Why Muslims Fast During Ramadan

Deen ☪ Dunya, Uncategorized

imageEdited to say:
My heart goes out for the LGBTQ+ community, the victims, and their families. It’s unfair, it’s unsafe, it’s hate.
But amidst the hatred that is so rampant in this world, amidst the injustice and abuse, I will always find comfort in knowing that there will be justice for the wrongs of this world. For me, that comfort is religion.
Right after celebrating and honoring one of the most beautiful representatives of Islam, Muhammad Ali. And right in the middle of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to become, not only better Muslims, but better human beings, this horrible incident occurred. Again, I’m praying for the families of the victims and praying that unity, compassion, and love can be found amidst this injustice and hate.
I wrote a post, sharing my thoughts and beliefs on our beautiful month of Ramadan. These are just a few words of an individual, who believes that humanity, love, equality, and religion can all be used fervently in the same sentence.

 

Reminiscing on the life and on the recent passing of Muhammad Ali has been a reminder of what it truly means to be a Muslim to me. And to be a Muslim, accordingly, is to understand and appreciate the holiest month in Islam: Ramadan.

As of this moment, there are billions of people around the world who have deprived themselves of bare necessities. Billions of people, who will not eat and drink as long as the sun is up in the sky, are observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
During this month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking, and also from sexual activities, engaging in bad habits/addictions, foul language/behavior, etc, from dawn to sunset. Muslims partake in Suhoor (the Islamic term for the pre-dawn meal) about an hour or two before the fast begins and break the fast with Iftar, immediately as the sun begins to set.  (Note:  those who are ill, traveling, on medications, pregnant, etc are exempted from fasting.)

As a Muslim who had a very shaky foundation and understanding of the religion of Islam, I had spent my youth with the belief that Ramadan was simply a month-long period of starvation or some sort of “religious atonement”. Therefore, I spent year after year, experiencing Ramadan with various distorted emotions/perspectives; one year with the fear of failure, that I wouldn’t be “successful” at completing the rituals associated with Ramadan (such as the Taraweeh night prayers or being able to read the Qur’an every day). Another, with the anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to function properly at school without food/water. And still another, simply wasting/napping the day away while waiting to break my fast at 8:30 PM.  Year after year, I spent the time period completely oblivious to the actuality and beauty of Ramadan.

And as the world remembers and honors the life of Muhammad Ali, I am reminded of how he was such a beautiful representative of my faith.
As a fighter for justice, as a champion against adversity, and as a leader of the oppressed, Ali embodies the essence of and necessity for Ramadan perfectly.

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Upon his conversion to Islam and all throughout his life, Ali’s religion was held against him and even used as a source of mockery and insult; his adherence to Islam’s tenets of freedom and justice were ironically, questioned by the very country that itself boasts of “freedom and justice”. His refusal to serve in the Vietnam War on the grounds of his religious/moral beliefs cost him greatly. And yet, losing his career, his title, his popularity, meant nothing to Ali if it meant compromising his beliefs to fight in what he believed to be an unjust war. Ali’s heart remained resilience and powerful, through every adversity and test that was thrown at him, throughout his life and even up to his death. “All of his organs failed but his heart wouldn’t stop beating.” Even on his deathbed, Mohammad Ali’s heart remained strong and a true testament to his faith.

This, to me, this is exactly the point of Ramadan.

Islam puts a huge emphasis on the heart as the main source of wisdom and understanding, and equally, as the main target of pain and suffering. Muslims believe that our hearts are very much alive, not only in the physiological sense, but in a spiritual/transcendental state as well.

We believe that the heart is constantly in a state of war. Whether it’s the struggle against the self or the conflict against oppression and injustice or the fight against addiction and temptation, it is our hearts that lead us into the battle and it is our hearts that are bruised and battered and either weakened or strengthened.

Thus, in a world full of blows and punches, Ramadan is our training program for the boxing ring of life.
The one month of Ramadan trains us for the matches of the next 11 months of the year–rather, for the rest of our lives. Ramadan trains us to endure and overcome whatever punches life will throw at us.

But how does Ramadan strengthen us, how does this time period strengthen our hearts?

Not eating and drinking are only the physical requirements of fasting. More eminent (and much more difficult) are the spiritual ones. Refraining from backbiting, lies, anger, jealousy, bad habits while simultaneously striving to do good in this world, through acts of worship, charity, and benevolent interactions with fellow humans and animals, are all requirements of fasting as well.

Our fasts, as ironic as it may seem, are not to cause us hardship, but instead to grant us ease as we struggle through the trials of this life.

Ramadan is when we live the teachings of Islam and must truly practice what we preach.

As we fast, we practice patience and tolerance, as we hold back our angry retorts, especially in the face of adversity and injustice.
As we fast, we resist the urge of hurting others, through lies, gossip, and slander.
As we fast, we shift our ever-insatiable thoughts of desire, money, competition, comparison and instead focus on connecting with our Creator.
As we fast, our souls are cleansed, purified, and strengthened as we are liberated by the chains of resentment and bitterness and bruised egos and disappointment. We find peace in relying on our Creator and understanding that He will never disappoint us nor will He forsake us.
As we fast, we rid ourselves of selfishness and our worldly desires and instead focus on helping our brothers and sisters in humanity.
As we fast, we rid the heart of resentment, hurt, jealousy and instead fill it with gratitude, peace, and love.

We fast to practice Islam to its true sense:  by being the most giving of neighbors, the most trustworthy of co-workers, the most compassionate of friends, and the most benevolent of humanity.

Ramadan is no easy task, requires a lot of discipline, willpower, humility, and self-restraint.  But in the end, this time period allows us to feel grateful, be in greater control of our own desires, take care of the hungry and poor, change our habits and lifestyles for the better, find comfort in our Creator and (therefore) feel a peace of mind that is often never felt during other times of the year, and gain the discipline and strength to be resilient through life’s tests.

Now, as the world remembers Muhammad Ali’s legacy, as the world honors him as the legend that he is in the realm of sports, social justice, and civil rights, we must remember that he was also a shining representative of the teachings of Islam: of strength, of struggle, of humanity, of mercy, of solidarity, of love.

I hope that this information will be enlightening for all of us, not just for the Muslims that read these words. I hope that this will be educational; a small, albeit significant step in creating a more humane, understanding, and peaceful world for us all.

-Amna ❤

 

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Art For Syria

Deen ☪ Dunya, Uncategorized

So a few of my photographs can be purchased and 100% of the proceeds from these two photographs will be donated directly to NuDay Syria and help to support their humanitarian efforts for the Syrian Refugee crisis, God willing. More information on a prior blogpost. This effort is still going on and the photographs are still purchasable as a part of this charity organization.

Another photograph, labeled “The Future” can be purchased on the Art For Syria website.

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The Future

This photo was not taken in Syria. But the scene is hauntingly reminiscent to the current state of Syria.

This photograph was taken in Pompeii, Italy. A city that is now a tourist site, as a reminder of the natural devastation that destroyed it centuries ago.

However, Syria is currently being destroyed. Its people are being destroyed and displaced. But not by a natural disaster. Rather, by man, war, and power.

I titled it “The Future” because there is still hope for the future. There is still hope left for Syria. There are many benevolent efforts out there that are doing all that they can to keep Syria and its people alive.

An effort such as this, using artwork to raise money and support the millions of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance.

If interested in purchasing my (or any of the other participating artists’) artwork, please click here.

To reiterate, may our sincere efforts improve the lives of these human beings who are going through the most unimaginable of circumstances. They need all the help that they can get from us.

Thank you for your participation and most of all, for your help.

The first 10 people to purchase this photograph, can use the coupon forthefutureofsyria when ordering, to get free shipping.

http://www.artforsyriaproject.com/artwork/amna-haq-the-future/

-Amna ❤

 

 

Contradictions

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, Deen ☪ Dunya, Life ♥ Lessons, South Asian Female 💜

Masculinity and feminism.
Individual and society.
Culture and religion.

Often, these terms are used in opposition; often, as contradictions.
Masculinity and feminism, in particular, are such clashing concepts that can’t seem to co-exist peacefully.

There are so many directions that we can take this conversation. I do want to steer it toward the designated gender roles as deemed by my South Asian culture, as this is my experience and what I have been most impacted by. But if this taboo conversation can become an open dialogue amongst us brown folk, I hope this conversation can be inclusive of other gender-related issues as well, such as gender identity and LGBTQ+ rights.

It is common practice in South Asian households that as soon as a woman is of “marital age”, she must begin to transform herself. She must mold herself into the ideal wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. She must exhaust herself mentally, emotionally, physically in order to please her new family. Meanwhile, a man is not expected to change at all; no efforts at maturity, percipience, tolerance, acceptance, humility. But all of this and much, much more is expected out of a woman. What entails is often an unbalanced relationship defined by miscommunication, control/domination, ego, and therefore, mistreatment and abuse. (Source). Of course, the harsh reality of misogyny/inequality is quite obvious in countries like Pakistan and India, but these disparities absolutely exist here in the West as well. With sexual objectification, rape culture, and inequality in the workforce, as a few examples.

This poem was in part inspired by the documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. I encourage you all to watch this powerful film as well. If anything, the film asks us to reevaluate and reflect upon our identities. It is of the utmost necessity to redefine what it means to be a Man and what it means to be a Woman.

This poem is written in a series of questions. I hope you  benefit and also find it to be an invitation for an open dialogue (please feel free to disagree, agree, or add onto the conversation).

(Note: The baby in the left image is me and the girl on the right is my sister. Still, these two images [hopefully] serve their purpose: to showcase that a woman’s identity is given to her at birth. She has no choice over her own self. Rather, a woman’s identity lies at the mercy of the society that she is born into.)

 

Contradictions

If we are from the same womb, the same home
Why then must I, the woman, leave mine
while you, the man, stay in yours?

You see, you and I, we are imprisoned. Behind the bars of society.
My punishment for being a woman is to suck up the hurt and bear the pain.
Your punishment for being a man is to express it through anger.

Why are daughters raised to be actresses,
performing in roles in which we cannot be broken or human?
Why must we pretend that these wounds do not exist?
For if we let you in and allow you to see past that Perfected Outer Shell,
Would you still stay?

Why are sons raised to be callous? Raised in a culture of
“Boys will be boys” and “At least he never hit you”.
Limited in their emotional expression
and denied the right to be vulnerable and kind.

Why has society taken away women and men and replaced them with
pink, dainty flowers and blue-wearing brutes?

Why is a woman feminine only if she is soft, beautiful, and fragile?
Why is a man masculine only if he is cold, controlling, and strong?

I am told that my greatest validation in life as a woman, is in becoming a wife and a daughter-in-law.
Why am I told that this is also my test?
To stay resilient and silent through the abuse.
As if I have nowhere else to go.
As if I am disposable,
replaceable.

You are told that your greatest validation in life as a man,
is in your career, your ego, your manhood.
“Don’t cry, you’re not a girl, are you??”
Words that you’ve heard since before you could even walk.
You were raised to be strong and stone: a mountain.

Why is it that a proud father will tell his daughter that she’s like a son to him,
Whereas it would be of utmost shame for a son to be likened to a daughter?

When did women stop becoming the daughters of Khadija, Aisha, Asiya
and instead became daughters of acid, sorrow, and shame?

When did men stop becoming the sons of the Mercy upon Mankind
and instead, became sons of privilege, abuse, and flame?

So you and I, we find ourselves here,
imprisoned by etiquette and customs.
In a society of superstition.
Upon a bed of acceptance.
And I ask, once again:
If we are of the same nafs*, the same Creator, the same womb, the same home
Why then, must I leave mine, while you stay in yours?

 

Nafs- Arabic term for the self/soul/person

-Amna ❤

Forbearance: Ode To Peshawar

Deen ☪ Dunya, Uncategorized
One year ago, on the morning of December 16th, 2014, parents in Peshawar, Pakistan would send their children to school one last time, oblivious to the fact that they would never see their children again.

In a tragedy that can be compared to that of Sandy Hook’s and of the recent Paris attacks (and many others as well), tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Peshawar attacks, where the lives of of more than 140 people (at least 130 being children) in the Army Public School were brutally taken away by terrorists.

Last year, I had no other way to express my sorrow, except through poetry. Today, 365 days later, that pain is still as raw as it was on December 16th, 2014.

Forbearance

This life is a test, they say.
Our hearts are constantly being swayed.
As  we are simply, silly little human beings
With finite emotions, finite feelings.
But the pain the mother goes through
as she lays her little one down to rest
with a final goodbye, she comforts his
lifeless body as he sleeps on her chest.
How does one tell this to the mother?
That “you must be patient, you must have *sabr”.
How do you explain to the one who will never again rest
As she struggles to endure this world, bearing the markings of this test.
As I ponder upon this, I cannot help but feel lost.
We all wish to attain *Jannah, but at what cost?
Then, I close my eyes, prostrate to the ground
And remember that my heart with the One who created it, is bound.
Perhaps that is why the heart was created, to be broken and torn
So that it could instead be mended and given back to it’s Creator.
May *Allah grant them sabr and *ridha to bear this pain
And to one day, live a complete life again.
Knowing that at the gates of Jannah, their children will stay
Only to reunite with their parents in the Hereafter, we pray.
The pain may never heal, but God does know best
So “Verily in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest”.

 

*Arabic Translations

Sabr- patience

Jannah- Heaven

Ridha- contentment

Allah- God

(For more information on the Peshawar Tragedy, I wrote a previous post sharing my thoughts and feelings about it here).

 

January 1, 2015. 16 Days Later…..

Deen ☪ Dunya

Hi everyone,
so today, I was supposed to post the next part of my Paris/Nutrition series, however, I will instead dedicate this post to the recent tragedy of Peshawar, Pakistan. This is too pertinent of a subject for me not to talk about.

As a warning, this is a very heavy topic but I hope that you will all read this with an open mind and an open heart. I may not have much knowledge about or expertise regarding this horrible event, but I would hope that all of us, as human beings, may be able to understand, relate to, and learn from this information.

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It is now the start of a new year.

The past one has been a very difficult one, indeed. The world has been afflicted with many calamities, most of which may be attributable to the hatred and indifference begotten from ignorance and unawareness; whether it be from the unjust deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown or the ongoing genocides occurring in Gaza, Palestine or the ones in Myanmar or the Central African Republic, there is a lot that this world needs to learn about, from the tragedies of 2014.
I do, however, want to focus on one that occurred not too long ago, a tragedy that I have been struggling to understand for a while now.

So, as the world may or may not know, on the morning of Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, the Taliban, armed with rifles and detonated explosives, brutally massacred more than 140 people in the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, at least 132 of the victims were children. Most of these individuals were congregated in the main hall for a lecture/talk when the Taliban broke into the school and began shooting and bombing right away. There are photographs and videos depicting the remnants of this horrific event; pools of blood on the ground, tiny shoes with bloodstains spattered all around the hallways, classrooms that show signs of struggle and defeat…

What reason can be used to speak for this heinous act??

No, the reason cannot be spoken for by religion, at all. There are no rational teachings, no acceptable way-of-life, no religion that would ever allow for this to occur.

No, the reason is not anti-education. Those children and their brave teachers who stood as shields to protect their students were not brutally murdered, simply for “going to school”. Nor is Malala Yousafzai’s survival and worldly impact a target for this.

Perhaps there is no reason to give at all.

I am not writing this to explain the etiology of this massacre (I do not have enough knowledge to be able to do so, anyways).

I am not writing this to give my condolences (because the victims and their families do not want nor need my sympathy).

I am writing this simply because it hurts.

As a Pakistani, this hurts me because my people are broken. The spirit of Pakistan has been crushed; the most innocent of human beings have been brutally and wrongfully taken away from this world. Their families and communities are now left to bear the heavy burden of this grief for the rest of their lives. Both, Pakistan and the world have lost an entire generation of benevolent leaders, motivators, and thinkers. The world is at a loss.

As an older sister to an 8-year old, this pains me because those mothers/sisters/grandmothers will never be able to hug and kiss and comfort their children ever again. A parent’s ultimate goal in life is to protect his/her children, to ensure that not even a hint of pain touches their little ones. Those parents never once imagined that they would be holding the bloody, lifeless bodies (some horribly and gruesomely murdered) of their little babies.
“Some of the 1,100 students at the school were lined up and slaughtered with shots to the head. Others were gunned down as they cowered under their desks, or forced to watch as their teachers were riddled with bullets.” (Source).
How do mothers feel to as they read this statement? How do those mothers in Peshawar feel to actually be living this statement? We could never imagine. Though it’s no fault of the parents, they will forever be drowning in their own regret, wishing that they hadn’t sent their children to school that day, that they could intercede during the event, wishing that they could take the bullets, in place of their children….

As a human being, this tears at my heart, because there is not enough room in there to bear the pain of this reality.

I fail to grasp, how can a fellow human life, especially of the most innocent of beings, be so wrongfully taken away? How can someone look directly into the fearful eyes of a little one and then shoot him, straight to the head? No human being could have committed this. No animal, either. Animals, at the very least, kill for the purpose of self-defense or to satiate their hunger. This could only be at the hands of monsters, creatures without an ounce of reason, sense, or humanity.

Children, killed in the midst of their classrooms, previously absorbing information, learning, contributing, will never be able to do so again. Over a hundred futures, ended. Over a hundred dreams, destroyed. An entire generation of bright, benevolent contributors, taken away from this world. After a monstrosity such as this, it becomes so easy to view the world in such a negative, hopeless light.

But perhaps it takes the most evil of acts to initiate the most benevolent of change.

So what can we do about this?

We need to, first of all, understand that Islam is not at fault for this atrocity. No religion is. However, the sad truth is, over 140 children and their teachers were killed by terrorists in Pakistan and yet, the world remained silent. At the same time, Israeli terrorists are committing genocide in Gaza, Palestine, the world says nothing. Why has there been so much silence, especially in the western world? Why aren’t we willing to talk about this? These lives are no less important than those involved in the similarly horrifying Sandy Hook and Columbine massacres, so do the Pakistani lives not deserve the same respect and honor as the American ones?

It seems that history is repeating itself. During the Holocaust, global media stayed quiet throughout the mass killings by Germany. Even though the tragedies going on now in Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere should not be about religion, and instead about compassion and humanity, the media’s misconstrued depiction of Islam has led the world to feel utter disdain and disinterest to the sufferings in Muslim countries. Too many lives are being perished to allow for this depiction to continue. Education, thus, is the necessary tool for unity and change.

Islam is being horribly misconstrued. Both, by the media and by uneducated Muslims, who have never read the Qur’an nor have understood a single Hadith (these are the only two sources of Islamic teachings for Muslims). Ironically, both of these sources are being used to justify the deluded actions/desires of so-called “religious” groups. Just like the Pakistani Taliban, who committed the heinous acts, most of these terrorists are simply young, uneducated individuals who are brainwashed and promised of ‘paradise’ by manipulative, evil figures with personal/economical/social agendas.

But it takes a little bit of research into Islam to find out that the actions of these terrorists and the depictions portrayed by the media, do not match the tenets of Islam.

Let’s begin with terms.

The root word of Islam itself means peace. The true essence of Islam is simply about the direct relationship that a person has with their Creator; submitting to the will of Allah (Islamic term for God), while understanding that the one God is the most Compassionate, the most Forgiving, and the ultimate Source of comfort and solace.
The duties of a Muslim (one who submits his/her will to Allah and thus, attains peace within themselves and within their surroundings, a similar concept to Nirvana in Buddhism) include being a good human being, one who is merciful, kind, and respectful to all: to animals, children, adults, elders, Muslims, and non-Muslims. It is required of every Muslim to treat non-Muslims with gentleness and compassion, and to never belittle the beliefs of another nor the deities that they worship.
Islam, the religion, has nothing to do with the people that use it to justify their own motives, whether psycho-cultural, political, economical. Those people, the religious fanatics, should be referred to as Extremists, not Muslim Extremists. And as Terrorists, not Islamic Terrorists. These terms, otherwise are oxymorons and should not be used together.

So, in a faith where even animals deserve the best of treatment, how could the slaughter of humans be a justifiable creed of Islam? In a religion where women are regarded as queens, how could the wrongful treatment of women be a tenet of this religion? A belief system, that was originally spread far and wide through compassion, morality, fairness, and choice, why then are the savage terrorists, who force their way of life upon others, associated with this same religion?

This seems to be basic knowledge that everyone should understand by now, as there are millions of Muslims living in America. But as mirrors of this kind and beautiful faith, what are we, the Muslims, doing to change the perspective that the world has upon Islam and for those suffering all over the globe? With our many voices, why do we remain soundless?

As Muslims in America, we have more power, freedom, and influence than most Muslims have around the world. We have the liberty to practice our religion freely, we have the education and perspicacity to expose and correct the errors of the global media while placing our own voices into the public sphere.

Despite these powerful tools, Muslim Americans remain silent. Perhaps, we too become too complacent and absorbed in our own lives to attempt to do anything about this. Perhaps, Islamophobia in the West silences us due to the discrimination and hatred that we face for speaking up.

But isn’t it our duty as Muslims to bring about truth, peace, and to help those suffering in this world?
And is it not our duty as Patriotic Americans to stand up for justice and strive for equality?

We must overcome our own barriers, and most of all, us Muslims must learn to practice Islam in it’s true sense, simply by being the most giving of neighbors, the most trustworthy of co-workers, the most compassionate of friends, and the most benevolent of humanity.

Perhaps, then, will Muslims be regarded as fellow Americans. Perhaps, then, will the plights of those suffering in Muslim countries be more relevant to us all. And perhaps, if we all work together in harmony, the governments and economies of Islamic countries will one day change for the better and the young, uneducated civilians won’t have to find solace in ruthless fanatics as their educators and role models.

These are just a few words of an individual, who is, not trying to make sense of this world (because this world is not meant to be understood) but rather, attempting to find some sort of comfort in knowing that there will be justice for the wrongs of this world and that unity, compassion, and love can be found amidst even the most different of people.

Perhaps an applicable resolution for us all would be to try to understand, educate, and learn from each other; a small, albeit powerful step into creating a more humane, peaceful, and secure world.

With all of this being said….

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope and pray that this year brings happiness, peace, and prosperity to us all.

-Amna ❤

Ten Ways to Establish Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Habits During Ramadan

Deen ☪ Dunya, Health and Wellness, Health💪Wellness

“Do not make your stomach a graveyard for animals.” -Hazrat Ali AS

Picture this: it is the month of Ramadan, your stomach is growling, and you’ve been fasting for the past 16 hours. The sun is setting so it is finally time to break your fast at the Iftar meal. And since you are so hungry and overwhelmed by the spread of samosas, bread, fried chicken, and the large display of sweets in front of you, you cannot help but to overindulge in it all. “After all, I do have to fast for 30 entire days…” you reassure yourself.   But by the time Isha (night prayer) andTaraweeh (extra, voluntary prayers) roll around, you’re too full and lethargic to properly focus on the prayers, leading to guilt, anger, and disappointment in yourself for your unhealthy eating choices and bad habits, which, regrettably, manifest into your Ramadan routine, year after year after year….

Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, the Exalted) states in the Holy Qur’an “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” (Qur’an 2/183).

The month of Ramadan is not a cyclical antithesis between starvation all day and binge eating all night. Instead, Muslims are given this month as an opportunity to change for the better, not only for one month but, for the rest of our lives. This is a Muslim’s ‘New Year’s Resolution’ to replace the bad with the good: to learn to control our tempers, our tongues, our desires, and to instead focus on becoming more tolerant, patient, and benevolent human beings. Ramadan is a training process that teaches us humility, as we face the same hunger and thirst as our fellow human beings in poverty-filled conditions. Ramadan enables us to become spiritually stronger and more disciplined, as we fast, not only with our stomachs, but also with our tongues, hearts, and minds, ridding ourselves of ill feelings, desires, and thoughts.

Fasting thus, as the cardinal tool of Ramadan, allows for a healing process to occur, a detoxification of mind, body, and soul.   Our dietary habits should also reflect this: we should be able to exercise self-control against unhealthy eating and living habits which otherwise only hurt the progress that we could be making this month and onwards. We should establish healthy eating habits that will allow for us to become stronger, healthier, and more active human beings and Muslims. Habits that will help us to partake in the voluntary prayers during Ramadan and otherwise,  to volunteer our precious time in helping others (whether our family members, friends, or people in need of our volunteer services), and to live, study, and teach the true essence of Islam, every single day.

I have compiled a list of a few tips which I hope will be beneficial for you on your journey towards better health, during Ramadan and beyond, InshaAllah (God willing).

Ten Ways to Establish Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Habits During Ramadan


1. Prepare for the month of Ramadan
One cannot simply jump into the disciplined routine of Ramadan without being prepared for it first. For example, it was the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to fast often during Shabaan (the month preceding Ramadan). In fact, he would fast more so during Shabaan than any other month (save for Ramadan itself).  Fasting during the month prior to Ramadan will also allow one to be physically and mentally prepared for the obligatory fasts of Ramadan and allow one to have established a healthy routine by the time these obligatory fasts do come around. After all, just as the student studies to prepare for an exam, Muslims that prepare for Ramadan during Shabaan will also benefit greatly.

2. Do not skip the suhoor (pre-dawn) meal
Another Sunnah of the Prophet, he always made sure to eat something during suhoor, even if it was simply a glass of water and a few dates. He is stated to have said “Have suhoor, for in it there is blessing (barakah).” (Al Bukhaari, 4/139). Do not sleep through it, ensure that you wake up on time to eat this meal, otherwise you will be doing your mind and body a disfavor (due to an inability to focus on daily activities because of the hunger pangs, thirst, and exhaustion that missing suhoor inevitably causes).   An easy and portable option is a smoothie,which can even be prepared before bedtime. Simply fill your blender with a liquid base (coconut water, milk, etc) and add a banana, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, half a cup of oats, a few dates, and honey to sweeten. Not only does this smoothie include many of the foods mentioned in the Qur’an and in Hadith (sayings and teachings of the Prophet), but this complex carbs, protein, and fiber-rich meal option will provide you with long-lasting energy to sustain you throughout the day.Other suhoor meal ideas include omelets (filled with vegetables and a side of fruit) and oatmeal (filled with grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, and greek yogurt).

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3. Meal Prep
Prepare your meals ahead of time, make more than you require, and store the extra meals in the freezer. Then, simply thaw and reheat as needed. Also, one day during the week, cut up all of the necessary ingredients and store them away as well till needed. This will drastically reduce time spent in the kitchen and give the chef of the house the opportunity to fast normally with everyone else without having to slave away in the kitchen all day. It will also give you control over the food consumed by you and your loved ones, by eating homemade and healthy meals rather than resorting to the convenience and ease of fast food.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables and stay hydrated
During the long, hot month of Ramadan, there is nothing more hydrating and refreshing than consuming (nutrient and water-rich) fruit and vegetables. It is as simple as throwing frozen fruit, leafy greens, and a protein source (such as nut butters, seeds, or greek yogurt) into a blender along with a liquid base, to create an energizing smoothie for suhoor. For iftar, break your fast with a salad made of hydrating ingredients (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, spinach) or a bowl of fresh melons and berries. Drink plenty of water alongside these meals to prevent thirst and dehydration.

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5. Substitute healthier ingredients of traditional Ramadan dishes
For example, use olive oil instead of butter, Greek yogurt for cream and mayonnaise, herbs and spices in place of salt. Bake, grill, or broil your favorite dishes instead of frying them. And reduce the amount of the unhealthy ingredients (perhaps a tablespoon or two of oil, if a recipe calls for 1/2 a cup). There are plenty of recipes floating around the Internet and this is also a great opportunity to be creative and play around with your favorite recipes!

6. Practice mindful eating
It is important not to overfill the stomach during the month. As is the case with everything, including Ramadan, maintain moderation! It is easy to feel that we need to laden our bodies with tons of food (during the suhoor and iftar meals) in order to function throughout the day. However, eating this way leads to lethargy, fatigue, and laziness instead of allowing us to remain strong and energized. As one learns throughout this month, we don’t need to overeat to feel satisfied, full, and content. Following the way of the Prophet, try to “fill the stomach with 1/3 food, 1/3 water and to leave 1/3 empty”. However, if you still feel hunger after you’ve eaten your meal, wait 15-20 minutes to see if the hunger persists, since it takes about that time span for the brain to process fullness and satiety.

7. Stay active (spiritually, mentally, and physically)
Do not use this month as an excuse to lounge around all day. Remember, this month is about self-discipline, changing your bad habits into good ones, and renewing your spirit. So use this month to volunteer more during your free time, as charity is highly encouraged, even more so during this month. Exercise more, even light exercise can help to maintain energy levels and keep your spirit up, especially since you are not consuming food during the day. And most importantly, be sure to engage in short but consistent Islamic practices everyday. Read a little bit of Qur’an daily. Listen/watch Islamic lectures online. Consistency is essential for establishing long-term habits, not just changes that end when Ramadan does.

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8. Bring the healthy dish to social gatherings
There will be an abundance of iftaar parties/potlucks, offer to bring a healthy dish (perhaps a salad, mixed fruit, baked fish/chicken) so that you won’t be tempted to overindulge in the many unhealthy options there. Plus, it will be more socially-acceptable and polite than bringing and eating a container of fruit and vegetables all by yourself (guilty).

9. Have a participating support system
Make these healthy changes together, not just by yourself. Transitions are easier to make if a person has a support system of family and/or friends that will actively participate in the changes as well. Together, you can create healthy dishes, go on walks, participate in volunteer efforts, and have invigorating conversations.

Sadly, for a lot of new Muslims, Ramadan is an especially difficult period. Since their family members tend to be of non-Islamic faith, new Muslims spend the month alone, eating alone and praying alone. It is up to the Muslim community to welcome their new brothers and sisters in with open arms and to include them in events and activities. Support groups can also be found in many communities that will give new Muslims the guidance and support they need (Here is one such group: http://www.newmuslimcare.org/).

10. Practice Sadaqa, the essence of Ramadan
“Ramadan is a blessed month of reflection, prayer and fasting for Muslims. During the month, observers gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the suffering of impoverished and hungry people around the world. Ramadan also serves to remind Muslims of the importance of charity, and their obligation to be charitable during the month and all throughout the year.”

-Islamic Relief USA (http://www.irusa.org/campaigns/ramadan/)

Unfortunately and ironically, there is also a lot of waste and extravagance during Ramadan, especially in the West, where there is an insatiable need for throwing opulent Iftar parties filled with an abundance of food that gets thrown away.  In the true spirit of Ramadan,  offer to take leftovers to donate to food drives in the community.  Or better yet, start one yourself! Keep food baskets in the masjid. Donate to local food banks or to homeless shelters in the community. Encourage your family members to be involved in these efforts, especially children and have them volunteer at soup kitchens and food banks to teach them the value of food and the spirit of Ramadan. All of this will count as Sadaqa (voluntary charity), InshaAllah.

Through establishing and maintaining these healthy dietary and lifestyle changes, we ask Allah to accept our efforts and guide us in living healthier, longer, and more productive lives, as Muslims and as human beings, InshaAllah.

-Amna ❤

Helping Humanity Through Art

Deen ☪ Dunya

“More than nine million Syrians have now lost their homes or fled Syria, over two thirds of them mothers and children. We are always working on or sending out containers full of humanitarian supplies and efforts. Helping us both with financial and physical donations ensures that we’ll be able to send out supplies when they’re needed, where they’re requested. Safe shelters for women with no male breadwinners and their families are ongoing efforts in bordering countries, literally ensuring Syria’s future” (NuDay Syria).

Digital high-resolution copies of each of my photographs (‘Celestial Ascension’ and ‘The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters the Heart’) can be purchased for $10.

100% of the proceeds from these two photographs will be donated directly to NuDay Syria and help to support their humanitarian efforts. If interested in purchasing my (or any of the other participating artist’s) artwork, please give your donation through the PayPal link on the Art for Syria website. Once you pay for your copy, email me at ahaq7@uic.edu to receive your copy.

May our sincere efforts improve the lives of these human beings who are going through the most unimaginable of circumstances. They need all the help that they can get from us.

Thank you for your participation and most of all, for your help.

Notes:
The quality will be optimal when printed on photographic paper (matte or glossy) and with inks of high quality. Dimensions when printed are approximately 8″ x 10″

These are the original photographs. The printable ones are slightly altered (for printing purposes)

The honor system is in usage!! I won’t know whether you donated or not… please do it for the sake of our fellow brothers and sisters in need of our donations!

Thank you!!

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The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters the Heart (Rumi)

Celestial Ascension