by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
n the olden days, it was meant to be a back-handed compliment – that Khojas will only attend if there is food being served. We heartily congratulated each other for following the prescription set aside by ‘Da’awate Zul Asheera’, and embracing it as a Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAW). As time went by, this humour became a startling reality where attendances shrunk on account of whether the program was with a meal. On the days when meals were served, not only were the attendances rather healthy, but there was literally a scramble for calling the serving volunteers asking for ‘jewels’, referring to pieces of potato or, more critically meat. This was followed by carrying food containers to the imambada for purposes of taking home, supposedly for the sick and aged.
While these events were unfolding, we all failed to pay attention to the fact that a parallel religion around food was in serious formation. So much so that, insatiated by the lack of jewellery in the nyaz of the day, we waltzed off to the nearest barbeque for a round-up of the day’s self-recommended daily allowance of nutrition.
Fast forward to this new era, food has become a cult. And it is not restricted to any one particular community or country, it is a universal cult, over and above which, individuals fail to reason anything else. A polarised world where we now see the abject starvation on one hand and the superfluous wastefulness and overindulgence, on the other.
But if you think, even for a moment, that all this has happened by chance, as a necessary evil of our culinary or taste receptor evolution, then think again. Reverting to Abraham Maslow’s original model of the Hierarchy of Needs, and such subsequent theories, it is very clear that students of these models have remarkably mastered the art of controlling others, rather than treating this as a self-regulatory behavioural model. Perched at the bottom is the need for oral things – food and drink being a leader in this bracket, and so for marketers and corporates, this has been the most lethal choice tool to have populations remain busy in food and food talk without ever getting the opportunity to reflect and contemplate about life or their environment. Once that is achieved, an overfed, and the mostly ailing population is either too tired or simply disinterested in challenging the status quo.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (AS)has been narrated to say, “There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than excessive eating, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of [sexual] desire.”
In his book ‘Ethical Discourses’, Ayatullah Naser Makarem Shirazi quotes the Messenger of Allah (SAW) as having said, “I warn you in relation to eating too much because surely this act poisons the heart by making it hard (no emotional feelings), and makes your body parts lazy and lethargic in relation to the obedience of Allah, and it deafens the ears from hearing advice and good counsel. I also warn you in relation to looking around with inquisitiveness because surely this act excites your desires and gives birth to negligence.”
When we meet our brothers and sisters, let us spend more time reaching out to each other, pledging our help and support to one another, facilitating, pray,ing and even discussing affairs around us and the Ummah in general, rather than indulging in the uptake of needless calories and ranting about where and when you ate the most delicious meal of your life, or becoming the unpaid advertising agency for restaurants and joints, or even packed brands. Let us stop continuing to misread the Holy Prophet (SAW)’s sunnah, the discussion was about tabligh and not about the most succulent grilled or roasted chicken, with details on its tenderness, market demand, and finally your intense patronage of the place. All this is vain, with no consequence at all.
If we understand our religion well, then we must know when to stop fooling around and when to start fulfilling the meaning of our lives, otherwise, it would so appear that we do not understand the day of reckoning as well when time spent in vanity will come to account and haunt us.