of the measure. And keep up the balance with equity and do not make the measure deficient” (Rahman 55:5-9).
Fasting and Spiritual Equilibrium
Dr. Omar Hassan Kasule tells us that, “the definition of disease considers several dimensions that may operate singly or in combination: moral/spiritual, biological/pathological, psycho-social, or normative/statistical. Loss of spiritual equilibrium is a disease in itself and soon leads to physical disease. Most diseases involve disturbances in the equilibrium of the normal body physiology. These biological disturbances may be within the range of normal physiological variation or may be clearly pathological. The psycho-social dimension of disease is associated with loss of equilibrium and may precede or follow physical disturbances (Kasule p.3).” Fasting is done with one’s complete will, encouraging the entire physiological, psychological and spiritual systems to work together.
As we try to get rid of the emotional build-up gained throughout the year, our bodies will also want to get rid of the toxic waste that it has been unable to eliminate. Fasting allows the digestive tract to take a rest, and mobilizes the detoxification mechanism by facilitating the release of hormones that stimulate the immune system. Fasting also releases the insecticides and man-made chemicals that have become stored in our body fat.
So instead of looking to those finely packaged goods in the supermarket, try frequenting the grocers that sell food more readily ascertained to be as nature intended it to be.
The Incorrect Approach
Food intake should not be excessive rendering the onslaught of sleep soon after consumption therefore preventing us from our duties to ourselves, each other and God.
Incorrect eating can cause:
Indigestion – caused by excessive eating, fried, fatty and spicy foods as well as carbonated drinks.
Constipation – caused by eating too many processed foods and not enough fiber or water consumption. Fiber rich foods include most cereal grains, fruits and vegetables.
Lethargy – due to low blood pressure which can be caused by a sudden excessive consumption of heavy starchy and fatty foods.
Headache – caused by lack of sleep and being overly physically active.
Muscle cramps – due to an inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Foods rich in calcium include broccoli, kidney beans, okra, parsnips, almonds, raisins, sesame seeds and dairy products. Magnesium rich foods include: bran, brown rice, cornmeal, cheese, egg yolk, bananas, apples, dates, almonds, carrots, eggplant (aubergines) and cauliflower. Potassium rich foods include: cheese, apples, cantaloupe, apricots, pineapple, chicken, peanuts (groundnuts), cod, beet, cabbage, cucumber and green peppers (Haffejee p.1).
Lack of sleep – Adequate sleep is necessary to ensure balance the next day especially for those who go to work or a place of study. Lack of sleep can express itself in the form of nervousness, bad headaches and digestive problems. Sleeping after a meal also causes problems with digestion. The final meal should be taken at least 1 – 1½ hours before the night-time sleep.
Break Your Fast the Healthy Way
Dates are an important part of the Ramadan break-fast.
All the good from fasting can be undone by the sudden intake of food. Not only this, but the body’s natural healing mechanisms are deprived of the benefits that fasting delivers. It is noted that healthy Ramadan practices result in the reduction of cholesterol levels and skin conditions are much improved (al- Qalam p.9). At the same time Iftar (the first meal taken to break the fast) is the Ramadan breakfast and as we have always been told, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Our body is mostly water and the best source of fluid replacement is pure unadulterated water. The sunnah (prophetic tradition) of dates and water make a wonderful combination to gently break the fast without placing the body into a state of shock i.e. a sudden drop in blood pressure. Dried dates contain sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, sulfur, manganese, silicon and chlorine. Potassium, vital to the prevention of dehydration, is also plentiful in dates. Fresh dates in addition contain thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, ascorbic acid and beta carotene.
In some schools of fiqh it is preferable to do the Maghrib prayer (prayer done at sunset) before commencing the main meal. “O children of Adam! Attend to your embellishments at every time of prayer, and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant” ( Araf 7: 31). This also proves to be functional in terms of giving your body time to digest what it needs from the sunnah of dates and water before eating some more.
The key word here is fiber, as fiber is slow digesting as opposed to fast burning foods like processed and sugar-based foods. In Yemen a typical iftar (main meal following the fast) includes a soup of boiled oats, milk and sugar followed by shafoot (pancakes broken in yoghurt with some spices and herbs) and samboosa (minced meat and herbs in a pastry envelope). A balanced combination of fiber, protein, dairy, cereal, minerals (herbs) and carbohydrates (Shabeebi p. 1).
After the Break-Fast
The time between meals should be spaced out allowing for proper digestion. Ibn Sina (otherwise known as Avicenna to the Western world) warned never to take one meal until the previous meal was digested. Whatever was lacking nutritionally in the previous meal should be compensated for in the next meal. Many recipes exist online that can conjure up ideas.
Be careful with relaxation, for what one does can upset the balance of what has been achieved. A bad habit that has developed in the Middle East is a craving for shisha smoking (water pipe). In Bahrain, 17 – 21% of Bahraini women indulge in this habit. Some people assume that it is healthier than smoking cigarettes, but in reality it can cause throat and lip cancer as well as cause the build-up of poisonous gases within the stomach. This can lead to heart disease and brain stroke (Bahrain p.1).
Suhoor (the final meal before dawn) is a mercy for those who need that extra meal. It usually consists of a milk-based food which is slow-digesting. Most importantly is fluid intake throughout Ramadan that will ensure proper functioning of the kidneys and adequate digestion. For those with diabetes, a kidney disease or those who suffer from low blood pressure, it is recommended to consult a physician about fasting before the Holy month begins.
By Hwaa Irfan