On Ramadan 1433 / 2012

I don’t feel that I’m going to say anything blazingly insightful about Ramadan this time around, but I did want to wish a very happy and blessed one to all those who will be observing the holy month.

Plus, the most important thing that could be talked about this Ramadan is already being discussed a great deal: the very heavy and thorny issue of watching The Dark Knight Rises on the night Ramadan begins. I think I’m going to need a lot of time to really ruminate about all the highly worthwhile current rhetoric about a topic of such pressing concern.

I am lying, of course. Truthfully, I cannotfreakingbelieve that people are getting worked up about this.

Anyway, in case you are relatively new to this blog and are jonesing for some incredibly profound Ramadan-related material from me, check out some stuff I wrote last year, in which I

  • Got annoyed by the fuss being made about fasting in the summer. (Which, it seems, is now being paralleled with my annoyance about The Dark Knight Rises issue. Maybe I’m starting a personal Ramadan tradition of sardonic thinking? How unMuslimlike.)
  • Mused about how Ramadan should be a time when one reevaluates their relationship with food and gives it the love and attention it deserves.
  • Shared my experience of trying to complete recitation of the Quran during Ramadan.
  • Proposed the idea of a writerly duaa, an intimate, conversational, and emotional approach to asking from God.

Take care of each other and yourselves, pray earnestly, and have a soul-enriching Ramadan.

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More Musings on Food and Ramadan: A Post in Beyond Halal

I’ve reached a kind of milestone in this blessed month: by the grace of Allah, I have been published in Beyond Halal. My piece is titled “Food Consciousness in Ramadan”, and in it I try to trace the spirituality in every stage of preparing, serving, and sharing food–specifically, an iftar meal. Do give it a read.

I’ve sung praises for the thinking behind Beyond Halal in a previous post, so I won’t reiterate them here. I do want to add, however, that there couldn’t have been a better place to have my first gig, and I’m deeply grateful for people like Krystina Friedlander (who also blogs here) who are as enthusiastic about my content as I am about theirs. There’s nothing like collaboration with folks who are doing such incredible, important work, and I hope to have more opportunities with them and others like them, Inshallah.

Going “Beyond Halal”

First of all, I want to make one thing very clear: that this post is not much more than a big, sprawling, writerly ad for Beyond Halal, a wonderful initiative that I came across recently.

In order to explain why this movement warrants an ad in the form of a blog post (an ad that was 100% my idea and no one else’s, for the record), let me tell you a story.

As those of you who read my post on food and Ramadan may recall, I said that Ramadan should be an opportunity to examine our relationship to food in two ways:

1. Not just the killing hunger for food while fasting, but killing the need for good food in large volumes all the time
2. Developing a further awareness of and respect for where food comes from

My last post was about #1, but I was struggling with how to write on #2, which is just as important but I did not have the knowledge or experience to substantiate. For I feel that there’s two sides of the coin when it comes to food and deen. As I outline above: one side, the one I focused on in the Ramadan-related post, is not wanting so much food of so-and-so quality all the time. It’s definitely a bit of a monastic perspective. But it is by no means a comprehensive approach.

Monasticism is not the answer when it comes to our deen. We can’t lose ourselves in spiritual bliss and neglect the fact that we have responsibilities in the world and that the earth and its resources are entrusted to us. We’re supposed to understand that food and other temporal pleasures don’t mean much, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t partake of and enjoy what is lawful for us. Food is a necessary part of our being, and we need to know and be conscientous about how our partaking of food affects the environment. We need to know how to be responsible when it comes to the food we do eat to sustain ourselves and strengthen social bonds.

And this responsibility is something I feel haunted and overwhelmed by. A few years ago I read Eating, a book that truly made me understand what veganism was about. The book delved not only into environmental reasons for disavowing meat, dairy, and eggs, but ethical reasons as to why eating animals, thanks to our means of producing food, has become inherently wrong in itself.

Then a short while ago I watched Food, Inc. It was not as revelatory to me as I had already read Eating and Fast Food Nation, but it was still a scary reminder about what food has become today and a wake-up call to do something about it as both consumers and producers.

Because I found myself throwing faith into the equation, or wanting to incorporate faith into the equation, I’ve been wondering about whether the halal meat we eat is from animals that are treated humanely, and whether simply invoking God’s name upon slaughtering them, regardless of the conditions they are grown and fed in, should be sufficient for us. I thought eating less meat would be the answer–I can’t completely disavow what is halal for me, but at least I can decrease my consumption of something that’s not good for the environment and that I don’t need that much of.

But I was still flailing. I understood that Muslims need to be part of this change–at the forefront of this change, even–but I’m not a grower or food activist. When it comes to food, I’m not a leader, I’m a follower. I’m not a farmer, I’m a consumer. What do I turn to? Whom do I turn to? I was tracing the faint boundaries of my thoughts without knowing what I was drawing, and not knowing how to complete the picture.

And then that thought process suddenly exploded in a brilliant burst of colour, when I completely by chance discovered Beyond Halal.

The title itself sold me. That’s exactly what I was driving at. It was beautifully reinforced by the following words from the site’s About page:

In a world where we are increasingly disconnected from the ways in which our food comes to us, Beyond Halal asks, “Is halal good enough?” . . . Just because meat is halal doesn’t mean it is good, but by relying solely on the legal term, we risk losing the ethical values that lie beneath and beyond it.

And I’ll be honest: I’m not only sold because they’re not only doing amazing work. It’s the way they share their message. In a post titled “Tawhid on the Farm,” Krystina writes beautifully on importance of faith and reconnecting to nature:

As Muslims, I believe that we should think carefully about what we put into our bodies, because our food becomes us. We can choose to nourish ourselves and our families intentionally guided by principles of mercy and dignity, or we can ignore where our food comes from and say “alhamdulillah, at least it’s halal,” if that. Insh’Allah, I hope to see Muslims becoming more engaged with food movements, and to really connect with what nourishes us by visiting the farms where fruits, vegetables, and meats come from, getting to know the farmers, and especially by getting involved with growing and raising our own food. Even better, I hope that Muslim children are able to witness the constant miracles of Allah’s mercy through creation.

Needless to say, there’s nothing they say that I can say better, so I leave you with the site itself. And I pray that they be granted much, much success in raising awareness amongst Muslims that halal, in today’s day and age, is not good enough.

On Food and Ramadan: Towards a Less Food-Centric Existence

For the most part, food tends to be highly overrated.

I have started to believe that more and more, and one of my goals for this Ramadan would be to internalize this message. I think that process will involve two components:

1. Not just the killing hunger for food while fasting, but killing the need for good food in large volumes all the time
2. Developing a further awareness of and respect for where food comes from

In this post I will be focusing on the first bit: the emotional detachment from food.

It’s easy to say food is overrated and then scarf it down by the platefuls come sundown. The real challenge is not to posit one’s existence around their meals. Just fasting is not enough. The real challenge is not to dwell about the breaking of the fast, not to dream so much about it, and not to spend so much time everyday in preparation of it,not to anticipate it so much that our purpose and other much more meaningful passions become secondary.

Good food is awesome. There’s no denying that. And I’m not saying that iftar or any other meal is not meant to be enjoyed. A good, nourishing iftar with loved ones can do wonders for one’s spirits.

I’m just saying that a magnificent iftaar does not have to be an everyday event. By extension, an elaborate meal does not have to be an everyday event. In fact, not having such food will make you miss it more and, when you have it, enjoy it more. Isn’t that the kind of moderation that’s enjoined upon us?

I see no point in a day spent fasting if half that day is spent cooking and preparing elaborate meals. And I see a stark contrast in the love and care that goes into the preparation of food and the manner in which that food is polished clean within minutes, without as much as a Bismillah and a half-nod towards the cook. Gone are the days when every meal was an event, with each course being given the respect and enjoyment it warranted, when the amount of hard work and meticulousness and care that went into cooking was reflected in the manner where people enjoyed that food.

We’re still more than capable of that level of cooking and that level of enjoyment. When we are presented with good food, however, we’re just much more likely to take it for granted and don’t give it the time it deserves. That’s gluttony. That’s when overeating becomes sinful.

Foregoing food of any kind is the literal abstinence which is, on a surface level, what Muslims are ordained to do from sunrise to sunset in the month of Ramadan. What I’m interested in is how fasting can teach us to stop needing good food all the time, how it can help us re-orient food so that it is not the centre of our existence. It’s easy to abstain from food literally. How does one do it spiritually?

I think the answer lies in meaningful spiritual passion.

Find and get lost in another passion. Find joy in something that gives you purpose and meaning, whether it be writing, drawing, music, religious education, volunteer work, or being active in the community.

For when you are involved in something they are passionate about, food becomes secondary. When the neurons in your brain light up from that pleasure, the flakiness of a samosa doesn’t matter.

Imagine not eating for the sake of eating. Imagine eating just so that you have enough strength to do what you love. Imagine loving food even in its most simple forms. Grapes and cheese. Bread and butter with tea. And imagine reeling over on the days you are blessed enough to have a much richer gravy-ridden piece of meat on your plate. In what other body of faith do spiritual detachment and blissful enjoyment go hand-in-hand? If this isn’t being in the world but not of the world, I don’t know what is.

It’s about time we started playing our part in changing humanity’s attitude towards food. What better time to do so than Ramadan? By becoming Muslims who uncover the true treasures of this month, we can be in the forefront of the food movement that calls for a respect and gratitude for where food comes from, both ecologically and spiritually.