Excess is not what Ramadan is about
Back in the mid-1980s, when my waist was several sizes smaller than it is now, I would greet each iftar with such reckless abandon that I would invariably make myself feel ill for a few hours. Or, like the time I devoured a roasted chicken on my own, for a few days. It is a lesson I would like to say I have learned with the passing years, but sadly cannot. I am not alone. Year after year we tear into our iftar feasts before the last of the prayer calls has even faded. Overeating has been a Ramadan tradition for as long as I can remember.
What has exacerbated the situation over the last two decades is the extent to which hotels, restaurants and cafes have commercialised the holy months, with extravagant five-star buffets replacing intimate family meals. That's before we even get to the ubiquitous money-spinning Ramadan tents. Overindulgence and excess when breaking your fast are not, and never were, what Ramadan is about. While swank hotels might offer endless choices in their stunning spreads, they come at a hefty price financially and physically. Most charge well over Dh100, almost compelling customers to greedily gobble up more food than their stomachs can handle.
Ramadan is intended as a time of peaceful contemplation and of empathy with those less fortunate than us. The only contemplation you'll see at one of those expensive buffets is for those excruciating last few minutes before the iftar prayers. Any empathy on view is, as far as I can see, reserved for a cackle of gluttonous hyenas feasting on their prey. Furthermore, what of the uneaten food and desserts? I would like to think that none of it goes to waste and that it is saved and donated to the poor, but that seems highly unlikely.
It was not always like that. Back in those early years, iftar was mostly a family meal. While you would get invitations from friends and relatives, they were still relatively modest affairs and no leftover food was ever discarded at the end of any meal. Now iftar is seen by many as an excuse for gluttonous feasts that are as removed from the spirit of Ramadan as is possible. Then there are those Ramadan tents. Some charge up to Dh200 for entry alone and then demand a minimum amount be spent for the privilege of playing a game of cards and having a cup of tea or a shisha.
In the meantime, it is precisely the less fortunate people we are meant to have empathy for who are the ones who observe Ramadan the way it was intended, with a small meal, prayers and hard work. No overindulgence, no slacking off work early and no mindless driving (unless you're a taxi driver, of course, but that has nothing to do with Ramadan). The Persian poet Saadi, who experienced his fair share of hardship, said: "He who is a slave to his stomach seldom worships God." These wise words are worth remembering the next time we impatiently watch the clock tick down towards iftar prayers.
And never, ever attempt to finish off a chicken by yourself. email@example.com
Published: August 17, 2010 04:00 AM