Eid Mubarak! (And Some Musings) :)

Hi, everyone!
Let’s get to today’s post without discussing my slight absence, shall we? *shifts gaze nervously*

So today’s topic will be a bit different then my normal nutrition/health related ones.

As I (as well as the billions of Muslims around the world) have just finished observing the month of Ramadan, followed by the celebration of Eid-ul Fitr yesterday (a day of festivity for Muslims, marking the end of Ramadan), I just had some musings that I wanted to share with everyone.

Me and my sisters, on Eid :)

My sisters and I, on Eid 🙂

Looking a wee bit confused (normal) ;)

Looking a wee bit disheveled (quite a normal look for me) 😉

Get Henna done. An Eid tradition

Getting Henna done. An Eid tradition

I often get questioned about my religion, especially around this time, when I observe Ramadan. I thought that it would be a good idea to answer the two questions that I get asked the most:

1. Why do I observe Ramadan (In other words, “Why the heck do you fast for 30 days?”)

2. How does one stay ‘healthy’ during this month?

To begin, I will define what exactly Ramadan is. So for those of you who may not know, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, also known as the month of fasting for Muslims, which this year, began at the end of June (28th or 29th, depending on moon sightings) and ended on the night of July 27th, when the first crescent of the new moon was sighted, followed by the celebration of Eid-ul Fitr on July 28th. (To learn more about the history and significance of this time period, click here: http://www.ramadan-islam.org/)

During this month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (and also from sexual activities, smoking, engaging in bad habits, foul language, etc) from dawn to sunset. We usually partake in Suhoor (the Islamic term for the pre-dawn meal) about an hour or two before the fast begins and break the fast with Iftar (the sunset meal), immediately as the sun begins to set. So for those of us living in the U.S., that made it around 16/17 hours of fasting per day. {Note: those who are ill, traveling, on medications, pregnant, etc are exempted).

To someone who might not be familiar with Ramadan, not being able to eat or drink anything (even water) during the daylight hours might sound insane, right? Especially for 30 consecutive days?
 So why do millions of Muslims, all over the world, participate in this month every single year, while still partaking in strenuous and everyday activities, such as work, school, etc?

Just a lil humor ;)

Just a lil humor 😉

Similar to a ‘New Year’s Resolution’, this is a time period that gives a person the ability to make positive changes in their life, to fix their bad habits/weaknesses, to strengthen their character, to become more disciplined, to become spiritually rejuvenated, to connect and feel a closeness to their Creator, to gain piety. This is the month when Muslims are asked to do more, to give more, to become more.

Unfortunately, most of us end up not fully appreciating and taking advantage of the benefits that this month has to offer. Most of us tend to use this time as an excuse to lounge in our pajamas all day, to watch tv, to nap, and to pretty much just waste time till 8:30 pm, while eagerly waiting to break the fast (speaking from experience, huh??). However, this takes away from the point of Ramadan completely.

There is so much more to fasting than to simply abstain from eating and drinking.

Not eating and drinking are only the physical requirements of fasting. More eminent (and difficult) are the spiritual requirements of fasting: refraining from evil thoughts, behaviors, words, while simultaneously striving to do good in this world, through acts of worship, charity, benevolent interactions with fellow humans and animals, and by understanding our purpose in this world. This is a month of self-training that, if performed correctly, should last beyond these thirty days, and hopefully, for the rest of our lives.

We are asked to hold back our anger when habitually, we feel nothing but rage, we are taught to empathize with the poor (by both sharing their hunger and by donating even more to charity during this month) when we usually ignore those individuals, and we are told to soften and purify our hearts when we normally feel nothing but detachment and coldness there (Islam puts a huge emphasis on the heart as the main source of discernment and understanding, rather than the brain).

Bottom line, life is short and time moves fast.

As human beings that could face death at any moment, Ramadan takes us out of the whirlwind that is life and allows us to focus on the next one. It allows us to be contemplative, feel humility and gratitude, and to understand and fulfill our purpose. Ramadan is no easy task, requires A LOT of discipline, willpower, and strength.  But in the end, this time period reminds us that as human beings, we have more power and control over our desires than we give ourselves credit for, that we ARE capable of accomplishing more than we think we are, that even through the most trying of times, we have a reason to remain optimistic and hopeful, and that regardless of race, religion, culture, country, we are all compassionate, caring, and good human beings. Ramadan allows us to feel grateful, take care of the hungry and poor, change our habits and lifestyles for the better, and feel a peace of mind that is often never felt during other times of the year.

To answer question #2, there are also many health benefits to fasting. In addition to the mental benefits (peace of mind, controlling anger, self-discipline, overcoming bad habits and desires, feeling contentment and gratitude, etc), there are many medical benefits as well. Fasting allows for a healing process to occur in our bodies. In this world of carcinogens, stress, and toxins galore, human beings are being bombarded with more environmental, nutritional, metabolic toxicity then ever before.Toxins get stored into our tissues and accumulate to a degree that may lead to the diseases that have become quite prevalent to this world, such as cancers, heart ailments, and diabetes. Fortunately, one way the process of detoxification can occur (which eliminates toxins from the body) is through the act of fasting, or refraining from eating or drinking, throughout the day. This way, the body is given the time and ability to remove the toxic waste and buildup more efficiently and effectively.

There are many other physiological effects of fasting such as a better control of chronic illnesses, like diabetes, arthritis, etc, while normalizing blood pressure, allowing for (healthy) weight loss to occur and allowing for a healthier lifestyle to be initiated.

During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to eat many nutritional foods such as dates, nuts, and fruit (which are all Islamic prophetic traditions http://muslimmatters.org/2014/06/22/ramadan-ready-set-go/).

And so again, the only times one cannot eat or drink anything, is from the hours of sunlight to sunset (here in SC, that has been from around 5 AM to 8:30 PM), otherwise, one can eat and drink to their heart’s content. Pun intended 😉

Some of the ways that I attempted to remain healthy and energized, in order to function and go about my day normally were by:

1. Following the prophetic tradition by eating many of the foods encouraged (dates, bananas, honey, etc)
2. Drinking as much water as I am possibly able to (from the time of breaking the fast (after Iftar) till Suhoor time
3. Drinking smoothies (example: 2 handfuls of spinach, berries, and a banana or two) for the necessary vitamins and minerals.
4. To ensure sustained energy throughout the day, making sure to consume plenty of energy-rich foods, such as grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, and my favorite, greek yogurt. I suggest a yogurt bowl, where you can throw in all of these ingredients and make a quick and easy meal for Suhoor or Iftar 🙂
5. By attempting moderation! This is the most difficult one for me, to be honest. It is easy to feel that we need to laden our bodies with TONS of food, in order to function throughout the day. However, this is not the case at all. Eating this way leads to lethargy, fatigue, and weakness instead of allowing us to remain strong and energized throughout the day. As one learns throughout this month, we don’t need to overeat to feel satisfied, full, content. A little does go a long way, indeed.

I have included this tiny (yes, tiny) synopsis of the definition and purpose of fasting for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. These are just a few reasons for why Muslims fast, physically, mentally, and spiritually during this time period. I hope all of this was helpful and that you learned a little more about Islam and Ramadan then you probably knew before. If you have any questions, ask in the comments section!

Soooo, Eid Mubarak!! Till next time 🙂