Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, senior editor for The Islamic Monthly magazine and author of the book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era. Arsalan is also a regular commentator on National Public Radio (NPR).
Imagine for a moment that for 30 days every year- from sunrise to sunset each day- you were not allowed to eat any food or drink any liquids, including water or your must-have jolt of caffeine via your daily espresso.That’s all part of celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is also a time filled with reflection, yummy food and tons of awesome gifts for our little girls and boys around the world.
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan helps to serve as a time for self-reflection, gratitude and atonement. The religious concept of fasting in Islam symbolizes many often-overlooked things in life. The act of “fasting” allows us to truly appreciate the great bounties (food, water, etc.) that we usually take for granted. For me, abstaining from food and other comforts during Ramadan reminds me to appreciate the blessings that many hungry people around the world do not enjoy on a daily basis. So do we fast non-stop for 30 days? Of course not. Here’s what a typical day might look like for those observing Ramadan.
First, the process usually begins when Muslims around the world wake up before dawn (many times as early as 4 o’clock in the morning) to eat a pre-dawn breakfast meal (known as Suhoor in Arabic) with our families. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1980s, I remember that my mom was like our own version of a short-order cook during the pre-dawn meals. My siblings and I would request random dishes (like omelets or spaghetti or whatever) and we would basically have a four-course meal at four o’clock in the morning every day during Ramadan.
But many people around the world barely get anything to eat even during the month of Ramadan. I remember my beloved grandfather — when he used to have his pre-dawn meal in Pakistan — he was actually away from his family helping to build a women’s hospital in the middle of the desert there. In nearly 126-degree weather, he would just have one piece of fruit and a glass of water to last him the entire 16-hour day at the age of 84. Thinking about people in the developing world really makes me appreciate Ramadan even more and everything we take for granted here in the United States.
After spending all day thinking about food and water, we then begin to count down the minutes to sunset when we can once again eat our yummy food again during our evening meals (known as Iftaar in Arabic). As the sun begins to set, Muslim households around the country begin to cut fresh produce for their fruit salads, start frying their crunchy samosas and falafels and prepare tasty dishes like chicken biryani or Moroccan lamb stew.
For those of us American Muslims who keep halal Ramadan just got a little easier because of Saffron Road’s halal frozen hors d’oeuvres and entrees and simmer sauces. Delicious flavors like Turkish Figs and Goat Cheese wrapped in flaky phyllo pastry, Thai Basil Chili Tofu with basmati rice and Harissa simmer sauce. There are so many delicious options all of them halal, many of them Non-GMO Project verified and all without hydrogenated fats, artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. There are now vegetarian options and those with meat are from animals that are never given antibiotics or hormones.This helps make Ramadan even easier for college students or busy professionals who can now just stop by a Whole Foods Market store on their way home from work to get a satisfying halal-certified meal during the month of Ramadan or whenever they are n the mood for a quick halal meal any other day of the year.
As the month of Ramadan ends each year, there are millions of little Muslim girls and boys who are then excited to celebrate the holiday after Ramadan, known as Eid Al-Fitr, where we give gifts and presents to each other as we celebrate with our friends and families.
But just like getting presents is not the true meaning of Christmas or Hanukkah, the central lesson to be learned from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Eid is actually about the spirit of gratitude. Because if we are not grateful for all the little things in our lives that we normally take for granted, it would be nearly impossible for us to understand the circumstances and ultimately help other people around the world who are starving every day and who live without food or water for much longer than most of us will ever have to face in our own lives.
What everyday things in your life are you grateful for?