Tag Archives: Ramadan

Fasting Deep – With Leftover Iftar

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!

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Living Below YOUR Line!

This post introduces an campaign template for promoting spirituality and poverty alleviation through controlled consumption. There is quite a number of Muslim jargon so a Muslim is more likely to understand the side comments, but all are likely to get the gist.

Shortcomings of Ramadan

Ramadan is auspicious in holy texts, books and even the media does not shy from romanticizing about Ramadan. But the Ramadan we know is the limping, stern, strict, rule-ridden, inspirer of mechanistic and unsustainable “good deeds”. This is the Ramadan we create and cultivate for posterity. This Ramadan is severely deficient of spirituality.

A typical fast day is simply a day where a Muslim perhaps wakes up early for Suhur, perhaps prays Fajr prayer on time unlike most days, does not eat during the day, nor have sex, and FORCES themselves to read a few pages of the Qur’an, or goes to a mosque to listen to Tafseer, perhaps prepares a lot of food to be given out at a nearby mosque for Sadaqah during Iftar… and at night eats food with a vengeance, which is regretted during Taraweeh or Tahajjud prayers. The “smart” Muslims who do Taraweeh prayers eat light before Taraweeh, then more after Taraweeh. This is the typical fasting day, where being “smart” puts you ahead in the race for Ajar (heavenly rewards).

It could be argued that a pet can be made to fast. How? Simply follow the “basic” rules of fasting; no food during the day, no sex etc. after all animals don’t need to do Salat to worship God (Muslims know animals praise God). The stumbling block to this argument is that Niyyah is necessary. Good. Finally, spirituality! But you have to “make” the Niyyah before going to bed, or is it before waking up for Sahur, or is it before Fajr prayer? Niyyah is surrounded by so many rules it is difficult to see it as anything but another rule.

Ramadan is approaching, by the corner, but have you seen Spirituality?!

Spirituality

Spirituality in the Muslim sense is basically Taqwa; God Consciousness. Taqwa is keeping God in the foreground of your thoughts, not in the background. One does not need Sufi training to be spiritual. Spirituality is quite simple: staying in tune with your conscience; having a conscience for that matter; seeing the interconnectedness of all (selfless); thinking of God before performing an act, perhaps even invoking a prayer; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to your community; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to other communities; upholding of basic Muslim ideals like justice and equity etc.

At the core of Muslim Spirituality (Taqwa) is an inner dialogue that goes on in a person. It is that voice that asks you to examine if what you are about to do is just. It is about having that voice. It is about remembering to say basmalah before eating. It is about reciting a prayer before going into the toilet. It is about saying a prayer going-in and coming-out of the Mosque. It is about taking an obstacle off the road, and understanding that neither the obstacles nor the roads have to be physical.

The hope is that the campaign Living Below Your Line may get us to be spiritual; by having an accompanying voice in our heads to sustain the dialogue, without making us cuckoo.

Living Below THE Line

Living Below the Line is a campaign pioneered by two anti-poverty organizations; Global Poverty Project and Oaktree Foundation. The campaign typically runs for five consecutive days annually. The aim of Living Below the Line is basically three goals: Empathy, Awareness and Poverty Alleviation. The “Line” refers to the global poverty line which is usually determined by the World Bank. Regardless of what that amount translates to in your local currency, it is still little by any standard. Over 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and it is likely that less than 5% of the population control 70% of the wealth.

Living Below the Line basically encourages people, like you and I, who live above the poverty line, to live their days without spending more than what the statistical poor person lives on. In essence, it is putting oneself in the shoes of the poor.  However, all that is not spent during this period, which would have been spent, is saved. Now back to the goals of Living Below the Line. Empathy is achieved by putting yourself in the shoes of the statistical “poor man”, Awareness is achieved by sharing the idea with others just as you have come to hear about it, Poverty Alleviation is achieved on a micro scale by putting together the saved funds towards a program that would empower real poor people economically.

However, given our situation in Nigeria, and the crowd that are likely to hear about this, Living Below the Line is not very convenient, because it is typically applied to food expenses. One reason is that accounting for food spending may be difficult in Nigeria. Many buy food in bulk, including grocery which makes accounting for daily food spending daunting. Many also live with their parents, and can hardly account for purchase of food. However my people spend money in the other ways; Food and Snacks, Transport, Telecoms Recharge Cards, Entertainment. These discrepancies with the assumptions of the original idea of Living Below THE Line has lead to formulation of something more friendly for Nigeria which is dubbed Living Below YOUR Line.

Living Below YOUR Line

“Line” here means your standard of living. Living Below YOUR Line is more holistic than the Living Below THE Line, and goes beyond simply food. The import of this is in the spirit of Ramadan, which is a holistic discipline, and perhaps to help correct that misconception about Ramadan through this awareness.

Funds raised through Living Below YOUR Line could be targeted at raising the Line of someone else i.e. it could be harnessed as capital to a worthy “poor man”. The worthy “poor man” is the entrepreneurial who is able to invest that capital and perhaps improve their economic potentials; hence their Line.

Our daily expenses can be broadly categorized into the following groups:

1.       Food and Snacks

For some of us that are not living with their parents (or are responsible for purchasing food for our parents), this does not involve the bulk purchases of food. It involves the breakfast, lunch or dinner that is purchased as a meal outside of home. As for those who live with their parents and get free food, this mostly entails all snacks that are purchased (Suya, Ice Cream and Shawarma comes to mind).

2.       Transport

This includes all money spent on taxis and other commercial transport, with the exception of that spent to-and-fro work or school. For those who own cars and fuel it, it involves fueling expenses.

3.       Telecoms Recharge Cards

This does not involve monthly subscriptions to telecom services (BB Service, weekly or Monthly Data Plans). It involves purchases of phone credits for voice calls and SMS. We shall review the part on data plans if there is a creative suggestion.

4.       Entertainment

This involves expenses on purchasing DVDs, on going to the cinema, on parks and rides. Perhaps on sewing new clothes (which are not meant for work or school) and on contributions to celebrations (weddings and naming ceremonies).

First do the following exercise in getting prepared, in three steps: (Assuming it runs for 5-7 days)

1.       First, decide on what percentage will you be living at. E.g. if you decide to live at 40%, then you will only spend 40% of your normal expenses and 60% will be saved for the cause.

2.       Second, write yourself a letter of undertaking on a sheet of paper (or type and print) saying: God willing, you shall live at the percentage you have chosen for the week. If this sounds cheesy to you, I get it… then simply make a commitment (Niyya) to self.

3.       Third, get and envelop, or purse, or plastic bag… or any container where you will remit the saved funds, DAILY before going to bed. Alternatively, have a notepad to keep record, such that sums are calculated daily. What is important is DAILY.

Two major approaches:

1.       If you are the type that plans their entire week, and how much would be spent (approximately) before hand, then it is simply a matter of taking out that percentage that would be saved and managing within the remaining percentage.

2.       If however, you don’t plan your weekly expenses before hand, then First you take a (serious) Niyyah: that you will cut down your expenses according to your committed percentage. For example, you might feel like getting yourself a Shawarma which costs N1000. Then you remember that you have committed to live at 50% of your normal expenses. At this point you have two options: Go buy two meat pies (at N250 each); or save yourself N500 for another day when you would crave Shawarma again. In any case, remember to remit that 50% to the cause/campaign.

Back to Spirituality

How does Living Below Your Line get one spiritual? It is through the constant reminder that one is not simply to fulfill their whims to full extent (100%) but to deliberately reduce it (by a certain percent). It is important that Living Below Your Line touches on several aspects (Food, Transport, Communication and Entertainment) because it means decisions to “regulate” spending will be at the fore of one’s thoughts.

Therefore the primary focus of Living Below Your Line is having a feel of the spirituality that comes with it; raising funds is a secondary benefit. There is also the effect of caring how that fund is spent. The fund could be used to raise another person’s Line, as earlier suggested, or whatever way seems proper. In a country where citizens have been systematically dismembered from ownership of government spending, the feeling of having a stake in how some fund is spent is hopefully the start of an attitude that may have nation-wide and global effect from the grass-root.

Living Below YOUR Line could be an ongoing event running say four times a year, each for a duration of a week. It could be a preparation for Ramadan. It could be a panacea to the overwhelming consumer culture we live in. Its simply a template for a tool, use it how you see fit.

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Iftar Flashmob Nigeria 2012 – Video

Well, Ramadan is over and I hope we all made the best of it. In a previous post, I introduced Iftar Flashmob catered for Nigerians by a Nigerian. Please read here it to familiarize yourself if you haven’t. We had fun with it and learnt one or two things about the average Nigerian worker at a bus stop (which sociologists might want to hola at us for).

We were able to capture only one usable video for one of our Iftar Flashmobs. This we have now compiled into something viewable below. But you should know two things: First, being that we had only one camera, the capture is centred on one party of Iftar-Flashmobsters; Second, some of the Iftar-Flashmob-Crew disapprove of music tracks (which I had a long line up of options) the video ended up simply with a freestyle guiding viewer. (Michael Bolton Jazz was no option, that would ve made it a Nollywood movie).

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Iftar Flashmob – Nigerian Style

A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. – Wikipedia

Terms: Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims. It is a holy month and encourages sharing (among other things); not unlike the un-commercialized values of Christmas. Iftar is the breaking of a day’s fast at dusk.

Background

Ramadan 2008. Miqdad Asaria had an idea. Why don’t Muslims go out and break their fast with the homeless in London; but with love and compassion being the added ingredient.

Typically homeless people in London are fed from “the back of a van” but this new idea involves people bringing what they cooked (to eat for their fast-breaking) and sharing with the homeless.

The homeless people were quite taken aback,” says Asaria. “They’re used to having food thrown out to them from the back of a van, but for us it was about sharing what we had and getting to know those we were eating with.” – The Guardian

Venues for the Flashmob Iftar are made known using social media. So even the Muslims that turn up with food may not know each other; it was a social event for both the sharers and the homeless.

However keeping with the spontaneous spirit of Flashmobs, detailed organization is avoided. Flashmob Iftars have been successful in the UK ever since (during Ramadan). There are youtube videos you can check out.

A Different Situation

Ramadan 2012. Now I want to bring this idea to Nigeria; Abuja for starters. There are three main challenges:

  • Homeless is not equal to Almajiri/Beggars (Almajiri here refers to the pervasive child-beggars)
  • Feasible Public Spaces
  • Ramadan Traditions

First, Nigeria has relatively few “homeless” people as would be compared to the “homeless” in The UK. What we have are beggars/Almajiris and these are different in that these have been institutionalized in Nigeria. It is a defined career path en route a prospective future; especially for the Almajiris. Hence the consistent age range of most Almajiris (mostly kids). And as a result, Almajiris/Nigerian-Beggars lack the depression often associated with homeless of The UK.

Second, most public spaces are either not secured or closed-off at night (Iftar is at dusk). The secure spaces (at night in Abjua) are the public parks that host beer-parlors + prostitutes (+ delicious fish). This is certainly the last place a Muslim would envisage breaking his fast in the holy month of Ramadan. If you are Nigerian you are probably thinking “Mosque!” right about now. That brings us to the third issue.

Third, the Ramadan tradition in Nigeria is that food (for charity) is sent to mosques for Iftar (breaking of fast). Quite an amount of food is sent, hardly any Almajiri (virtually all Muslims) lacks food for Iftar. Any sensible Almajiri knows to go to a nearby mosque at dusk.

So we are left with the option of going to mosques to make food donation; giving in to tradition. The Flashmob element would be lost! Of course we could do that but… this is not simple charity, it is connection, it is compassion, it is surprise, it is engagement through Flashmob. So I had to make a few changes:

From “Flashmob Iftar” to “Iftar Flashmob”

After deliberation “Iftar Flashmob” became born out of “Flashmob Iftar”. Here is how the former differs from the latter.

  • Not Full Iftars: As pointed out in the listed challenges, the lack of feasible public spaces for a full Iftar (proper meal) has led to a snack-Iftar. Snacks will be distributed (packed for easy distribution) to all recipients. Normally Muslims break their fast with a snack (dates, fruits, juice), then pray the dusk prayer before finally sitting down for a meal.
  • Not targeted at homeless people: We have established that “homeless people” are relatively few in Nigeria. The logical choice of recipients are the Beggars/Almajiris, but Nigerian Tradition has provided meal for most of them. The target will be the average worker. Yes you heard me right. The average worker (Muslims and non-Muslims) in Abuja typically doesn’t get home early because of traffic and competition in getting on a bus. The Muslims caught in this situation would wish they could get a snack. The non-Muslims would like a snack too after a long day’s work. This is just one instance; others will be explored in time.
  • May be funded: The UK Flashmob Iftar relies on people cooking and bringing a variety of food to the venue. In our Iftar Flashmob, we may accept contributions from those willing. For the time being, the “Iftar Flashmobsters” will contribute. We will be launching it under the NGO Mus’ab Ibn Umair Foundation (MIUF) which will also contribute.

The FLASHMOB in “Iftar Flashmob”

What remains of the original idea? Well, it is still Iftar (even though a snack-Iftar). More exciting, it is still a Flashmob. There is randomness in the venue to be “Flash-mobbed”. There is briefness; it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to distribute packs of snacks. There is surprise; It will be just a bunch of average-Joes (and Josephines) distributing free snacks one moment and disappearing the next. There is compassion; Ramadan values are at the core of this idea.

PS:

To contact for enquiries please email to iftarflashmob@miufoundation.org.

For all the latest information, check  and like our facebook page.

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Addendum – 29th August 2012

An important development happened a few hours before we went out for the first Iftar Flashmob which was prompted by an incident about a week earlier. We had visited a hospital (with the charity organisation MIUF) and we found out that some patients were not “friendly” towards Muslim-looking helpers. Others were apprehensive to the idea that they were being given charity (when they can afford more than our too-modest offering). By the way they were not charity give-aways but gifts.

That incident warned us on two things: The non Muslim we approach will be very sceptical and some will refuse to collect our snack-packs if they perceive it as charity.

Some ours before rolling out, we came up with an idea: we sell our snack packs (in stead of simply giving it out) BUT for FREE. If that is confusing, here this: we sell the snack packs for Zero Naira. Yea, the paradox of that statement is precisely what make the public receive us well. They probably now call us “Those weirdos selling snacks for free”.

It might interest you to know that we have started a catalog of Iftar Flashmob snack-packs. So far we have only one, I call it Capridate (Caprisonne and Dates). More are coming.

A Capridate on the roadside

Two Baskets of Capridates at Iftar Flashmob site

Watch a video of an Iftar Flashmob here.

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The Ramadan Experiment

Prologue: A woman gives out gifts relatives and friends. why? its Christmas time. A man practises his religion meticulously. why? it is Ramadan. (Ramadan is the Fasting Month of Muslims; considered the holiest month in Islam)

Understanding the “spirit” of Christmas can be confusing. Same applies to the “spirit” of Ramadan. Both require the practitioner to perform a virtuous act, emphasizing this requirement for a duration of time (Christmas season or Ramadan month).

You are not expected to be santa clause through out the year, getting gifts for everyone around you because it is impractical. Christmas has its non materialistic values as well, its just difficult to discern that after it has been commercialized so much that we are waiting for someone to patent christmas soon. On the other hand muslims still emphasize the virtuous values that are demanded of a Muslim during Ramadan.

Muslims as well are aware, not appalled any more, by the sudden changes in actions of Muslims during Ramadan from actions before Ramadan, and to actions after Ramadan. Count the number of people praying at mosques during these three interesting times to get a feel of the fluctuation in characters.

The Problem

Many Muslims take a rational and calculating attitude towards Ramadan. They do the math by noting that the rewards for good actions are multiplied during ramadan, compared to any other months. You might as well get a “rewards calculator” to keep track of your progress if that is how you swing.

The Missing Link

It turns out that the minimum number of days required for a habit change is 21 days, which is how long you require to make a daily action a habit. I believe this is one of the many blessings of Ramadan.

Dr Maxwell Maltz has written much on the subject. I haven’t read a book of his but with so many references to him, i believe he is the man in this field. Other experts who have worked further on the subject of habit change suggest 30 days. Among the advantages of 30 days is that it represents a month, so actually it could be 31, 28 or 29 days.

If you want the scientific take on it, here’s a quote from a blog discussing habit change:

Brain circuits take engrams (memory traces), and produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain does not accept ?new? data for a change of habit unless it is repeated each day for 21 days (without missing a day).”

The Quran says: “Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and rightousness” (Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2:183)

In my opinion, the emphasis of the above verse is bold-ed. That is to say Muslims should use the opportunity for reformation of their habits. There are other known benefits to Ramadan but this just occurred to me recently.

The Setback

The reason many find themselves going back to their old ways may be that they basically force their way back to their former lifestyle after Ramadan. One reason may be that one just wants to be back to “normal” again, for no reason other than it is normal; the assumption is that one has participated meticulously in  Ramadan.

The Experiment

First ask yourself what habits of yours will you like to change; for life not just Ramadan. Pick one of these and make sure you don’t do it through  out Ramadan, NO MATTER the reasons you give yourself. After Ramadan, simply continue your life however you want but leaving out the habit that you have decided to abandon.

The expected outcome is that you will find it really easy to not do it, it may take some effort on your part to actually do it. If it is easy to avoid it, Alhamdulillah, you ve done it! I suspect it will be easier than before Ramadan in any case. I will be trying the experiment as well IA.

Remember though, its your habit so you have to be sincere about wanting to abandon it. You don’t have to be a muslim to try the Ramadan Experiment; no need to fast, only that you might not have a religious dimension to the act. We may understand Ramadan more, after many years of shallow acquaintance.

PS: More importantly, a new habit can be acquired this way.

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