By Hwaa Irfan
Much has already been written about the breaking of the Ramadhan fast, iftar, and one is not sure what more can be said with or without the incoming requests except to bring it back to the basics.
There have been varied concerns pertaining on how to break the fast, but the underlying condition on how to break the fast is preceded by how one fasts! In the hot summer months this is emphasized even more so, as increasingly more and more Muslims are finding it difficult to fast.
Putting health reasons aside, and demanding daytime activities, the problem is exacerbated by the increasing preoccupation with food as the sole function of Ramadhan. How one fasts makes a big difference towards one’s ability to sustain one’s fast, towards one’s daily activities, and towards one’s acts of worship. For instance it is reported in Ibn Majah, ad-Darimi, Ahmad and al-Bayhaqi that Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said:
“Perhaps a person fasting will receive nothing from his fasting except hunger and thirst.”
This tradition underlines the problem if fasting is only about not eating and not drinking because the mind and the heart centre is not working in alignment with the body creating inner conflict between what one is doing and what one wants to do.
Five things that break the fast are telling lies, backbiting, telling tales, perjury, covetousness and lustful eyes. The first degree of fasting outlined by Imam Ghazzali is the fast of the ordinary person: abstinence from all forms of physical distractions that satiate the nafs in one form or another, including arguing, and perfume. By doing so one weakens the lower desires and strengthens the higher self, with body, mind, and soul working as one instead of against each other. By doing so there is a greater release of energy for daily activities and one arrives in a state of calm on breaking fast instead of making that desperate rush for food. Hunger is going without food for days, and starvation is never knowing if that hunger will be appeased – one will not die like the thousands on the Horn of Africa from drought and failed harvests.
Then there is the fast of the few which involves abstinence involving the all the senses including the hands and feet which requires greater synergy between the soul, heart center, and the body.
What happens when the soul, heart center, and the body is not working together towards the same goal is that the whole evening after iftar is placed at the mercy of how one responds to food at iftar. This might sound dramatic, but what happens is that the body is shocked into action by a sudden rush of food exposing one’s self to gastronomical upsets like constipation, one is unable or reluctant to move, all subsequent acts of worship become unimportant, the cook, more often the wife spends all her time in the kitchen preparing, cooking, and washing, and the challenge becomes how to spend the next evening more interestingly with all eyes on ‘Eid! We are more than the sum total of replaceable parts of modern medicine, and Ramadhan offers us the chance to recognize our relationship with ourselves, with each other, and our Creator on less mechanical terms.
Remember, the first three days are the most difficult, but after that it is much easier.
A Summer’s Iftar
The good news is that Ramadhan in the summer allows us to fast with less concern for food, and to break that fast with more concern for water. Given that humans are mostly constituted of water, Ramadhan in the summer serves as a good reminder of our priorities. Even in these times of widely available commodities, the examples set by Prophet Muhammed (SAW) still remain the best ones, short and sweet not just so that one can avoid a bloated stomach, but also so that one can do something productive with the rest of the evening. This is indicated behind the ahadith:
“The people will remain on the right path as long as they hasten the breaking of the fast.” (Al-Bukhari 3: 31 # 178)
To hasten the breaking of the fast does not mean to eat quickly, but to eat little so that one can proceed to prayers, and then have a full meal afterwards.
Dates and Water
“Prophet Muhammed used to break his fast before praying with some fresh dates; but if there were no fresh dates, he had a few dry dates, and if there were no dry dates, he took some mouthfuls of water.” (Abu Dawud #13, ahadith #2349)
This combination demonstrates kindness to one’s body, as the process of fasting detoxifies the body. By drinking water one helps to purify the body, rehydrate it, and by eating fresh dates, which is a superfood, one is introducing a vitamin and mineral packed food into the system unadulterated by cooking or sweetening (candied dates).
“ ‘Abdullah b. Abi Aufa reported: We were with the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) on a journey during the month of Ramadan. When the sun had sunk he said: So and so, get down (from your ride) and prepare the meal of parched barley for us. He said: Messenger of Allah, still (there is light of) day. He (the Holy Prophet) said: Get down and prepare meal of parched barley for us. So he got down and prepared the meal of parched barley and offered him, and the apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) drank that (liquid meal). He then told with the gesture of his hand that when the sun sank from that side and the night appeared from that side, then the observer of the fast should break it.” (Muslim #006, Ahadith #2422)
Barley is another superfood that has been neglected in the commercialization of foods, which nutritionally speaking is a blessing. It is a slow-digesting food which serves well if one is on a journey. It has also been viewed as the only vegetation on earth that can become a sole source of nutrition from birth to old age, with scholars of Hadith finding that it is beneficial for coughs, a diuretic, inflammation of the stomach, and expels toxins from the body.
Prophet Muhammed (SAW) would recommend talbina for the sick and the grieving. Talbina is satoo (powdered barley), milk and honey.
Barley contains 28 amino acids 8 of which cannot be produced by the human body. Barley contains: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, antioxidants, glucan, iorn, copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, beta carotene, vitamins B₁, B₂, B₆, C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, amylase, dextrin, phospholipids, maltose, glucose, sulphur, niacin, and protein. Dr. Howard Lutz of the Institute of Preventative Medicine, Washington found “… it improves stamina, sexual energy, clarity of thought, and reduces addiction to things that are bad for you.”
Plant geneticist Dr. Yoshihide Hagiwara discovered that the high organic sodium content of barley keeps calcium in solution form in the bloodstream and it actually dissolves calcium deposits in the joints. Barley also replaces the organic sodium of the stomach lining, which assists digestion by improving the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. The enzyme superoxide dismutase, was isolated from barley and has been found t be a powerful antioxidant.
Instead of consuming questionable wheat products, try replacing wheat with barley. Drinking barley water cleanses the skin, which can be made by using 3 tablespoons of barley boiled in 3 cups of water for one hour, strain, cool, and add honey or orange juice to make it more palatable. Added to diluted cow’s milk, provides good nutrition for the young.
– 1 cup of dried barley
– ½ cup of dried lentils
– 6 cups of water
– 3 small diced onions
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil
– 1 tsp. of turmeric
– ½ ground black pepper
– 1 cup of cooked chickpeas
Fry onions in hot olive oil until golden brown. Add all other ingredients except for chickpeas and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours stirring occasionally. Add chickpeas near the end of cooking time.
Natural yogurt is a slow digesting enjoyed during Ramadhan. It takes care of the intestinal flora, and is suitable for those who have lactose intolerance. As a custom, many Middle Eastern countries have enjoyed homemade live yoghurt as a condiment, often adding salt, mint and garlic. It is enjoyed with a variety of vegetables and meat. Naturally sweet yoghurt (curd) is more nutritious than ghee or milk, so the wisest decision if one has a limited choice of alternatives to commercially produced yoghurts is to cherish the benefits of making yogurt at home.
• High sugar foods which offer no nutritional benefits and increases thirst and risk of dehydration.
•Caffeine drinks like coke, coffee and tea are best avoided to prevent dehydration.
• Smoking affects the utilisation of various vitamins, metabolites and enzyme systems within the body
The Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute has found routine periodic fasting lowers risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also causes significant changes in a person’s blood cholesterol levels. Dr. Horne explained:
“Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body… This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes.”
This is contrary to what is being propagated by certain state and corporate media which is basing the dangers of Ramadhan fasting on bad habits of high sweet consumption.
It has also been found that fasting triggers human growth hormone which protects muscles and regulates the metabolism
Intermountain Medical Center (2011, May 20). Routine periodic fasting is good for your health, and your heart, study suggests. http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2011/04/110403090259.htm
Slow Ramadhan Foods: Health Benefits of Yoghurt
Slow Digesting Foods and Ramadhan
Ramadhan and Healthy Eating
Fasting and Pregnancy