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The fasts of Ramadan can improve a person's health, but — if the correct diet is not followed — can possibly worsen it! The deciding factor is not the fast itself, but rather what is consumed in the nonfasting hours. To fully benefit from fasting, a person should spare a great deal of thought to the type and quantity of food they will indulge in through the blessed month. Overeating can not only harm the body but it is thought also to interfere with a person's spiritual growth during the month. A diet that has less than a normal amount of food but is sufficiently balanced will keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.
The diet should be simple and not differ too much from one's normal everyday diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups.
Food has a great significance in Islam. It is associated with one's relationship with God. Chapter 20, verse 81 of the Qur'an states: "Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein."
The physical body is a gift from God; it is given to humans as an amanah (in trust) to take care of for a fixed period. How much food is consumed and the choice of food has a direct impact on the physical and spiritual well-being of the person. The food that you consume affects your behavior and personality. Wholesome, natural and healthy food assists the development of a good personality. Overeating has long been frowned upon in Islam as it is thought to increase worldly appetites and cause sluggishness, thereby 'dulling' the soul, hampering spiritual growth and increasing physical ailments.
The blessed Prophet (SAW) said: "The children of Adam fill no vessel worse than their stomach. Sufficient for him is a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink, and a third left for air." (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)
Islam sees health and 'well-being' as much more than just bodily health: well-being or tranquillity requires a strong relationship with one's spirituality, good physical health, mental happiness, a sense of purpose and good character and relationships. Islam makes a strong connection between food and worship and teaches that all forms of worship have a deeper purpose and impact and contribute in some way to individual and social well-being.
Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, should be a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours. It is therefore particularly important to include slowly-digesting foods in the suhoor.
Iftar is the meal which breaks the day's fast. This meal could include dates, following the Prophetic traditions.
Dates will provide a refreshing burst of much-needed energy. Fruit juices will also have a similar, revitalizing effect. The meal should remain a meal and not become a feast! Try to minimise the rich, special dishes that traditionally celebrate the fast and keep to the advice of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW).
In chapter 7, verse 31 the Qur'an is categorical: "Eat and drink freely: but waste not by excess, for He does not like the wasters."
Islam thus creates a sense of responsibility in people to take a healthy living lifestyle as normal. Fasting in the month of Ramadan teaches us to manage and practise spirituality and not to eat excessively. The essential part of spirituality in food is that we are grateful and thankful for the food we get.
The blessed Prophet once said: "God has a right over you; your body has a right over you..." To strike a balance between the needs of the physical body and your spiritual needs, you must on the one hand consume the right type and amount of food and on the other hand develop excellent interpersonal skills.
The blessed Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: "I have only been sent for the perfection of character".
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to make significant changes in your lifestyle and develop the resolve to make healthy living choices.
Fasting is not only a physical but also a spiritual exercise that has many lasting benefits.
Fasting helps you to become less preoccupied with bodily appetites, and gives the heart and mind the freedom to reflect upon deeper spiritual matters, such as your relationship with God and with fellow human beings. It enables a person to develop sustained consciousness of God (Taqwa).
A fasting person learns restraint, and only responds to hunger and thirst in the heightened level of consciousness and discipline. Through fasting, a person begins to appreciate the value of food. In the Qur'an "healthy and wholesome food" is described as the best of provisions. Thus fasting helps a person to choose a healthier lifestyle by making small yet lasting changes to their daily diet.
When fasting, you should think of those in need who may be fasting but have no food at the start or the end of their fast, those whose tiny children are also having to go hungry because of poverty. The Prophet Muhammad described Ramadan as "the month of mercy". His companions observed: "The Prophet (Muhammad) was the most generous of people, but he would be his most generous during Ramadan..." (Sahih al-Bukhari)
During Ramadan, the one who fasts has heightened concerns for the well-being of the community — rich and poor, intellectuals and labourers. Community spirit is promoted as people start fasting at the same time and break their fast at the same time, and reflect together through longer prayer and deeper devotions. It is greatly encouraged that families invite each other to break their fast together.
Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month you should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to reflect on personality and to improve your character. Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast, as stressed in a number of sayings of the blessed Prophet: fasting is not merely "abstention from eating and drinking, but also from vain speech and foul language". (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Fasting is, therefore, about much more than just giving up food and drink and hoping to lose a couple of pounds. By fasting, a person reflects, acts and betters his or her character.
The Islamic Bulletin
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