This Ramadan, a (non-Muslim) friend sought me to solve a puzzle they had encountered about Muslim fasting in Ramadan: since the purpose of fasting is to feel the hunger of the poor and the needy (who are not able to afford meals), why is it that Muslims binge on food after sunset? That is indulgence in food. Astute, coming from a non Muslim because this observation escapes a lot of Muslims. I simply corrected my friend’s assumption that the WHY of fasting in Ramadan is to empathize with the poor and the needy. Actually, the WHY of fasting in Ramadan is that God instructed Muslims to do so, and it is even part of the pillars of Islam. However to feel the hunger of the poor and the needy in the society is actually an acceptable philosophy of fasting, by which Muslims can enrich the meaning of their fasting, by giving it this dimension of meaning. I think empathizing with the less fortunate is actually very much a spirit of the fasting in Ramadan.
By the act of fasting in simply abstaining from food and other bodily pleasures during the day, we fulfill our obligation to God. By fasting with the poor, the needy and the disadvantaged of society in mind, the act of fasting is nourished with meaning. This is what I call fasting deep; where depth depends on the worshiper’s level of philosophizing, empathizing and contemplating on the fast. By fasting deep, we improve our spirituality, we nourish our souls.
Let us be clear, Muslims should be fasting not feasting! We don’t see the two as opposing, or even contradictory because we say we can still fast and feast, innit?! Not when you realize that reducing your consumption and indulgence in bodily pleasure is at the core of the spirit of Ramadan. So when we do business as usual that is fasting-plus-feasting, our fasting is deficient in spirit, it is lacking soul; it is like robots playing the orchestra, it is dry, not soulful! You can call fasting-plus-feasting as Fasting Shallow. Why don’t we fast during the day, then eat regularly in the evening as we would when it is not Ramadan, at least in quantity if not in quality… Don’t get me started about how unhealthy a lot of Iftar food is.
It has not been easy trying to communicate this idea of fasting-not-feasting to people, I only mentioned it here out of stubbornness. Not giving up with this Da’wah against the tide of the villain consumerism! But even in this noble Da’wah, it might be necessary to tone down on the message to provide a conversion gradient; this could be achieved by having an intermediary step between fasting-plus-feasting to fasting-not-feasting would help. This intermediary step is the idea to be shared in this post: it is called Leftover Iftar! Instead of indulging in regular Iftar everyday, garnered leftover could be used for Iftar. For every three days of feast, how about you have one day of Leftover Iftar. That is to say in every Ramadan you could have upto seven Leftover Iftars… you decide on the frequency. Hint: the internet is full of creative ways to make fancy meal out of leftovers if you are interested, just search 🙂
Why does having a Leftover Iftar make one’s fast more soulful, or any deeper? because food conservation is a character of the ideal Muslim, more specifically aversion to waste and extravagance of any kind be it food, ones own wealth, or natural resources etc. Think about it this way. Fasting-plus-feasting is kinda like fasting and telling white lies, while fasting with Leftover Iftar is like fasting and telling the truth… may be there’s a better analogy. The point is that the spirit of the fasting is crippled by unhealthy caloric fattening with continuous feasting whereas it is healthier without the continuous feasting.
If you do Iftar with leftovers currently, now you can internalizing this act with meaning. What used to be an unfortunate condition can now be a conscious deep act full of meaning, and of course Soul! The least to be gained from Leftover Iftar is that people will try to put only what they can eat on their plate, to avoid the inevitable mess when we let our bodily desires to estimate what may satisfy our exaggerated hunger. Neat.
Deep fast is what stays with you after Ramadan because its effects is on your soul (or psychology or metaphoric heart). Shallow fast fades with the month of Shawwal, barely sustained by the Sitta ash Shawwal (six of Shawwal). Ever wonder why you don’t come out of Ramadan as an improved soul or with a better perspective on life? It is because your fast was not deep, not Soulful. You are what you feast on, but you are even more what you think (contemplate, philosophize) about, for meaning gives identity to your soul whereas food signifies your soul deputing your identity to your bodily pleasures. There are many other areas to improve the soulful-ness of your fast, many other areas to go deeper in your fast, having Leftover Iftar is one… InShaAllah 😉
Seek meaning. Contemplate. Fast Deep!