Ramadan Gusto: Improving its Days and Nights

Want to maximize your benefits of Ramadan fasting? Why not consider how to deal with the rigors of Ramadan days and so invigorate yourself for the activities of Ramadan nights? What did you experience the first days of Ramadan? Was it headaches and food cravings? Do these continue to haunt you into the month, despite your best efforts? Learn why and commit yourself to doing something about it.

From Dawn to Dusk: Micromanaging Your Experience

Ramadan is known first and foremost as a month of abstention from the things normally taken into the body for survival, nourishment and satisfaction. This abstention is in effect from dawn to dusk, that is, during normal waking hours. One drinks and eats thus before dawn (suûr) and after dusk (ifâr) –not during normal, daylight hours.

…you may [now] eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes clear to you, [as distinguished] from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the night. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:187]

The Outer and Inner

Fasting is not peculiar to Islam. In one form or another, fasting has been practiced across human experience and across the religious spectrum,

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those [who have believed] before you, so that you may be [ever] God-fearing. [Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:183]

But in Islam, fasting throughout the daylight hours of Ramadan from one new moon to the next, is a major institution, next to the establishment of the five-times-daily Prayer. The month of fasting is intended to be honored and implemented as a serious undertaking for reassessing, repairing and revitalizing the spiritual health of the individual, together with that of the Ummah.

Prayer and fasting, each has an inner component which is to be served by the outer component. Just as the believer’s movements in Salah through a sequence of physical postures is designed to channel his attention to submission to his Sustainer and Guide –with emphasis on mindful recitation from Allah’s Book — so also, a stomach given a break from the task of digestion through daylight hours, is given the welcome opportunity to “clean house” of old debris, to address its detoxification, repair and growth priorities and to restructure itself. A healthy body supports a healthy relationship with its Creator. The revitalized body is able to concentrate on the message of Allah’s Book.

Before one can get full benefits of Ramadan, first, the believer must access the “clearheaded” condition of spiritual attunement,

As for those who disbelieve, it is the same to them whether you forewarn them [of the consequences of unbelief] or you do not forewarn them. They will not believe. [Therefore,] God has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing. And over their eyes, there is a veil... [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:6-7]

…an Arabic Quran…Yet [when it is recited], … they do not [truly] hear [its message]. Thus they say: Our hearts are ensheathed against what you are calling us to. In our ears, moreover, there is an utter deafness [to it]. For between us and you, there is an [impenetrable] veil. [Sûrah Fuṣṣilat, 41:5]

…encrusted over their hearts is all [the evil] that they have earned. [Sûrat Al-Muṭaffifîn, 83:14]

Or, as one can say, “the veil” [hiding life’s purpose and desensitizing one from the truth of God’s guidance to him personally] must be lifted from his eyes and ears and heart. Even as believers, we often forget and need to be reminded. During Ramadan our Adversary is “chained up” against ongoing mischief and the lessons of the Quran are ready to be received most generously. And that is why the perceptive Muslim’s goal is to feast on the whole Quran, from cover to cover during these 29-30 days each year: to see clearly and deeply the “miracle” of his own tenuous existence in this life and to recommit himself to Allah in response to grasping anew his own utter dependence upon his Lord.

Enveloped in the Fog

In modern life, food is a consumable commodity –produced, marketed and traded under profit-driven conditions beholden to corporate interests –whether agricultural, processing-packaging or delivery services. Foods with years of “shelf life” are promoted as convenience foods for the buyer/consumer to replace produce (fruits and vegetables) which have a short window of peak consumability, like weeks or even days.

The sad fact –apart from the low nutritional contents of current, conventionally-grown food– is that the majority of modern consumers are held hostage to food cravings. But let us call a spade a “spade.” More truthfully, this compelling, unhealthy physical urge is more accurately to be labeled an “addiction” when it prods a person to overeat [typically large volumes of low nutrition or overcooked food] and even so to feel “hungry” when his stomach has not yet processed its current contents.

According to health improvement specialists, true hunger is felt as a distinct sensation in the mouth and throat, [1] not as a gnawing discomfort or pain in the stomach.  Dis-ease in the digestive tract is more likely a sign that one should give his gastrointestinal system a break so as to clean house and repair its working parts before another digestive job is thrust upon it.

Ideally what you eat should come directly out of the ground (vegetables) or from a tree (fruits), ideally from your own garden with no chemicals used. If you are not so fortunate as to be close to the soil and if you buy your food from the supermarket, then that item –if from the packaged aisles of the supermarket– is likely to be something best described as just another “flavor” of sugar, salt or heat-treated fat!  If it comes in a package with an ingredients label, you should ask yourself whether your attraction to this product is due to its high-heat produced forms of salt, sugar or fat.  I’m referring to factory-processed [refined] table salt, [refined] table sugar and [refined] cooking oil.

The main ingredient listed on the label may simply be the carrier –the ‘flavor,’ I call it (even if that ‘flavor’ is the main ingredient!) — for the delivery of addictive salt, sugar or fat/oil –usually all three together. A prime example would be the popular tortilla chips:  the main ingredient is corn, or a combination of normally healthful grains or beans.  I call these main ingredient(s) the ‘flavor’ because one is most likely drawn to eat such items for the salt content and probably for the fried oil taste (there may even be sugar added) … rather than for the grains or beans themselves.

I dare to call these items “addictive” because: Remove them from your diet and you will be faced with “withdrawal symptoms” to a greater or lesser degree, parallel to quitting alcohol or tobacco.

Ask yourself:

  • Can I make it through the day without a “fix” of this unholy Trinity (salt, sugar, fried oil [2])?
  • Can I even begin my day apart from a “fix” of caffeine, or, God-forbid, nicotine? Sodas and sugar-laced drinks, too, are another big health risk in modern society.

Hint: Once one has established his habit of ingesting any stimulating, non-nourishing substance, then, if one resorts continually to one more “fix,” that “fix” will stave off an otherwise inevitable headache or other nagging discomfort.  The withdrawal symptom –headache or craving– is a side effect that comes about when the body flips on its detoxification cycle. If the pent up toxins are excessive, one will suffer their clean out process.

If one can

  • Recognize the false ‘hunger’ symptom for what it is, an indication of detox, and
  • Courageously ride out the urge to “dose up” again

then one can take charge of his health and bust the vicious cycle of false “hunger” that imposes itself during the fasting day.  On the other hand, if one continues to build his toxic load, he further stresses and imperils his body, making it increasingly difficult each year to fast during Ramadan. Such a detoxification fog severely cripples one in his quest to enjoy the spiritual benefits of the Holy Month.

One need not be enveloped in brain fog or endure withdrawal symptoms during the days of Ramadan if he has prepared himself ahead of Ramadan. If you are one who just wants to sleep during Ramadan days to drown out your withdrawal symptom sorrows, then understand your predicament: Know that this is not natural, or healthful, and you don’t have to continue the addiction.

Divesting Oneself of the Fog

If you can wean yourself off the toxic trinity of the modern food industry (salt, sugar, fat) –and don’t forget caffeine and nicotine and sugar-laced drinks, either– and if you have already done this during the eating, daylight hours before Ramadan, then you are working towards the “clear head” you desire to be yours throughout the non-eating, daylight hours of Ramadan. If you have not weaned yourself before Ramadan, then begin now to clean up your food choices, starting with the menu for your next suûr and ifâr.

Why relegate yourself to days of detoxifying on top of your days of fasting?  Why double up your body’s burden by giving it two processes which are mutually at odds. Fasting is intended to be a tool that helps clear the veil from one’s mind and enhance spiritual perceptions and growth. How can fasting do its job when the body is faced with a minor emergency of self-repair dumped in its lap?

How to accomplish this detox of the Unholy Trinity (salt-sugar-fat) plus three more: caffeine-nicotine-sodas?

  • If you can begin before Ramadan, then put your plan into action several weeks in advance, preferably a month ahead. If not, then begin immediately.
  • Declare your intention to divest of the Unholy Trinity + 3. A public declaration (to family & friends) firms up your determination to make this work. This support group can call you to account if your swerve from your path.  They can share your struggles with this change of habit, when you need someone to talk to about it. Maybe some will join you in the effort.
  • Do your homework. Read labels. Draw up a personalized list for you and your family of what you will no longer eat/drink, etc. And for each major item that you will delete, write in, next to it, a substitute item as a healthful replacement.
  • If you can expect to crave “normal” cookies, then make or buy similar ones sweetened with, for example, raw agave syrup and a spice such as ginger rather than salt. Bake with a cold-pressed oil or unsalted butter. Better to avoid the cookie mindset altogether, but if that is too onerous at the start, then have an ersatz version of each favorite indulgence as a substitute to lighten your transition.
  • The best choice would be to keep a supply of fresh fruits, the kinds that grow on trees as Allah has made them for our delight –each full of its own combination of nutritive substances.

Organically-grown produce typically has a better flavor. If you eat better quality, you will need a lesser quantity.

  • The avoidance list may be long, but the substitution list could not be simpler: Any fresh fruit or vegetable.
  • The avoidance list can be simplified too: Avoid anything that comes in a package having a list of ingredients more than two lines long.
  • For your raw vegetables, you may like to eat them with a guacamole or hummus dip — but remember no salt. Experiment to find salt-replacement spices or other flavors that you enjoy. Get used to making your own dip, if necessary.
  • If you are giving up cigarettes, then as a first step, resolve never to smoke another conventional brand, processed with the nearly 600 chemical additives.[3] Instead seek out additive-free tobacco [4] as a step towards quitting, if “cold turkey” doesn’t work for you. If alcohol [5] is your nemesis, then know that alcohol is big business and seek professionals, like Alcoholics Anonymous, for a regimented mutual-help group and plan to quit. Each time you feel the urge, have a swig of clean water, possibly cool or hot as you prefer.
  • Drink enough pure / purified water to flush out what the body is clearing out, as well as to keep your body hydrated. This may be much more water than you are used to drinking. If you are not sleeping soundly during the nights of Ramadan, then get up and drink extra water.
  • If you have a relapse back into the clutches of the Unholy Trinity + 3, then do what you always do anyway: Seek the help of Allah and tap into the resources of your support group.

Note how you feel with and without more of those toxic substances going into your body. Ask yourself, “Do I really like the ongoing feel of my toxic load, or is it just less terrible than the withdrawal symptoms?” Permanent withdrawal is easier and faster with a support team to back you up.

From Dusk to Dawn

Hopefully, your personal divestment of the Unholy Trinity + 3 is best done before the fasting period of Ramadan. If this suggestion comes too late for this year, then at least the same eating plan for the nights of Ramadan can still be adopted for this year. You may have to eat at home to avoid the Unholy Trinity, but you can still join the Community for the other activities of this Blessed Month.

Whether during the month of Ramadan or throughout the year, keep in mind the following life-transforming aḥîḥ adîth of the Prophet, which sets out both the ideal and also upper limits in regard to the stomach:

Miqdâm ibn Ma¢dikarib said:

I heard the Messenger of Allah œ saying: ‘The human does not fill any container that is worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat what will support his back. If this is not possible, then a third [of his stomach] for food, a third for drink, and a third [left empty] for easy breathing. (Jâmi¢ Al-Tirmidhi, 2380, Book 36: adîth 77)

And lastly, don’t forget to drink your good-quality clean water during your Ramadan nights –up to 1/3 of your stomach’s capacity, the same amount as the quantity of food that you may properly take in.

Having a “clear head” is the first prerequisite for a blessed Ramadan, but without it you can only limp through the month; you will not be able to soar to the heights that are open to us this remarkable season of the Islamic calendar year.  This year, commit to Allah that you will fully embrace the offered blessings of Ramadan.

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[1]  http://www.allaboutfasting.com/safe-fasting-true-hunger.html

[2]  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/03/21/addictive-junk,

http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/reasons-junk-foods-are-bad-for-your-health-sh214/

[3]  http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/whats-in-a-cigarette.html, and

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_additives_in_cigarettes

[4]  http://www.medicaldaily.com/american-spirit-sued-class-action-lawsuit-over-deceptive-marketing-their-n, and

http://www.medicaldaily.com/why-cigarettes-labeled-natural-or-additive-free-may-be-misleading-acc

[5]  http://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body

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