With the approach of Ramaḍān came the rush of supermarkets focusing their best marketing strategies to try and ensnare the Muslim consumer demographic. During a recent visit to the local supermarket this was no more evident than in an entire aisle dedicated to “Ramadan” which, if the items on sale are any indication, is a time for us to starve and sleep during daylight hours and inhale food without limit and without restraint, overindulging our nights away.
For perspective, the Ramaḍān aisle of the supermarket was stocked with sweets, chocolate, fried food stuffs, fizzy drinks, chemically preserved ‘fruit’ juices and more unhealthy, preserved, essentially fake food. This reality is problematic for numerous reasons. First, the obvious: these ‘foods’ our community chooses as sources of nutrition have perilous effects on our bodies. It is common knowledge that the aforementioned list includes that which is ‘bad for you’. But do we know to what extent we are poisoning ourselves?
Carbonated “fizzy” drinks, for example, increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses. Even occasionally indulging in the drink (just once per week) affects the function of the pancreas – a vital organ responsible for releasing appropriate amounts of insulin. Researchers have also found a link between fizzy drinks and inflammation which is the root of multiple autoimmune diseases such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Chocolates, sweets, deep-fried food, long-life fruit juices – long life anything for that matter – are all likely saturated in excessive amounts of sugar and chemicals offering a momentary spike of energy which is followed by a dramatic drop in energy levels. After consuming such, I hesitate to say it, food; we can fall into a state of lethargy, inactivity, pessimism, withdrawal and, according to some research, depression.
This is hardly an appropriate state to put ourselves in in Ramaḍān.
The second most problematic aspect of this is that Ramaḍān has become known as a retail event. Headlines reading “Ramaḍān Boosts Britain’s Big Supermarkets With £100 Million Sales Uplift” highlight this reality. In an article titled “Recapturing Ramaḍān from Capitalism”, which warns our community of becoming a mere commodity to be targeted by advertising campaigns, Laura Stuart writes:
“Ramaḍān is a time for fasting and for the Qur’ān, a spiritual time of reflection and it is rather concerning that sales of food items should increase so much during the fast […] Ramaḍān is now the third most important retail event in the calendar after Christmas and Easter.”
Though it is an aggravating concept that our spiritual month is hijacked for material ends, supermarkets are only catering to our demands. It is our behaviours and actions that illustrate what we believe Ramaḍān to be about. If we treated Ramaḍān as a spiritual time to cleanse our bodies, minds and souls, what retailers would sell us would be entirely different. With this in mind, what is the type of Ramaḍān we should be having?
As Muslims, we fast with more than just our bodies; we fast with our minds. During this month in which Shayṭān is chained, we take the opportunity to rid our minds and hearts of all that does not belong, and refocus our attentions on our true purpose of existence. Ramaḍān is a month during which we endeavour to attain Taqwa – this should of course be our daily aim throughout the rest of the year, as well. Among other things, Taqwa is to be entirely subservient to our Creator, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), to put our worship and obedience of Him before our desire for anything else.
To abstain from food or drink, with the correct intention, is a fast and effective way of setting out on this journey. Fasting is a means by which we discipline the soul and its desires. To fast during the day does not mean we make up for it, with surplus, in the night. In fact, there were some in the early generations of Muslims who would eat only as much as would allow them to survive the day until iftār.
“One of Imam al-Ghazali’s top tips for waking up to pray Qiyamul Layl was not to overeat before bedtime. In this regard you find the Early Muslims would eat very little at Iftar. There is a narration about Ibrahim b. Abi Ayyūb that states that he would only have two full meals during the whole month.”
As evidenced by innumerable narrations, controlling our bodies allows for control of our souls, and its being channelled for lofty and noble purposes.
“When you eat healthily and eat only until you are slightly full, your mood, your energy, your thinking pattern and even your sleep improves. And all these improvements help you to enhance your spirituality.”
In this blessed and virtuous month we could all do with maximising our good deeds. If we choose to eat foods which give us energy and make us better parents; if what we drink hydrates us and make us proactive daʿīs; if we no longer feel lethargic, suffer from migraines, or feel parched because of what we have chosen to nourish ourselves with, and become better Muslims as a result, we have made our eating and drinking, our suhūr and iftār an ʿibādah beyond the ritual. If we are the best versions of ourselves physically as a result of our nutrition, we have opened the doors to being the best versions of ourselves spiritually.
In the preface to a book by Imam Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyah on “Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)” is written:
“Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was sent as a guide, and mercy for all of mankind, and as such was given wisdom by Allāh that benefits man. Allāh says: “O Mankind! There has to come to you a good advice from your Lord, and a healing for that which is in your breasts, a guidance and mercy for the believers.””
To create a physical state which facilitates a spiritual higher ground we should nourish our bodies with the best – and what better way to achieve this than by looking to traditional Islāmic scholarship and the foods mentioned in the Qur’ān and ḥadīth? Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says,
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allāh you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for Allāh and the Last Days and remembers Allāh much.”
This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Talk to your GP before altering any recommended diet regime.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Break your fast by eating dates as it is purifying.”
ʿĀ’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) also reports that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Indeed in dates there is a cure”.
As regards the nutritional and medicinal value of dates, there are a multitude of health benefits including:
– Its being high in sucrose, glucose and fructose – natural sugars that release energy throughout the day.
– A remedy to treat dehydration – due to its potassium electrolyte properties.
– A source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron. The insoluble and soluble fibre found in dates help to clean out the gastrointestinal system, allowing the colon to work at greater levels of efficiency. It restores and nourishes the lining of the stomach, promoting digestive health.
– Improved brain health and performance due to vitamin B6 levels.
– Dates are rich in magnesium, a mineral known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and yet most of us are unknowingly deficient in it. Without enough of it we start to lose energy and conductivity.
Ibn Al-Qayyim quotes Ibn Sina, the father of early modern medicine,
“Its yolk has a strong effect in strengthening the heart. Egg yolk has three beneficial uses: it turns into blood quickly, it does not produce extensive wastes, and the blood that it produces is light and similar to the blood that feeds the heart. Further, the egg yolk is the most adequate substance against the diseases that affect the essence of the soul.”
Eggs are a rich source of complete high-quality protein containing an ideal balance of all of the essential amino acids our bodies need but cannot make on its own. These amino acids are the “building blocks” for bones, skin, hair, the digestive tract, enzymes, blood cells, antibodies and other immune cells. Eggs also contain nutrients needed for normal growth, development and repair and have been shown to reduce the risk for macular degeneration, the leading cause of preventable blindness in those 50 and older.
Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre found eating eggs had significantly lower levels of the hormone that stimulates appetite, in their blood three hours after breakfast, and significantly higher levels of another hormone which signals we are full. In essence, eating an egg makes us feel fuller for longer.
In the Qur’ān we are commanded:
“O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] ḥalāl and pure.”
“When discussing the adab of consumption, the Qur’ān refers to the concepts of ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘tayyib’ (pure and good) – in other words, law and ethics. Both are to be taken into consideration.” It is imperative that we determine not just whether our food is ḥalāl, in that it has been sacrificed according to the standards of Islamic law, but whether or not our food has been ethically sourced. Real free range eggs – from hens which roam freely, eating grasses and herbs without being confined or mistreated – are thus the preferable option.
Dehydration and Headaches
Although we often hear the adage “you are what you eat”, the fact that up to 60% of our bodies are made up of water means that it would be more fitting if it were phrased “you are what you drink”.
It is important for us to keep hydrated between iftār and suhūr. Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate, and when you lose too much water, that balance is disrupted.
Researchers explored the physiological effects of dehydration. They found:
– Reduced endurance, increased fatigue and reduced motivation.
– Increased confusion and anger.
In a study on “Water, Hydration and Health” researchers showed that due to their minerals and natural sugars, some fruits and vegetables effectively hydrate people. Watermelon was amongst the top of the list, thanks to its approximate 90% water content and essential rehydration salts, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Other options that provide your body with enough minerals, salt and electrolytes at the same time include coconut water and water with added Himalayan salt.
“Eating one’s fill, even though it is permissible, has its limits, and anything beyond that is extravagance. That which is permissible of it is that which helps the eater to obey his Lord and its heaviness does not distract him from doing what is enjoined upon him.”
It is common to feel extreme lethargy immediately after eating iftār. This is induced by the consumption of a large amount of food that is incapable of being effectively broken down and subsequently absorbed by the body. The system in our bodies responsible for doing this is the lymphatic system. As well as moderating the amount of food we eat, incorporate foods into your diet which assist in transporting nutrients through the lymph system to the organs it needs to get to.
“In both of them are fruit and palm trees and pomegranates.”
Pomegranates are hot and wet, good for the stomach and strengthen it. The pomegranate softens the stomach and is a nutrient for the body. It also digests quickly and strengthens the organs.
Pomegranates, beetroots, cherries, cranberries – that is, naturally red foods – break down toxic build-up from congesting food, thin bile for more effective fat digestion, and assist in keeping the lymphatic vessels cleansed.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates
Your body is smart, if you are craving something it normally means you are lacking in adequate nutrition of some kind. Instead of breaking your fast with what you think you are craving, take a moment to assess what your body is really asking for.
If you are craving fatty fried foods, for example, your body would likely benefit from healthy fats such as avocado and raw nuts like almonds and cashews. Or if you crave sweet food you would likely benefit from naturally high energy foods. Instead of satiating yourself with unhealthy food, eat nutritious meals. You will feel fuller for longer, energised, alert and you will give your body what it needs.
Our body is an amānah from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Treat it well and use it to accomplish what we have been created to do:
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.”
 Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyah, Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), tr. Jalal Abual Rub, ed. Abdul Rahman Abdullah (London; Darussalam, 2003) p.12
 Al-Qur’ān, 33:21
 Narrated by Ahmad
 Reported by Muslim (14/3) and Ahmad (6/152)
 Ali et al., “Nutritional and Medicinal Value of Date Fruit” in Dates: Production, Processing, Food, and Medicinal Values ed. A. Manickavasagan, M. Mohamed Essa, E. Sukumar (Florida: CRC Press, 2012) pp. 361-76
 Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauziyah, Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), tr. Jalal Abual Rub, ed. Abdul Rahman Abdullah (London; Darussalam, 2003) p. 256
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:168
 H. H. Mitchell, T. S. Hamilton, F. R. Steggerda, and H. W. Bean, “The Chemical Composition of the Adult Human Body and its Bearing on the Biochemistry of Growth”, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 1945 p. 630
 Shirreffs SM, Merson SJ, Fraser SM, Archer DT. The effects of fluid restriction on hydration status and subjective feelings in man. Br J Nutr. 2004;91:951–958.
 Blau J. Water deprivation: a new migraine precipitant. Headache. 2005;45:757–759.
 Blau JN, Kell CA, Sperling JM. Water-deprivation headache: a new headache with two variants. Headache. 2004;44:79–83.
 Ibn Qayyim
 Abū Dāwūd and At-Tirmidhi
 Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/
 Fatḥ al-Bāri
 Al-Qur’ān, 55:68
 Ibn Qayyim, p. 275.
 Al-Qur’ān, 51:56