Ramadan Means More Than a Five-Course Iftaar

As we all are getting ready for the most blessed month of the year, it’s quite obvious that one of the perks of Ramadan for many is the special food on the table that really is not served at any other time of the year. From the Suhoor banquets at five-star hotels to the extravagant auntie parties (don’t get me started), most 21st century Muslims have labeled it a ‘tradition’ to serve more than five dishes on the table during iftaar, with another whole set of appetizers, dinner, and desserts to go along with it. Unfortunately, according to many of my non-muslim friends, Ramadan to them seems more like a month of indulgence rather than one of control. Seems like we’ve really let ourselves go.

It also doesn’t help that many of the women in our families have to spend so much time and energy preparing elaborate meals for Iftaar parties that happen almost every day. In fact, these sisters get so exhausted cooking day and night that they are too tired to pray Ishaa, let alone pray Taraweeh or Tahajjud or even find the time to read Quran. Even if they’re not cooking themselves, many working women have resorted to ordering expensive meals to maintain the ‘Ramadan tradition.’ That enormous amount of time spent cooking could have easily been used to make Ibaadah to Allah and thus maximize the ratings on our good deeds meter. It’s quite disheartening that I cannot quite recall many days last year where it was just my family and I eating a simple meal on the dining table during Ramadan.

I know I’m as guilty of loving every bit of this extravagance as you are, and it’s definitely not a bad thing, but there are surely better ways to conduct yourself. After all, Ramadan is a month where Muslims across the globe humble themselves and refrain from those things that have already been decreed ‘halal’ for them. So when did this trend of serving elaborate meals come about? Who cares when it came about – it was certainly not something our Prophet (PBUH) taught us from his Sunnah. It strikes me as quite ironic that in the process of diligently improving our acts of worship and purifying our souls, we forget that the Prophet practiced moderation in indulging on his appetite — especially during the month of Ramadan.

The consequences of overindulgence also holds negative implications for our health. Can you imagine that some are reported to having gone to the hospital due to overeating in the month of Ramadan? Just two years ago I remember hearing about “dozens of Qataris hospitalized after overeating during the first night of Ramadan,” and complaining of repeated vomiting and severe gastric pain minutes before Taraweeh. And there’s definitely more where that came from.

To evaluate and amend our ways, let’s take a look at some of the habits of Rasul’Allah during the month of Ramadan.

Moderation is key

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“The child of Adam fills no vessel worse than his stomach. Sufficient for the child of Adam are a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink, and a third left for air.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2380) and Musnad Ahmad (17186) and authenticated by al-Albânî in Sahîh al-Jâmi`].

As the most common hadith we have heard since we were toddlers, this hadith has more significance now than ever as we are heading towards Ramadan. A practice that should be adopted on a regular basis is not to the slightest being implemented during the month of Ramadan. Clearly there is something wrong with our ‘traditions’.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) thus used to prefer breaking the fast with dates and would otherwise break it with water if he did not find any.

Anas Bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to break his fast with fresh dates before he prayed. If he did not find fresh dates then he would use dried dates. If he did not find that also he drank a few sips of water. (Ahmad and Abu Dawood)

 As narrated by Abdullah Bin Awfa in the Sahih Al Bukhari:

“We were in the company of the Prophet (peace be upon him) on a journey and he was fasting, and when the sun set, he addressed somebody, “O so-and-so, get up and mix Sawiq (a coarse mixture of ground wheat and barley) with water for us.” He replied, “O Allah’s Apostle! (Will you wait) till it is evening?” The Prophet said, “Get down and mix Sawiq with water for us.” He replied, “O Allah’s Apostle! (If you wait) till it is evening.” The Prophet said again, “Get down and mix Sawiq with water for us.” He replied, “It is still daytime.” The Prophet said again, “Get down and mix Sawiq with water for us.” He got down and mixed Sawiq for them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) drank it and then said, “When you see night falling from this side, the fasting person should break his fast.”

The month of Ramadan is known to be one that humbles the soul and spirit and the noble temperament of the Prophet (saw) clearly gives us insight into the true essence of fasting and renewal of character. We may read the Quran more frequently during this month but its the little things that matter as well.

Less is more

As far as most of us can remember, meals at the time of breaking fast are quite lavish in almost every part of the world. Before praying the Magrib Salah we’ve got over 3 starter dishes in front of us and an entire buffet for dinner after prayer. The Prophet (pbuh) on the other hand could have had all he could have ever wanted if only he made dua for it (he was the last Prophet after all), yet he chose to break his fast with food that was easily available. It was a custom of his to follow a simple diet even during the month of Ramadan and did not order special dishes to be made particularly in the time of Ramadan.

This tradition that we have created for ourselves is clearly not one built after the Sunnah of our Prophet (pbuh). Our indulgence of appetites and pleasures clearly do show where our true character lies.

As stated in Surah Al A’raf:

“Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, he does not like those who commit excess.” The fact that Allah (swt) has commanded us such during the normal time of year does mean that we should attempt to follow it to the best of our abilities in the month where we can gain his most favor. Surprisingly, we seem to be doing the complete opposite. Overeating simply dulls the intellect and impairs our thought processes, so why are we feeding our own passions and hindering our capabilities to maximize the benefits of this month?

Self control is essential for spirituality

As noted by IslamToday, Ibn Taymiyah writes:

It is established that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed, Satan runs in the son of Adam in the way that blood circulates.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]

There is no doubt that blood is born of what we eat and drink Therefore, when we eat and drink, we broaden the avenues for Satan. This is why it has been said: “Constrict his avenues with hunger.”

When Satan’s paths are hindered, the heart is inspired to do the good deeds that open the doors of Paradise. It finds it easy to abandon the sins that open the doors of Hell.

In Ramadan, the devils are chained and their strength and power is diminished. They cannot achieve in Ramadan what they are capable of achieving at other times of the year. However, we cannot say that the devils have died or have been slain. They have merely been chained. A chained devil can still get up to some mischief, but not as much as usual. The power of these devils is diminished according to how completely we observe our fasts. A person whose fasts are observed in the best, most complete possible manner repels the power of Satan far more than a person whose fasts are deficient.

There is a clear correlation between abstinence from food and drink and this other ruling that is founded on it.

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

Overeating leads to all sorts of evil consequences. It quickens the limbs towards disobedience while making them lazy to work righteousness. These two consequences are sufficient to show just how bad it is. How many are the sins that have come about as a result of satiation and overeating. How many are the good deeds that have failed to materialize on account of it. Whoever safeguards himself from the evil of his stomach has indeed saved himself from a great evil. Satan has his greatest influence over a person with a full stomach…

If the only consequence of a full stomach were that it leads to neglecting Allah’s remembrance, then know that the heart’s heedlessness of Allah’s remembrance for but an hour is opportunity enough for Satan to beset it with promises, false desires, cravings, and every manner of discontent. When a soul is satiated, it becomes restless and goes about seeking opportunities for indulgence. When it is hungry, it becomes tranquil and shows humility and submissiveness.

Those who go to great lengths in seeking their culinary pleasures actually find food less delicious than those who restrain themselves. Subhan’Allah! Don’t you ever feel this way?

Ibn Taymiyah writes:

Those who show moderation in eating find greater pleasure in their food than those who overindulge. When they become addicted and habituated to their indulgence, they find no great pleasure in it anymore, though they might suffer for want of it when they do not have it and endure ill health because of it.

As Ramadan stands a day away, let us reflect upon these ahadith and make this month of ours an opportunity to practice moderation as followed by our Prophet. Satan may be locked away this month, but that doesn’t mean that our inner Nafs is in control and not yearning for more. If we are able to change who we are within and take full potential of the one month in the year where our deeds are multiplied manifold, we will be able to implement the habits learnt in this month and carry them on for the rest of the year. We may say that its just food but it stands for more than that. Ramadan is all about self restraint and the act of refusing what has been made Halal for us for the sake of Allah. Have we forgotten that?