Ramadan is finally here!! As such, I thought it fitting to write about something that I have trouble with every year:
Fasting NOT Feasting
Every year I have at least one iftar where I am having trouble praying taraweeh because I can’t do ruku’ without getting a little light headed, does anyone else know what I’m talking about?! And then there are those extra special iftars that have the wall of shame, with a few people (normally in my experience men) leaning against the wall due to the food stuffing coming out of their ears.
Why do we do this? Ramadan is not meant to be the month of feasting, it is fasting! Abstaining is the name of the game! And more and more I feel that it is due to a difference I see between actual self-control and pleasure delaying (a pale imitation of self-control).
Here is how it normally works for me: I start the day feeling surprisingly hungry after suhur but that is usually gone by late morning.
As the afternoon stretches into the evening I am thinking about food more and more (especially if there is a delicious iftar on that night), and then when iftar comes around my self-control releases and I eat and eat and eat.
This approach really goes against the advice of the Prophet pbuh who narrated in a sahih hadith (which by the way we have made available as a free printable download, sign up on the right–>):
No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.
But this is so hard, especially in Ramadan! I mean, we have been fasting all day, so we deserve to treat ourselves to a delicious iftar, right?!
I’m not disagreeing with this, and I do it myself all the time, but I really feel that this is not what the point of fasting is. I don’t think the purpose is for us to delay our desires for a few hours during the day, I believe that the purpose is to control our nafs, both when we are fasting and when we finish. I feel that when I finish, my tenuous hold on my self-control is gone, and I go straight back into giving in to my desires. This is pleasure delaying. It is not actually controlling our desires but instead simply holding them on a leash until the time comes that we release the leash.
What is the purpose of fasting in the Qur’an? I love this ayat about fasting in the Quran – 2:183:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint
A good example of this is the sunnah fasting of the 6 days of shawwal after Ramadan. We have all just fasted every day of Ramadan so fasting only 6 more days in a whole month should technically be easy right?? But for some reason, it’s not.
When I finally began fasting Shawwal a few years ago, it was as difficult as fasting Ramadan was back when I was a kid in the middle of the hot Australian summers. I just hadn’t developed my self-control despite fasting for many many years! And trying to get friends to fast as well was just as hard. And this is despite everyone knowing the rewards of it (reward for fasting the whole year or even lifetime in different versions of the hadith).
I think it’s because we haven’t trained ourselves to actually develop self-control, just pleasure-delay.
So here is how I see the different levels of self-control we can all experience in Ramadan:
1. First and most basic literal interpretation of fasting: don’t eat or drink etc from Fajr to Maghrib.
2. Control the desires after the fasting ends and before it begins: only eat what we feel is appropriate, and try to develop mindfulness in this.
3. Control the emotions while fasting: this is to me much harder than the above as anyone with kids can tell you! I think this is the true fast and one that I’m not sure I have ever completed fully.
So for me this Ramadan I am aiming to at least get to #2 and inshaAllah as always work on #3!
Let’s try to use this month to really develop our self-control rather than just pleasure-delay. Especially when the fasting stops. That’s not when our self-control is meant to be abandoned, thats just when it moves into the next stage – in some ways breaking fast and not filling up our tummies is the hardest part of fasting!
Since I am trying to cultivate mindfulness, then iftar is the best time to be mindful of the bounties of God swt and to not give in to my desire for excess food. And hopefully if I do this with the right intention and taqwa, I might be able to carry it over until the next Ramadan – make dua for me lol!
God forgive me for any mistakes, and Allah swt knows best.