Dr Amtul Salam Sami, UK
Opportunity to improve our health
Though the holy month of Ramadan is a period of spiritual blessings, it also serves as an opportunity to improve our health. During this month, our daily routine of three meals and two snacks instantly changes to two meals: suhoor (the morning meal before the sun has come) and iftar (the fast-breaking evening meal). Keeping fast does not entail a person staying in a comfortable environment and simply waiting for iftar after eating suhoor. Instead, it is crucial to continue with daily activities with the confidence that the food left with the intention of seeking God’s pleasure will contribute to their overall health improvement as well. This practice promotes not only spiritual but also physical and mental well-being. (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295914)
Prioritising spiritual and physical well-being
To attain full benefit from the blessings of Ramadan, it is vital for Muslims, to prioritise performing ablution and offering the tahajjud prayer before partaking in suhoor. In other words, one should start their day with spiritual nourishment and connect with Allah. This helps to set a positive tone for the day ahead and can enhance one’s relationship with our Creator. Additionally, by waking up early for suhoor, one is training their body to adjust to a different eating schedule than what is normal. This can help one better manage their hunger and avoid overeating and exceeding limits during iftar, which can also be beneficial for one’s physical health. So, by making a conscious effort to prioritise spiritual and physical well-being during this blessed month, it can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding experience.
Maximising suhoor benefits
In order to maximise the benefits of suhoor, it is essential to consume a diet rich in fibre, as it helps to keep hunger at bay for longer periods compared to non-fibrous food and also has a wide range of health benefits (www.eatingwell.com/article/8032024/no-sugar-high-fiber-meal-plan/). Examples of such foods include brown bread, brown flour chapatis, vegetables, etc. Further, two to three glasses of water and servings of yoghurt can be beneficial. Additionally, dry fruits and nuts such as pecans, almonds, and walnuts are excellent sources of nutrition. Be sure to choose nuts without added salt, as limiting salt intake can also help decrease thirst during the day. By making small adjustments to the suhoor meal, one can nourish the body with the nutrients it needs to sustain the body throughout the day while reducing feelings of hunger and thirst.
One option for suhoor is to consume whole fibre in the form of Weetabix cereal, dry fruits, honey, fruit, and milk. This can be a good choice for those looking to increase their fibre intake. However, it’s important to listen to your body and consume foods that meet your individual dietary needs. Ultimately, the key to a healthy suhoor meal is to prioritise nutrient-dense foods that provide sustained energy throughout the day. By making mindful choices and tuning into one’s body’s needs, one can create a suhoor meal that supports their physical and spiritual well-being.
Following suhoor and Fajr prayers, and having recited a portion of the Holy Quran, it is essential to give your body rest by sleeping. This will aid and help one feel refreshed and energised for the day ahead. After resting, one can then start their normal routine.
Focusing on spiritual nourishment
In this blessed month, we are encouraged to detach ourselves from worldly distractions and focus on our relationship with Allah the Almighty. This month is here to help us attain a stronger relationship with God and carry out the good deeds we inculcate within us for the rest of the year.
The Promised Messiahas, on one occasion, explained:
“Both fasting and salat are forms of worship. The fast affects the body powerfully, and salat affects the soul powerfully. Salat generates a condition of burning and melting of the heart, and is, therefore, a higher form of worship than fasting. The latter fosters the capacity for visions.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 7, pp. 378-379; The Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 316)
The body’s response to food and liquid intake during Ramadan
After eating food, the body goes through a process called digestion, where the food is broken down into smaller molecules so that it can be absorbed and used for energy. The time it takes for food to be digested and provide energy can vary depending on various factors, such as the type of food consumed, individual metabolism, and digestive system health. During fasting, one would normally feel hungry at their usual mealtimes. The body takes energy from its stores of fat and glucose in the liver during this time, and normal body functioning keeps working in a healthy way. Feeling thirsty during fasting is a common experience for every person who fasts. However, this urge fades away after some time because fluid from one’s tissues and cells comes out to fulfil the requirement for liquid within our body. This is how the body works in a very balanced way during Ramadan. Always remember that consuming too much fatty food can make it challenging to lose weight during Ramadan because the body breaks down the fat in the liver to provide energy, and the fat-rich food builds these stores back up.
One should mentally prepare themselves for fasting even before Ramadan by understanding the essence and purpose of this month.
The recommended food to break the fast, as taught to us by the Holy Prophetsa, is dates and still water. After breaking the fast, it is important to pray maghrib and prepare the body for another meal. Avoid consuming too many high-calorie foods at iftar as it can make the body work hard to digest them and lead to fatigue and illness. Try to avoid having samosas, pakoras, and sweets every day.
Evening meals and exercising
Your evening meal should be very simple. One should eat food while taking into account their dietary needs and requirements. Once one finishes their food, taking a walk for a minimum of 100 steps is a healthy gesture as it helps prevent feelings of bloating, stomach aches, or weakness.
If one has a habit of exercising, one should try to do it before iftar and avoid very strenuous activities. When going out, be sure to take an umbrella to avoid losing water due to direct sunlight.
Fasting while ill or travelling is considered disobedience to God
In light of the verse: “…but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.185), the Promised Messiah states:
“This means that the one who is sick or on a journey should not keep a fast. This verse contains an injunction. Allah the Almighty has not said that whosoever has the strength may observe the fast and the one who lacks that strength should refrain from it. In my view, a traveller should not fast, but it is the practice of some people that they do observe fasts on journeys. Considering this routine of observing fasts while travelling, there is no wrongdoing in that, but still one should act upon the injunction, ‘Iddatun Min Ayamin Ukhar’ [the same number of other days].” (Al Hakam, 31 January 1899, p. 7; www.alhakam.org/the-promised-messiah-on-ramadan/)
The Promised Messiahas further said:
“The one who observes a fast while on a journey, experiencing great difficulties, instead of winning His delight through submission to His commandments, attempts to please Allah the Almighty arbitrarily. This is an erroneous act. True obedience lies in submission to Allah the Almighty’s commandments and prohibitions.” (Ibid.)
Fasting: Safe for the body when practised within guidelines
Research has confirmed that there are no harmful effects of fasting on the body if it is kept within the rules. Regular fasting can help remove toxins from the body, improve hyperacidity, and promote hormonal and enzymatic changes that can enhance mental health and increase spiritual and mental control. (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295914) This can also aid in maintaining a positive mindset. It is our duty to look after our health, and it is a part of our worship.