Aya Sura and Poji, By Ida Chan from muslimmanga.org/
Adil returns with timely and superb advice. He hits close to home and takes Muslims to task for the charade the fasting in Ramadan has become. It also serves as a useful companion piece to the following:
”Ramadaaaan bro, it’s gonna be a killer this year! Obviously can’t exercise this month isn’t it, gotta make sure we stuff our faces first thing in the morning, messes you up man, yh we gna sleep through the day akhi and eat all through the night sooooooo hard lad, won’t be able to do this much work either this month….”
If similar sentiments are becoming increasingly familiar this time of year, and make you cringe uncontrollably, this article is for you. Whilst I can never provide spiritual advice comparable to that of our scholars, what I can see, as a lay Muslim, is how the holy month is frequently becoming, or being portrayed as, arduous, unproductive and subject to spiritually self defeating loopholes.
Please read on for a lay Muslims guide, written by a lay Muslim, to avoiding messing up your Ramadan.
1) You really don’t need to whine to your non Muslim friends how difficult fasting is
Congratulations, by whinging to your colleagues at work about how low your blood sugar is, and you are tired, and you had to get up at 3am, and you can’t (won’t) go to the gym, and how you’re thirsty, and how you’re hungry, you have just reinforced the clear message which Muslims have been inadvertently giving out for years: ‘Islam is inaccessible.’
Forget Islamophobia and militant anti-religiousness, the most ‘pro Muslim/interested in Islam’ people will continue to be put off. Sure, they might have ‘respect,’ but how do we want Islam to be respected? As an austere and unforgiving concept that only gets respect because it’s difficult? Or an inclusive creed that all people are naturally pre disposed to?
2) Stuffing yourself at either breakfast or dinner is self defeating and actually makes fasting harder. So why are we still doing it?
You know that when you actually start eating more food than usual in the month of abstention from food, something is definitely wrong. Yet unfortunately this appears to be practiced by much of the Muslim community. Cramming the maximal quantity of food into your gaping mouth in the morning till you have a stomach ache and acute flatulence is clearly failing to follow the spirit of Ramadan. Likewise, holding or attending Iftar ‘binge eat’ parties every evening is probably not going to ‘catch God out’ and compel him into rewarding you for fasting just because you made yourself hungry throughout the rest of the day.
This aside, stuffing your face actually makes fasting harder. Much harder. The fact that attempting to sleep on a painfully inflated stomach isn’t much fun, the unnatural stretching of it makes you very painfully hollow a few hours later.
3) Practice fasting. It helps!
Whilst it is true that there are millions of people across the world who would kill to spend their lives eating like western Muslims do even in Ramadan, fasting can certainly be difficult, particularly in summer. It is extremely helpful to practice fasting at least a couple of weeks prior to Ramadan, whether actually keeping fasts, or simply moderating our diet, which we should do anyway. Try having smaller portions; practice missing lunch for a few days at work. Believe me, it makes all the difference. Without practice, you will likely find long days of fasting very difficult; true, you may get used to it throughout the month but if you are unused to eating moderately, your fasts will be tougher, and the chances of overeating once you can open your fast increases greatly.
4) Eat healthily
Whilst fasting is not done for secular reasons (though there are health based benefits, like this, this and this, increasing the wisdom of the act), our mental and physical well being is not supposed to be inversely correlated! Whilst we generally accept that our souls are God given, many of us act like our body isn’t, and can generally be abused. The Muslim community is not the paragon of dietary health as it is, but during Ramadan, things often go from bad to worse. Opening our fasts daily with mounds of naan bread saturated in ghee based curry, all washed down with gallons of Rubicon Mango is not doing your body any favours. Rather, we should be ‘moderates’ when it comes to quantity but ‘fundamentalists’ when it comes to quality. Sadly we have a long way to go when it even comes to notions like non GM, organic, free range, local etcetera, but we need to step out of our uneducated (regarding health) paradigms. Instead of translucent oil sodden parathas for breakfast, why not scrambled eggs on granary bread with salad? Or granola and fruit? Why not ditch some of the grease coated meat for dinner with varied meals based around grains, pulses and vegetables too?
5) Remain staying fit and healthy
True, you are going to feel hungry in Ramadan. But remember you aren’t actually *that* hungry. Your stomach may feel hollow and immediate blood sugar low, but providing the food you consume is fairly nutritious, you are not actually going to be malnourished; Ramadan is not designed to torture or incapacitate, and it doesn’t. I have a quiet intolerance for variations of ”obviously I’m not going to train/play sport” next month. Why? Because you feel hungry? Plenty of top athletes have continued training whilst fasting and there is no reason why you can’t either.
Sure, in summer months, the exercise might be slightly less intense than usual, but unless we are talking exercise which causes you to lose an inordinate amount of fluid, you should be fine. Team sports are often quite effective as you ‘snap out’ of the low blood sugar induced flatness that sometimes comes with not eating (whilst motivating oneself to say, run alone can be extremely difficult), as is training in the evening; close to the breaking of the fast where the adrenaline sees you through. If we consider a whole month of the year to be a complete write off in terms of our physical condition (something which our community is notoriously abysmal for anyway) fasting becomes associated with losing progress and general weakness – not exactly brilliant
6) Try avoiding sleeping all day/Reducing your productivity to zero/going into lockdown mode
You know, the whole ‘in the spirit’ of things concept. ”I’m still fulfilling a religious obligation.” Really? I am astounded at the concept of God professed by many of my co religionists: an ultimate reality indifferent (at best) about humans who happened not to be born into Muslim families, obsessed with the most minor culturally inspired trivialities, largely uninterested in good and helpful actions and always fooled by those who blatantly hold spiritual actions in contempt with silly technicalities.
I know that fasting can be very difficult, and I am not knocking the odd lie in on the weekends, or afternoon nap, but when people sleep all day, socialise all night, and actually have a much easier life than usual, something is definitely amiss. Then there are some people you won’t see in Ramadan. At all. They go underground. Again, sure we should be praying more, reading the Qur’an more, improving our knowledge more, but we should also be engaging with society more. A society (in Britain at least), which for all the governmental and media pressures put on them to distrust Muslims, generally treats us with decency and respect, and deserves it in return.
I’ll admit, I haven’t always been at my most productive during the holy month, and it can be difficult. Even as I write this article now, I know that in the evening time later this month, it would be much harder to stay focussed. I always find there are some activities which I do just as well when fasting. Driving is one, playing the piano is one, doing maths based things is another. Other activities like writing or doing something requiring great organisational skills is something I find much harder. Find the things which suit you, and do them.
7) We should noticeably improve our behaviour
Many spokespeople in the Islamic community will correctly remind us that Ramadan is an opportunity to improve our conduct and behaviour. They are right, but the feeling of hunger also presents the opportunity to behave worse, and conversely the opportunity to overcome such urges. It is very easy to snap, or feel unhelpful. Perhaps part of the wisdom of Ramadan is that we can practice overcoming these urges.
I say this because I have behaved like this in the past, particularly allowing non-fasting family members to do jobs which I could do, which I mentally justified because they might feel more energetic. Being more helpful than usual won’t make you feel hungrier – chances are it will do the opposite. I know first-hand that the busier you are, the less hungry you feel. Someone wiser then me said that the purpose of hunger pangs is to remind you to be good, and humble. Hunger and thirst remind us how vulnerable and self insufficient we are, and how, as the Qur’an reminds us: ”walk not on the earth with conceit and arrogance. Verily, you can neither rend nor penetrate the earth, nor can you attain a stature like the mountains in height.”
Then what happens when the month is over? Do we resume any negative vices we once had? One would hope not, though I will not labour over explaining the obvious; that our behaviour (if we even improved it) invariably lapses, at best to some extent.
At the same time, I take great issue with the hyper-judgemental attitude that arises from both ultra-liberal and ultra-conservative Muslims who by some twisted logic decide it is somehow worse to behave well in Ramadan only then not to do so…ever…at all! Am I missing something or is it not surely better to behave like an imbecile for 11 months as opposed to the full 12?
8) Ramadan is not an opportunity to go into Hadith spamming mode
Ramadan often sees Muslims attain greater levels of religious practice. Good. This however should not by synonymous with ”become a hadith spamming ultra-judgemental neo salafi.” But it sometimes is. Increase of religious practice doesn’t and shouldn’t mean being judgemental. Sadly however, this behaviour has become so common that many puritanical web and social media pages actually have pre-emptive phrases to equip their followers, should they (correctly) be asked to refrain from judging others.
”Why do Muslims quote the Gospel of Matthew (Judge not lest thou be Judged)?”
”I’m not judging you, God is”
”Why are those who say don’t judge me the furthest away from God”
”I judge (you) according to the standards of Allah”
As someone who has had a somewhat less then pious youth, I can certainly testify that the ‘‘I don’t judge you but I judge you” approach simply doesn’t work. Ever. What if a person only keeps one fast this year? Maybe that was one more than last year. What if someone doesn’t fast at all this year? Maybe last year they didn’t even believe. Maybe they’ve been doing more good then we will in our whole lives. At no point in the Quranic discourse can I recall people being rewarded for correctly ‘diagnosing’ people as not being close enough to God, but there are vast numbers of traditions where attributing lack of belief or commitment to another person comes with serious consequences to the accuser. Hence, at best, judging people does you no good. At all. Few if any Muslims have been brought nearer to Islam because of judgemental behaviour, but many have been alienated from the community or the religion itself.
So what about people who we really don’t judge, but want to help practice more, and we genuinely have the persons’ interests at heart and nothing else? Stop making it public for a start; an idiotic apologist told a Muslim girl who didn’t wear hijaab that none of her prayers had ever counted; somehow I’m sceptical as to whether that made her faith shoot through the roof. Likewise, when hadith spammers bombard web pages featuring Muslim women doing positive things because they ”aren’t wearing proper hijaab,” or ”are doing sport in front of men,” we really aren’t helping ourselves (to put it mildly).
If someone really believes that our creator and sustainer is literally indifferent to the worship of someone who hasn’t properly covered their head, or someone who listens to music, chances are I can’t do much to change their mind in a hurry. But what I can say is that publically judging them is not going to help. Just as the Westboro Baptist church with their ‘God hates fags’ placards doesn’t reel in schools of followers, public chastisement only serves to alienate.
Ramadan is meant to be a time of spiritual fulfilment. Let our oft neglected intellects and consciences help guide us; are we trying to get closer to God with the full extent of our consciousness, or are we trying to tick boxes because we’ve been primed to do so? Are we becoming better and more God conscious people, or just physically hungry people, who project such a burden onto our external behaviour? I hope the little I have to say can give us food for thought (so to speak), and I pray that all readers a blessed Ramadan.