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Salma Ibrahim

A lesson on overindulgence during Ramadan

Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2018

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Ramadan series: Having a healthy discussion about food and the perils of overindulgence during the holy month, both physically and spiritually, is important, writes Salma Ibrahim.
We had discussed it over tea a few days before Ramadan, as we had done last Ramadan, and the one before that: to refrain from overindulgence when we break our fast, to stick to a simple and nutritious meal and to make sure that there would be no food wastage afterwards. 

This year I brought it up with the whole family again, just so that we were clear. I was met with affirmative hmmms. My siblings even proclaimed that they weren't that fussed whether or not sambusas or bur (sweet fried dumplings) would be on the menu.

This was exactly what I needed to hear, since my parents were under the impression that we would miss the fried food. I went to bed feeling content that we would start Ramadan off on the right foot. 

I took the bus home from the train station just as the sun leapt the farthest building on the horizon. The first day of fasting had been blissfully easy, thank God. I fought off the urge to pick up some ice cream on the way home, already feeling within me some new-found strength. Nothing could stop me as the bus hurtled down the clear streets towards home. 

A ready-to-bust full belly is more than just a full belly; it is the mark of hedonism and a helpless preoccupation with feeding a bottomless pit of emotional wants. It is why the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged us to leave a third of our bellies for food, a third for drink, and a third for air

Food has been the centre of my existence. I'm not ashamed to admit that on a subconscious level I lived from meal to meal. The quality of my breakfast could dictate the rest of the day. I once half-jokingly said that carbs were the only things getting me through life, that life was miserable without a good coffee in the morning.

Looking back, I think I was speaking from my soul without knowing it. It is the nafs – the soul – that believes it cannot function without its desires.

A ready-to-bust full belly is more than just a full belly; it is the mark of hedonism and a helpless preoccupation with feeding a bottomless pit of emotional wants. It is why the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged us to leave a third of our bellies for food, a third for drink, and a third for air.

I got to our front door just ten minutes shy of the sunset prayer. The first thing I heard as I stood in front of the door fumbling around for my keys, was the gentle, sneaky sizzle of the deep fat fryer.

My parents tangoed around the kitchen, putting on the last finishing touches to the feast. Our dining table was chock-full of food they had lovingly prepared, and yet there was more to come. My brother was chopping mangoes for the fruit salad and my sister was holding avocados in her hands, checking for the ones which were ready and ripe.

"I thought we said we wouldn't overcook, and that sambusas and bur were non-negotiable?" I said this to no one in particular, after the meal was over, when the deed was already done. I had probably eaten more sambusas than anyone else. Remember what I said about the nafs? Clearly there is more work to be done as a family and within myself. 

The sight of leftover food struck a special kind of guilt within me, but I kept trying to justify why it was okay to prepare so much food. At least we're not as bad as those in the Gulf who ate to the point of sickness, or made luxurious parties out of suhoor, I reasoned. At least it was all prepared in the name of Ramadan and family, so it will all be part of the day's reward. Or was it? I couldn't be so sure.

You never win when feeding yourself to the brim is your philosophy. There is never enough pastry, or meat, or desserts when you make food the centre of your Ramadan. It simply doesn't make any sense to fast and refrain from food, only to spend the entire day preparing for the moment you get to eat. It is counterproductive.

It simply doesn't make any sense to fast and refrain from food, only to spend the entire day preparing for the moment you get to eat. It is counterproductive

We agreed to never do that again. I endeavoured to share the leftovers with some homeless people the next day or give it to our local mosque.

The good thing about what happened is that it opened a healthy discussion about food and the problems with overindulgence, both physically and spiritually. I learned that if we are to truly embody the message of Ramadan, we should look in our kitchen cabinets and in our hearts; therein we will find a pattern of self-destruction and thankfully, a pattern that we can change.

Now we assess all our material needs much more closely. If we happen to have leftovers, we incorporate them into the meal for the next day. We are much more aware of the side effects of careless cooking and eating: it makes one lazy and pre-occupied and it's not good for your body.

Another way we are tackling this problem is to share parts of the meal with neighbours, that way nothing is wasted, and it builds a greater sense of compassion and care between us and our neighbours.

In the end the lesson is that food, among other things, is both a blessing and a test. We have full control of whichever one we want it to be.


Salma Ibrahim is a freelance writer and the founder and organiser of @literarynatives, a new organisation that aims to champion and support writers of colour through events and workshops. She is also editing her first novel. Her work is inspired by diaspora identities, life after war, and sci-fi. 

Follow her on Twitter @SalmaWrites 


The New Arab's Ramadan Series: Click on our Special Contents tab to read more on Ramadan 2018:

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