Spiritual reflection marks the month of sacrifice

Johannesburg – The newest buzz word in dietary circles is intermittent fasting. But many religions have been fasting for centuries.

Muslims observe a dry fast from dusk until dawn once a year. Their official fasting period started on the night of April 14.

Their lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon. The calendar moves backward by 11 days each year.

But why do Muslims, who make up more than 1.6-billion of the world’s population, observe this month and abstain from food and drink, including water, from dawn until sunset. You can’t smoke or inhale any other substances either. Learned scholar Mufti Menk explains that it is more about spiritual discipline.

It is one of the five pillars of the religion – every mature male and female should fast, except those who are gravely ill, pregnant, menstruating, travelling long distances or breastfeeding. Islamic scholar Najmudien Ahmed explains that fasting is meant to serve as a reminder that we rely on God for sustenance.

“It’s also meant for us to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty in order to gain compassion for those who experience it on a daily basis,” says Ahmed. Prayer, which is usually five times a day, is increased and reading the Qur’aan from start to finish is encouraged, as is good deeds and remembrance of God. Charity is also encouraged, so those less fortunate have access to food when they break their fast. It’s a time when families come together and celebrate.

Maymoona Jonkers, who converted to Islam 10 years ago, says this is usually the time when savouries such as samoosa, pies, falooda (pink-coloured milk) and other delights are a must-have at the dining table.

“Many non-Muslim friends think we don’t eat or drink water at all for a month. Others think we don’t eat, but can drink water during the day, this is not the case.

“They also assume it’s a time of hardship, but it’s a month we cherish because the body gets to take a break from the toxins we consume every day, and the sense of peace and closeness to God is amazing.

“It truly is a special time,” says the Muslim school teacher. A light meal is eaten just before the sun rises and another light meal is eaten when the sun sets.

Jonkers says it’s advised to drink water and stay away from fizzy drinks. She adds that it’s good practice to break the fast by consuming dates and water, before eating the many savouries, popular at this time.

Dates are high in fibre, are an anti-oxidant, help aid digestion and control blood sugar. Jonkers says to control weight gain, it’s best to limit savouries and heavy foods and stick to fruit, protein and veggies. Within the Islam religion, there are various cultures, including Malay and Indian traditions. Tuesday evening will mark the 15th night or halfway mark.

On the 15th day of the fast, Malay Muslims usually celebrate with a glass of sweet milk called boeber.

Evening prayers called Taraweeh are usually carried out at the mosque, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, many Imaams have encouraged people to perform their prayers at home. Eid Ul Fitr comes at the end of 29 or 30 days, when the moon is sighted and a big feast is prepared, very similar to Christmas in that new clothes are worn and gifts exchanged.

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