The Nourishment of Ramadan Isn't About Pushing Food Away

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 5:17am
Photo by Tobin Jones

The Nourishment of Ramadan Isn't About Pushing Food Away

by Rahim Snow (@rahimsnow),  guest contributor

For Muslims, Ramadan is the holy month in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began to receive the first series of messages that would eventually become the Quran.

The Prophet was a family man and a business man. And yet he took time away from family and work to go on solitary retreats. He took a break from society, a kind of sabbatical from his routines, to reach for a deeper relationship with God, much like Jesus in the desert.

What this has taught me is that our relationship with God is more important than all of our social relations and definitely much more important than the pursuit of money and success. That’s why I’ve always associated the month of Ramadan more with focusing on God and less with fasting.

Fasting from food, to be sure, is prescribed by the Quran and the Prophet. It cleanses the body, it teaches self-control, and it represents a sacrifice made for the sake of God. That is why so many Muslims take such great care to observe the fast from sunrise to sunset. May God bless them for observing this practice.

But what is the principle behind the practice? In my reading of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet, the main principle behind fasting is to learn that God’s blessings are the true source of nourishment for our hearts and minds and bodies.

Muslims perform evening prayers on the Lawrence Hall of Science patio during Ramadan.

Credit: Daniel Parks License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

We can look for nourishment in food and addictive substances. We can look for nourishment in getting attention and approval from other people. We can look for nourishment in money and career achievements. We can look for nourishment even in controlling and manipulating others. But nothing can actually nourish our hearts and minds except the presence, the grace, and the mercy of God in our lives.

When we Muslims say the core principle of our faith, “There is no god but God,” one way to read this is: “There is no nourishment except God’s nourishment.”

So the principle behind fasting from food is the turning of our hearts and minds away from the false sources of nourishment to the one true source of nourishment. In this way, Ramadan is less about saying no to food and more about saying yes to God.

When we focus on saying no to food, we find ourselves thinking more about food than ever before. We get obsessed with what we are denying ourselves. We think about how long it’s been since we last ate. We think about how hungry and thirsty we are all day long. We think about how much we’re going to eat after we break the fast. We count down the hours and minutes until we can take that first bite. In this scenario, we are completely focused and fixated on food. Yes, we are observing the fast, but where is our attention? And what is our real goal?

Muslims take part in a Eid-al-Fitr prayer at a mosque in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Credit: Jewel Samad License: AFP/Getty Images.

When we focus on saying yes to God, we find ourselves thinking more about God himself. We find ourselves listening more deeply for what God calls us to do with our lives. We might ask ourselves: “Is my relationship to God as strong and healthy as it could be? Has it deepened at all in the last few years? And if not, what can I do to deepen it and strengthen it?” In other words, what changes do we need to make in our hearts and minds to let God in?

For example, do we have any false notions about God that are preventing us from keeping him near and dear to our hearts? Do we think God is an angry judge in the sky waiting to punish us for our mistakes? Do we think that God wants to put us through trial after trial after trial just to see when our hearts will break into pieces? Do we think God only has close relationships with special people like the prophets but is quite uninterested in the rest of us ordinary people? False notions about God like these can discourage us from even reaching for a close relationship to him.

That is why this holy month was given to us as a perfect time to evaluate ourselves to see what we need to change. It’s a time to unlearn and re-learn. It’s a time to go deeper, like the Prophet did on his retreats, and not be afraid of letting God feed us with his blessings. Ramadan is not so much about pushing food away as it is about letting God in. And that can happen even if you are not fasting from food.

During this month, let’s fast from all the things we think we need so we can focus instead on God, who is the only one we need. If fasting from food helps us focus on God, let’s do it. If not fasting from food helps us stay focused on God, let’s do it. Because it’s not all about the food, it's all about God.

Let’s make Ramadan an open space where different people can practice the principle behind fasting in different ways — keeping God the main focus. In this open space, even Christians, Jews, and all people from other faiths can join us. This is my kind of Ramadan.

Let’s use this month to intensify our awareness of God, our relationship with God, our service to God. Whatever form that takes, let’s own it. Whatever road that makes, let’s walk it. This is our Ramadan and God is waiting to feed our hearts.

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Rahim Snow is a writer, teacher, and designer exploring the intersection between religious studies, literature, theology, psychology, software engineering, and design in all of its aspects. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Remember Who You Are, introducing the core spirituality of Islam in 28 verses.

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7Reflections

Reflections

" and not be afraid of letting God feed us with his blessings. "

I felt this sentence, thank you.

Thank you, Nadin, for reading. So happy to hear you got something out of it.

This is such a wonderful piece on the true essence of Ramadan that we can unfortunately forget in the day to day bustle of life. Thank you for this reminder.

I loved it, there's so much more to Ramadan than food, it's a time of reflection and peace and I always feel refreshed as if I'm on sort of detox! I couldn't have described it better. God bless.
R

Thanks Rahim. A great exploration of what happens when we practice renunciation.

It’s interesting how the more we resist our personal enticements like food, intoxication, entertainments of all kinds - whatever we're habitually attached to -- the more our minds tend to obsess about the attachments that prevent us from connecting with God, with what lies beyond our small-minded desires.

In Buddhist meditation it's not unusual to find oneself sitting for most of the session obsessively thinking "When will this be over?” instead of relaxing and resting in the present moment. The more we try to refrain form the things we crave, the stronger the desires seem to get. That's the natural irony that often accompanies our efforts to go beyond our personal territory and "let God in”, to use Rahim's phrase.

Until we're fully enlightened or one with God, we're always going to be subject to this internal friction. We could call that "the battle of ego". We want to overcome the attachments that keep us stuck and we also want to hold onto them.

But when we can see this push/pull as it's happening, without our usual disapproving judgments (that only add more negative resonance), when we can see the irony of our conflicted mind with light-hearted humor, then we can begin to get out of our own way and connect with the unborn infinite.

Thank you for this reflection; I am anxiously awaiting your book's publication. Your thoughts remind me of re-examined Christian observance of Lent, that it is primarily for spiritual centering. Fasting from all that is negative and pulls away from right relationship with God, and Feasting on all that is positive and draws closer to God. A renewed consciousness of the seven (at least) deadly sins, and a renewed partaking of the Fruits of the Spirit. "Blessed are . . . " May we continue to find our spiritual core and be able to embrace one another. Here's to interfaith dialog.

Thank you, "onbeing" and it's many contributors for demonstrating Love does prevail in every society and collectively world-wide when we let God in...