Mr. Aziz Junejo
During Ramadan, focus less on food, more on faith
Wednesday evening, just after sunset marked the beginning of Ramadan, a monthlong ritual that requires Muslims to fast each day from sunrise...
Special to The Seattle Times
Wednesday evening, just after sunset marked the beginning of Ramadan, a monthlong ritual that requires Muslims to fast each day from sunrise to sunset.
The lunar calendar has pushed Ramadan from fall into summer this year, which means longer days to fast, but for me, that means more opportunity for reflection, reward and the annual renewal of my ever-expanding relationship with God.
All Abrahamic traditions observe fasting in some form; it is mentioned in the Bible, the Torah and the Quran. Fasting universally teaches self-control, while purifying the body, mind and soul, and that results in a heightened spiritual awareness.
During this month, Muslims must control their passions and desires, and perform extra prayers and good deeds with complete devotion to God.
My father used to remind our family that Ramadan is a time for us to come back home; for us to get closer to God as individuals, as families and as a community. Each year, my dad would ask us to set new aspirations and spiritual goals that could be achieved during this holy month.
I've fasted for Ramadan since I was a child and find it gives me the ability to master my physical self through will power and discipline. I take great pride in doing this for God alone, it reminds me that I am not almighty; and that I cannot have everything I want. The ability to control my eating has made me a much stronger person.
I do not believe refraining from food during Ramadan — or any other time of year — causes physical harm to a healthy person. In fact, it does good. Asking us to abstain from food seems to be the way God shows us how to gain control over other aspects of our lives, which in turn helps us focus on spiritual matters.
I am especially more conscious of food waste during Ramadan. When I was in college, I worked in the food-and-beverage department at a major hotel, and I was always amazed at the amount of waste in the food industry. Etiquette called upon diners to leave food on their plates at the end of the meal — an indication that the food was plentiful. They hardly ever asked to take their leftovers home.
Food can sometimes be a distraction during Ramadan when it's time to break fast (Iftar). Muslims tend to be especially generous during this month, and they usually invite guests for dinners that feature delectable foods such as roasted leg of lamb, whole spicy chicken tikkas on large trays of flavored rice and every imaginable dessert. In years past, I have been invited to Iftars so plentiful that I wondered whether we were fasting for food or for God.
This year, I am working to make food less of a focal point and to make spirituality my first and primary concern. The first step will be to keep my eating simple by taking smaller portions and abstaining entirely from second helpings. This will be a big step for me, because during past Ramadans, I have welcomed second helpings, whether I was still hungry or not.
This Ramadan, I am especially thankful to God for the plentiful food supply we enjoy, and I have promised myself I will not waste. I am confident that working to reduce my food consumption will, in the long term, enhance my ability to achieve a higher spiritual awareness. Knowing I have taken full advantage of the gift of Ramadan, I am certain my relationship with God will be more meaningful.
Aziz Junejo is host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. He and other columnists take turns writing for the Faith & Values page. Readers may send feedback to email@example.com
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