Now more than ever, as we drift even further into a gadget-obsessed world of self-indulgence and so called “first world problems,” Ramadan becomes even more important in more ways than one. Let’s face it, the world is becoming an increasingly aggressive place where people either believe more than ever or less than usual, and those in-between are referred to as hippies.
Interestingly, a lot of agnostic people have recently been more “awakened” to New Age spirituality; traveling to hot-spot countries like India and Nepal for guidance or resorting to eating just raw food in order to connect with themselves and everything around. Those people usually reject any formal notion of religion, but still crave or discover the notion that there is something greater than us. Essentially they fast: Cleansing themselves from all things artitificual in order to purify themselves.
Let’s be honest, whether people choose to use the term “God” or not, they’re basically trying to connect to Him, and whilst mainstream society may refer to New Agers as”froufrou hippies,” they’re on the right path; they just haven’t quite reached the goal yet. You see, it’s not very complicated or difficult – the first step to reawakening your true self is to let go of your self completely. The only thing between you and God is you.
Islam has its own, more rewarding, option of cleansing and detoxifying yourself. The holy month of Ramadan (where Muslims abstain from food and beverage from dusk till dawn) is about fasting in order to sympathise with those who are less fortunate, but there’s another side to the month. Ramadan is a chance for you to disconnect from the bubble of self-importance and selfishness in order to connect to others and ultimately a higher being — God.
Hunger is one of the most powerful feelings. When the pit of your stomach feels hunger, you panic and will do nearly anything and eat everything in order to make that instinctual feeling disappear. So, many of us munch our way trough Ramadan, going from meal to meal until the month is up, and you won’t have to experience that kind of hunger again for a year. As much as Ramadan is about getting closer to God, it is also a continuous wake-up call to remind us that for so many in this world, everyday is a fasting day, whether they like it or not.
Yet, when I look at my grandmother and the way that she used to eat in Somalia, she grew up to become a fertile woman with no issues of heart disease, diabetes, asthma or obesity — although food was at times scarce. Like so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, although their food options were limited, they ate a diet of fresh local vegetables, pulses, and dairy; and on special occasions, meat, fish and poultry. My grandmother still doesn’t quite understand what lactose intolerant (or any other food allergies, for that matter) mean. She doesn’t get what asthma is or why some people are allergic to the trees and grass –“next time you’ll tell me that someone is allergic to the sun as well,” she’d joke.
Now, so many of us have unlimited options for food. But the problem is that we’re not eating food anymore, we’re eating food-like products that are adorned to look, taste and smell amazing, moving further away from our grandparents’ heavily plant- and pulse-based diet. How many of our grandparents lived on processed food with ingredients that are barely pronounceable? In our generation and in many parts of the world, we’re now basically overfed and under-nourished. And, with the rush and stress of everyday life, who can really say that they have time to think about food in a meaningful way?
By connecting the holiest Islamic month of the year with fasting, we begin to realise that, hey, there might be a link between spirituality and hunger; the value of your body and how to take care of it. Ramadan is the time to listen to your body (and not just the hungry growls), because it’s not just about what you’re eating – it’s also about what’s eating you.
Of course, I can’t say for certain that if I eat more like my grandmother, I’ll live a longer and healthier life (no one can). But, what I do know for sure is that Ramadan re-awakens you, it transports you out of your own self-important bubble and ego and forces you to think about things (including, but not only food) in a more conscious way. By eating well and being more aware of our gluttonous and often insatiable hunger for fake food, you give your body and your soul the chance to heal itself.
It’s not a coincidence that Islam’s holiest month is connected with fasting. So the next time iftar comes around you’re rushing to break your fast, take a few minutes to not only think of those less fortunate, but also of how you intend to use your fortune. It cannot be found in just your wallet nor your closet – your fortune is your health, so just think of Ramadan as the never-ending reminder of that.
Hanna Ali is a post-colonialist with a keen interest in decolonisation, nationalism and the diaspora – currently based in the UK. Her twitter handle is @hannaali. A version of this piece originally appeared in Civil Expression.
This piece is part of our ongoing series on Ramadan, featuring reflections, stories, and articles from Muslims and non-Muslims on their Ramadan experiences. Keep checking altmuslim for new pieces throughout Ramadan.