Ramadaan is around the corner once again and Muslims all over the world are beginning to prepare for this holy month. That time of the year, where, for one month, we refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. It is both a spiritually and physically cleansing as well as humbling experience and it is something many Muslims actually look forward to. It is a time of sweet dates, nourishing vegetable soup or “Boeber”, samoosas, daltjies (chilli bites) pies, mini pizzas, bollas, coconut pancakes, strawberry and cream flapjacks, scones and so much more.
Many non-Muslim friends are always curious about Ramadaan and ask questions in fascination. They wonder how we are able to cope, how much we eat in the mornings and at night. And more commonly, they ask why. Admittedly, there was a time, I myself did not fully understand why Muslims needed to fast. At first I thought it was “just because” – one of the Islamic rules we had to adhere to, ordained by God. Then I was told that it is so that we could feel what it is like to go without food like the less fortunate that made this rule seem more of a personal desire and reminder for myself.
The Holy Month of Ramadaan is not only about refraining from food and drink. It is about learning not to gossip so one gets into the practice of talking unnecessarily. About not swearing so that the words that leave our mouths are more pure. It’s also about breaking dirty habits like smoking or biting ones nails or chewing on the inside of ones cheeks, as these acts can “break ones fast”, making that day of fast null and void.
Most importantly, the inability to actually eat when we want to, puts in mind the hardships the less fortunate go through. The hunger pains that one feels, the fact that we are surrounded by those who do eat while we are unable to, it all makes us realise how we take our easy access to food for granted and how gluttonous we can be while there are those who are starving and might not even have a hot cup of tea or coffee to keep themselves warm. Even the appreciation for water itself is magnified.
On a happier note, though, is a tradition especially practiced in Cape Town. Ramadaan brings communities together in a wonderful way as neighbours exchange plates of treats in the form of savouries or sweet confectionaries. It is another form of giving and is considered extremely spiritually rewarding. This act also ensures that neighbours who might not have enough to break their fast have sufficient food. You will be guaranteed to find every Muslim home with a table full of a variety of lovely little treats.
In actual fact, it is almost impossible to eat too much during Ramadaan. Many non-Muslims think it’s a binge fest once we are allowed to eat, and in most cases it is. Yes, before the sun sets, we do crave and want to eat everything in sight, but as soon as we have eaten that date, sampled a few spoons of soup and eaten that samoosa, we are pretty much full due to the shrunken sizes of our stomachs. Traditionally, the Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H, would break his fast with only dates and some water as there is a lot of richness and sustenance in this little fruit 1,.
After the eating is done, there is still a table full of food, but we will always find that the less fortunate come knocking at our doors looking for food. So, even though we end up having lots of left overs, we remember what it felt like not to have food during the day and are all too happy to give our food to others. At the end, nothing is left over and there is no wastage – yet another thing to learn and get into the habit of doing. Giving away food that is left over.
Overall, the Holy Month of Ramadaan is a time for us to learn humility and patience, to share and learn restraint, to cleanse ourselves physically and spiritually and to get closer to God.
1 With what (food) is iftar fasting broken with? (n/d) http://ramadan.questionsonislam.com/node/11, accessed 17 June 2014
Featured image: Hala Foodie, 2012, Ramadan Recipes From Around the World, viewed on 19 June, from http://halalfoodie.ca/tag/iftar/