Muslims are in the midst of their month of fasting (Ramadan). This entails us staying away from all food and drink from dawn to sunset each day for the month. Despite fasting, my mind at times is on food. I guess that is a normal human instinct: when you are hungry or thirsty you look for food or drink to quench that craving. For Muslims, the fast is total, so no giving into those cravings as absolutely no food and drink are allowed during the daylight hours. Fasting, therefore, is an exercise in self-control and self-discipline. For those with no underlying health conditions, it is also a very therapeutic exercise on the organs of the body.
Intermittent fasting is now a trending acceptable form of fasting. One website (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide#what-it-is) describes the practice as follows:
“People are using it to lose weight, improve their health and simplify their lifestyles. Many studies show that it can have powerful effects on your body and brain and may even help you live longer.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. In this respect, it’s not a diet in the conventional sense but more accurately described as an eating pattern. Common intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, twice per week.
“Fasting has been a practice throughout human evolution. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day.
“Fasting is also often done for religious or spiritual reasons, including in Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.”
Fasting is definitely a spiritual exercise in Islam meant to bring the fasting person closer to the consciousness of the Creator, the Almighty. It goes beyond simply staying away from food and drink but also cultivates one’s character through noble qualities like patience, humility, honesty, good conduct and morals and abstinence from all practices, habits, behaviors that negatively impact on oneself and those around.
This year, fasting during this month is under extremely different circumstances and Muslims globally have adapted to the times we find ourselves in. The month of Ramadan is traditionally observed in many Muslim communities with social gatherings at the mosques at sunset to break the fast together, with the sharing of food the highlight, especially with those who are not as well off as others and cannot afford the luxury of a good meal. The pandemic and lockdown have caused these fast-breakings, called iftars, to be done strictly indoors with immediate family. Social distancing has cancelled these iftars but has certainly created newer, innovative methods of maintaining the same charitable spirit that manifests itself during Ramadan.
In some places, prepared meals are being distributed ahead of the time to break fasts so persons can collect and have with their family. In other places, food items and/or grocery vouchers are distributed to those in need so they can have access to food items during this month.
At another level, for those who miss the larger family gatherings during this month, ‘virtual iftars’ are taking place almost nightly using the technology and internet to connect families and friends in see and hear but not taste fast-breaking moments. ‘Virtual iftars’ have also helped to connect persons who live on their own and cannot visit parents or relatives at this time due to COVID-19.
Strange times indeed, but this has not stopped persons from adapting. That is human nature. Our instinct is to survive at all costs so we do what is necessary to keep going.
It is interesting that the website I quoted above pointed out the following: “Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day.”
I think the long lines and chaotic scenes at supermarkets here and across the world during this pandemic have shown that we have certainly gone far away from our fore-parents. If you think having no food and drink for a few hours is hard, explain to our current generation extending that for longer periods. Fasting is training; it cultivates in a person the ability to overcome desires and cravings.
I am often asked how does a Muslim fast for 14 hours a day. Well, that is in Barbados; in other parts of the world at some times of the year it can be as much as 19 hours. But that is for people who know they will have food and drink at sunset to break their fast; imagine for those without any food and drink, what is their condition?
It is noteworthy that in this pandemic several voices were raised highlighting the fact that millions more die of hunger, starvation and under-nourishment. A key fact pointed out: “Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population—but more than 820 million people go hungry each year. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting 11 per cent of people globally. There were an estimated 775 million undernourished people in 2014 – a record low – but that number increased to 820 million in 2018.”
It is estimated that over 3 million persons have died from hunger so far in 2020. How is this even possible when food is in abundant supply in so many parts of the developed world, food that is dumped because of over-production and is not consumed?
In the current pandemic, Barbadians have certainly woken up to the reality of food security and independence, but also, as important, healthier nourishment. There are those even amongst us who are not adequately nourished. The cry to reopen fast-food establishments symbolizes this reliance on foods that are cheaper but not necessarily good. It also brings to the fore the need to make healthier options more readily available and affordable.
I am extremely pleased to see that agriculture has featured heavily in response to this pandemic. Our farmers have stepped up and must be applauded. For too long they have been relegated to the background. Our own foods, grown and produced locally, are far better than imported foods. I am also happy to see the growing interest in home gardening. Let’s hope these interests don’t fade when this pandemic goes away.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace; Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association; Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: [email protected]
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