Over the last few weeks, Muslims across the world were expected to be doing just that, starving the body and feeding the soul. In another mantra, the saying is “Starve the ego and feed the soul”.
It is the blessed month of Ramadan for Muslims, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Observant followers of the faith will stay away from all food, drink and other sensual pleasures during the daylight hours in a complete fast whose main aim is to increase oneself in God-consciousness.
Starving the body and starving the ego are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Today, most of the developed world is criticized for over-consumption and over-indulgence. Obesity is skyrocketing and plaguing the young as well as the old; it has reached epidemic levels in children — caffeine and sugar have taken us captive. Diabetes is plaguing millions, and cancer and heart disease are the number one killers.
Chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are public enemy number one as borne out in several studies over recent years. According to the Ministry of Health, it is estimated that by the year 2030, 86.3 per cent of all deaths in Barbados will be caused by NCDs. “Not only in Barbados, but universally, these NCDs, have been recognized as a major threat to health, economies, and societies. Socioeconomic progress has created conditions that favour the rise of these NCDs, and we are therefore witnessing changes which require us to think broadly and act comprehensively,” Senior Medical Officer of Health, Dr Leslie Rollock said in 2016.
And these NCDs are coming about as a result of extremely poor diets, over-eating, alcohol consumption, and smoking.
So when we talk about fasting and encouraging it as a means to help prevent the onset of NCD’s, it is not some fancy talk. It is a practical application of what is humanly possible. And it must be seen as more than just staying away from food and drink to get healthy. It must be a complete approach to becoming a better human being, physically and spiritually.
Accordingly, Muslims are encouraged to make the best of this month of fasting by not only starving their bodies but nurturing their souls through constant worship, containing their anger, helping the needy and being patient to please God. They are advised to stay away from committing all sorts of sins not only through actions but through words and ears too. This is one of the reasons why the fact is emphasized that fasting is not about starving one’s body but it is about controlling one’s desires and thanking God for what one has.
Beautifully described by Richard Singer, Author/Psychotherapist: “We are very familiar with both our ego and our soul. We come in contact with them daily. Our ego is that voice within us that demands everything and pulls us along a path that is difficult and filled with obstacles. The ego robs us of the peace that we deserve. Our soul is the deep, profound, and infinitely tranquil place within us that knows nothing but empathy, love, compassion, and truth. The soul is who we truly are. Every human being truly desires to live the best they possibly can. However, the ego interrupts this process with endless mind games. It’s time to take back what is ours and quiet the ego.”
Muslims seek to quiet their ego during this month of fasting and redemption. For some, it is just feeling the pangs of hunger during the daylight hours with no gain to body or soul as they either binge eat on breaking the fast or they don’t nourish the soul while fasting. Our faith reminds us “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.”
The opportunity provides a natural environment for moral training to control bad habits and to eliminate them, eventually – feeding the soul and starving the ego.
The over-consumption and over-indulgence trend points to the reverse of these mantras and leads to the question: do you feed your body but starve your soul? Unfortunately, some people do feed their bodies and lose their souls. And some just feed their bodies and end up being unwell in the long run.
Perhaps famed English poet Lord Byron sums it up best when he despaired at the height of his fame, “I have drunk of every fount of pleasure and quaffed every cup of fame, yet, alas, I die of thirst!”
And the Bible has the story of the rich man who stuffed his barns full of grain. God said to him, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee: Then whose shall all those things be?”
Richard Singer further pointed out: “Ultimately, it comes down to whether we choose to live our lives according to the demands and delusions of the ego or make the conscious intention to align ourselves with the infinite soul. Choosing to always be conscious and to live according to the soul provides you with infinite possibilities and the peace, passion, and purpose that you deserve as a human being.
“Conversely, living unconscious and according to the ego results in stress, unnecessary resistance and much less desirable consequences that you do not deserve. As a unique and awesome human being, you deserve much more than the ego offers you. You have two alternatives to choose from and I’m positive you want what the soul has to offer you. You must simply slow down and journey into your inner being and decide between the two. Soul living offers you complete peace and infinite potential while ego living offers you stress and the ordinary life that you are seeking to transcend.”
If we are successful in feeding our soul and controlling our egos, then we can attain significant peace and contentment in our lives.
Muslims will end the month of fasting and soul-searching this week with the hope that they did achieve some benefits from the month-long exercise – benefits both to the soul and the body. We end thanking the Creator for the numerous blessings, gifts, and opportunities granted to us. And we end hoping that we can continue the spiritual journey for the rest of the year, feeding our soul, starving our ego and periodically starving our body as we did in the month of fasting.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)