The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is a time of reflection, self-control and abstinence. For many, the fast gives them the opportunity to consider those less fortunate than themselves.
As the sun sets and people participate in the maghrib (dusk prayer), tradition dictates that the fast is broken with a light meal of dates and water to slowly bring back nourishment to the body after the day-long abstinence.
Muslim scholars in recent years have grown louder in warning Muslims against over-eating and throwing lavish buffets, saying such practices defy the very purpose of Ramadan.
The tradition of fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other acts of worship are the shahdah (the declaration of faith), salat (the five daily prayers), zakat (almsgiving), and the hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).
“Fasting is to attain taqwa, which is self-consciousness… You learn how to appreciate your blessings: food and drink, your relationship with your spouse,” Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Dubai-based Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), told Al Arabiya News.
“You also learn how to discipline yourself. You don’t gossip, backstab, curse or have ill-feelings. It’s a self-discipline exercise for a month, when the whole community comes together to become good people. You become a better human being.”
However, while the month is associated with deprivation, over-indulgence in food is common practice once the sun sets.
American-styled all-you-can-eat iftar (the breaking of the fast) and suhoor (pre-dawn meal) banquets, followed by mountains of wasted food, have become a trend in many Muslim cities.
“Even when you go to somebody’s house, there isn’t only one entrée, there are three, a couple of appetizers, and three or four kinds of [main] dishes. It has become a competition: you invite [people] for iftar to impress,” Kayed said.
People no longer invite each other for the thawab (spiritual merit) garnered from giving someone iftar, he added.
Islam places great emphasis on the virtue of giving food and water to those fasting.
According to the early Islamic scholar Imam Tirmidhi, the Prophet Mohammed said: “Whoever gives iftar to one who is fasting will have a reward like his, without that detracting from the reward of the fasting person in the slightest.”
Scientists have found that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, can have a number of health benefits.
During fasting, the body uses up glucose and then starts to burn fat, which can lead to weight-loss.
Dietitians also hail the benefits of fasting to improving insulin sensitivity, speeding up the metabolism, improving the immune system and brain function.
“Fasting can offer various benefits to both the mind and body. It helps mobilize fat for energy therefore supporting weight loss, which in turn reduces cholesterol levels, regulates blood pressure, and results in better control over type 2 diabetes,” said Racha Adib, a Dubai-based nutritionist.
Speaking about the healthiest foods to break the fast with, Adib said: “Traditionally, dates are eaten, [and] they happen to be a great option.
“Besides being a quick source of energy your body needs after a long day of fasting, dates are also rich in fiber and potassium. Then consume a bowl of soup to replenish the fluids lost during the fast. Make sure your main dish is balanced and contains carbs, good fat, and protein,” she added.
However, not breaking the fast the correct way could backfire, resulting in weight-gain and even more serious medical conditions related to stomach problems, she noted.
Last month, more than 100 people were hospitalized in Abu Dhabi for emergency care related to stomach issues during the first five days of Ramadan, Arabian Business reported.
“To curb overeating start slow, and take small breaks between courses. Chew every well-deserved bite slowly. When your body is satisfied don’t lurk around the table. Meal proximity plays a large role on the quantities you eat,” said Adib.
Kayed said “stuffing” one’s stomach “defies Ramadan from a health point of view.
“This is like when you work out at the gym... but eat twice as much afterward.”
The concept, said Kayed, “is to be able to accept that little is good and too much isn’t necessary.”
An alarming amount of the mouth-watering food served in hotels and restaurants end up in the dustbin every day.
Aware of the issue, the Dubai Municipality is currently drafting new guidelines for food establishments to keep food wastage in check, Khaleej Times reported.
The Dubai Municipality is also coordinating with charities to help donate the surplus food to the needy, according to the report.
“First of all, food should not go waste and if there is asurplus food, it should go to deserving people. We also need to make sure o fthe quality and safety of the donated food,” Khaleej Times reported an unnamed official as saying.
Wasting food is against the spirit of Ramadan, said Kayed.
He added: “Muslims invented a very simple meal call baqaya [leftovers in Arabic], which became a famous meal called paella. Baqaya was always given to the poor. I always tell [restaurants] that they should give leftovers to mosques. I hope they learn from the old days.”
Ramadan “is about doing good. If you do bad and the bad offsets the good, then what have you done? If this continues, Ramadan will be ruined. We’ll lose the principle of what it’s about.”SHOW MORE