by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
hen we were young, we used to camp outside the Africa Federation offices on the eve of 30th Ramadhan, while eagerly waiting for the good news to arrive. The good news, we hoped, was that the moon was sighted someplace which would then be endorsed by the marja’a e Taqleed’s office, even if that meant going for Eid aamaals late at night. And when the news did not arrive as we had hoped, criticism, anguish, and long-faced arguments prevailed. In fact, we witnessed some very deeply personal and offensive discussions even amongst the adults who were visibly unhappy that there would be another day of toil.
In retrospect, it does now feel as though we had made the month of fasting to be other than what its true intent was, and with maturity and understanding, we started wishing that the crescent would only show up after 30 fasts had been safely bagged. And this in turn is the culmination of the understanding of the Holy month in its intended form, not as a period of abject starvation and turmoil. It is this sagacity that will hopefully navigate us to the ultimate path of seeking His nearness.
When we analyse the proportions to which the Holy month o Ramadhan has been dissembled through an institutionalised routine, we get the instantaneous realisation of how skewed our performances ought to be in light of the engagements and focus we have during the month.
For starters, like neonates, we behave as if not eating food and drinking is a punishment. It has also become fashionable to suggest how we are not in our senses when we miss our morning tea or a puff of a cigarette. In wincing against the prospect of hunger, we spend most of our nocturnal hours eating, and by extension socialising so that we can eat. The race to the cut-off time (Imsak) is as feverish as is the exact moment of Iftaar. Almost everything now revolves around feasting, the exact polar opposite of the theme of the month. Indeed, late nights get so severe by the end of the first week, that it slowly becomes a norm not to find people at their workplaces during the morning hours, and to expect a yawning present after zohrain, as this upside-down clock helps to while the time away from the insufferable pangs of hunger. Loud talk and blabbering through the wee hours of the night, with disregard and contempt for those living around, is a fairly indecent way of showing what Muslims are up to during this so-called month of purification.
Now that the month is over, let us talk about eating in general. The proverbial saying ‘You are what you eat’ is the notion that to be fit and healthy you need to eat good food.
In 1826, the French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante:
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”
[Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are].
In an essay titled Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism, 1863/4, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote:
“Der Mensch ist, was er ißt.”From Phrases.org
[Man is what he eats]
This craving for food insatiably and invariably leads to a dysfunctional body incapacitated for earnest worship. When we stop by every nook and corner to start munching, we are emulating the ways of the animals who graze as they stroll. This is not a step towards excellence.
There are elaborate writings and narrations about what our Aimmah (AS) has prescribed to us in matters of eating food, but only if we cared to practice religion beyond the symbolism that we have carved or our inner satisfaction, but that is devoid of any real benefit.