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City of Brass

Example of Bhori thaal

Example of Bhori thaal

This is a guest post by Fatema Baldiwala.

Rushing to make it in time for all the deadlines that a mom of two busy teenagers has to meet, I have many times substituted quick, easy, convenient fast food substitutes for complete meals. Today was no exception, as I rushed to make it in time for maghrib namaaz; a protein bar was hurriedly placed in my boys’ hands. These meals are not the optimal nutrition that I want my kids to consume, but by default it is what we consume on the go.

Nutrition is something that’s very much in the forefront of my thoughts, when my stomach craves food in the fasting month of Ramadan. My kids are first generation Americans who do not have the cultural memory of food like I do: of home cooked meals, of steaming plates of spicy and tantalizing aromas that bring instant saliva to the mouth, of anticipatory forthcoming tastes, of warm pliable roti crumbling between the fingers, of the joys of communal eating with laughter of friends and family. In America, we have become consumers of “meal replacements”, fake duplicates that look like the real thing which promise all the nutrients that our body needs, yet cannot replace the real.

The irony of this situation hits me every time I enter the “jamaat khana”. The aromas are what assail me first, transporting me back to childhood memories of communal eating. The bhori thaal is resplendent with stacked food catering to our every taste. The goodness of the farm transformed into a variety of dishes, namely roti, curry, rice, and dessert, all downed with a sip of sparkling sherbet. Not only is the food tasty, home cooked, and nourishing, but is eaten leisurely amidst a small group of close friends sharing stories from their day and their lives.

Ifthari dinner begins with having a pinch of salt before starting on the three-course meal. Tradition believes that a pinch of salt will ward off 72 diseases. There is scientific truth in this as our bodies are constituted of salt and our very existence is founded on the discovery of salt. In ancient civilizations it was prized as much or even more than gold because of its medicinal and preservative values. After the pinch of salt comes the sweet dish. Sweetness is the most pleasing taste to the tongue and connotes an item as a rich source of energy. The sweet dish is followed by a meat curry. Curries are made by sautéed onion, garlic, and various spices. Chemists have identified this mix as containing powerful antibacterial components which can negate whatever dangerous bacteria there is left on meat. Furthermore, science has discovered a 5th taste, called “umami” which in Japanese means deliciousness. Curries are supposed to possess the taste of umami. Umami is identified in ripe tomatoes and onions, which are essential ingredients to curries. Umami works in synergy with other ingredients enhancing flavor and texture of a sauce. Curries are slowly cooked. The ingredients mix together in a huge closed pot, simmering gently, giving out its special welcoming aroma. Dinner ends as it started, with a pinch of salt.

Other Americans would marvel at this, first for our continuing tradition, of eating the same way as we have done from generation to generation, and at eating the same food, cooked the same way. Secondly, our choices are based on habit, culture, and taste rather than on any scientific research, as most American food with its extensive calorie count has become. Americans’ obsessive food neurosis has been influenced by a relatively newer field of food science that has overlapped their common sense and replaced traditional cultural food with inferior capitalistic-driven substitutes.

We Americans tend to be the unhealthiest people in the world. Diet-related diseases are an epidemic-sized issue for people living here. America has always been a country with choices, and we value choice over all else as evident by the sheer number of food varieties available. Furthermore, being a country of immigrants from all over the world, each immigrant community introducing it special dishes, we have a choice of cuisine from all over the world. The question, “what’s for dinner?” will usually elicit an array of varied choices, even if all of us are sitting down together for a meal. Even though each immigrant population has brought its own ways to the American table, none has been powerful enough to become the norm. The abundance in food choices has made us a country with no fixed cultural diet, which is ideal for the food industry.

The food industry benefits from having a demographic with no time to cook and a fading memory of their cultural food. The supermarkets are packed with aisle after aisle of quick meals from all over the world offering the convenience of being precooked and that can be consumed quickly. These meals have usually originated in a food scientist’s lab, rather than traditionally cooked and are processed chemical derivatives of the original. These substitutes or meal replacements may look and even smell like the home cooked version, but they leave you disillusioned after the first bite with a lingering aftertaste that leaves you unsatisfied.

In spite of technological advances, we are a population with less and less time on our hands. We are also a population vulnerable to particular fads exacerbated by the food industry (who are only interested in making a quick profit). Remember the famous Atkins diet, that created almost an overnight rejection of our most staple food, bread, and gave rise to a population of people suffering from carbophobia? Or the era when margarine outsold butter? Only to find out that margarine is one molecule away from a synthetic plastic and what we were spreading on our bread was a liquid form of plastic Tupperware. We go through oscillating ups and down, elevating one food, demonizing another till we are totally confused about what we should consume.

To the rescue of this confusion comes our Bhori thaal that encourages eating as a community. Where else can both the physical as well as the spiritual self come together as a whole? The starved body rejuvenates, taking comfort in our shared cultural heritage as we, as a people, partake of our ifthaar meal. We are thankful that at least in the evening, after a long summer day of fasting, we are blessed to be eating traditional foods that nourish not only our bodies but satisfies on a deeper level, awakening for an all too brief a moment a feeling of homecoming and belonging.

Fatima Baldiwala is a writer and a mother in Los Angeles.

Image credit: Nitish Meena

Image credit: Nitish Meena

This is a guest post by Nabeel Azeez.

A well-known hadith of the Prophet SAW is, “”Whosoever fasts and prays Ramadan with Iman and Ihtisab, will have his past sins forgiven.” This hadith is quoted every Ramadan as motivation, without fail. Many of us understand the meaning and implications of the condition of Iman while fasting and praying. However, many of us do not understand the condition of Ihtisab, myself included.

The word is usually translated as “seeking/expecting/hoping for Allah’s reward” and left at that. As someone who’s interested in practical application of these concepts, that’s not very helpful. So I asked my teacher to explain the meaning, implications and application of Ihtisab. I have paraphrased what he told me and added some of my own thoughts.

What is Ihtisab?

The root of the word is from hisab – to calculate, reckon, count. Ihtisab is to expect an outcome from something or someone. Allah the Almighty says (paraphrased),

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا

“And (Allah) will provide for him from where he does not expect (min haythu la yahtasib)…” (65:3)

Ihtisab in fasting and prayers is to be sincere in your worship, hoping for Allah’s acceptance and reward.

How is Ihtisab Achieved?

Ihtisab tip #1: Having a peaceful, pleasing state of mind when performing the act

One should be hopeful of Allah’s reward, and in a peaceful and pleasing state of mind while performing the act. This is achieved by:

  • not thinking of fasting as burdensome or heavy
  • not thinking about the length of the fasting day, or seeing it as long

Ihtisab tip #2: Hoping for Allah’s reward and fearing His punishment

Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali (d. 795 H) writes that one need to have love, hope and fear when worshiping Allah without leaving out any of them:

“It is known that worship is built from only three sources: fear, hope, and love. Each one is an intrinsic duty, and gathering the three is an obligatory injunction. Because of this, the Forbears censured whoever devoted oneself to one while neglecting the other two. [After all,] the innovation of the Khawarij and those resembling them came about from emphasizing fear while avoiding love and hope; the innovation of the Murjiʿah [those who hold that belief guarantees the unrepentant safety from punishment for grave sins] came about from clinging to hope alone while avoiding fear; and the innovation of many advocates of free-thinking [ibahiyyah] and divine indwelling [hulul] who ascribe themselves to devotion, came about from singling out love while avoiding fear and hope.”

(Credit to Musa Furber for the translation.)

Ihtisab tip #3: Holding ourselves to a higher standard, one worthy of Allah’s Majesty, when performing acts of worship

Allah is Tayyib (pure, wholesome) and he accepts only that which is pure and wholesome. Are our fasts and prayers pure and wholesome in a way worthy of Allah’s acceptance?

Imagine that one of your parents is exacting and accepts nothing less than perfection from you. If he/she asked something of you, knowing that only a certain standard is acceptable, how will you perform the requested task if you want to please her/him?

Suppose that acceptance and rejection are based on the sincerity and perfection with which prayers or fasts were performed. How would yours fare? In fact in a single masjid, or even a single prayer-row, how would you feel about your prayers if you knew that only one prayer from that row is going to be accepted?

Ihtisab, then, is to strive to perform our worship with a level of sincerity and perfection worthy of the Allah and His acceptance, not just to fulfill an obligation.

Ihtisab tip #4: Getting our priorities right

These aren’t specific to worship but relate to life in general:

  • Getting to know the nature of Allah and what He deserves from us
  • Trying to always be aware of life’s purpose and optimizing our lives around that purpose

Ihtisab tip #5: Constantly evaluating and improving ourselves

Ihtisab also means to calculate or evaluate something exhaustively. We should make notes, mental or otherwise, on the shortcomings of our prayers and fasts, review them before the next occurrence and try not to repeat them.

We should also evaluate ourselves daily, checking to see if we’ve improved from the previous day. We should also evaluate our overall performance after month concludes, make a note of the good and bad, and set goals to do better next Ramadan, God willing.

Conclusion

Knowledge without action is just information.

It also works against our favor on the Day of Judgement

So, it’s up to us to implement these tips in our lives.

What is correct is from Allah and what is wrong is from myself and Satan.

Allah, exalt the mention of our Prophet Muhammad, as many times as the mindful remember him, and as many times as the heedless forget.

Nabeel Azeez is a blogger, public speaker, and founder of Becoming the Alpha Muslim. He writes and speaks on men’s issues, masculinity, and self-improvement for the modern Muslim man.

Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon (June 20, 2016) by nate2b on Flickr

Summer Solstice Strawberry Moon (June 20, 2016) by nate2b on Flickr

Last night was the first full moon coincident with the summer solstice in 50 years. The last time this convergence happened was in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. For comparison, Halley’s comet last arrived in 1986 and will return in 2061. Yesterday was the longest fast for the vast majority of the world’s Muslims – though our Australian m8s enjoyed the shortest fast ever.

This kind of convergence is rare because it requires two totally separate geometries to line up perfectly – the earth and the sun (for the solstice) and the earth and the moon (for the full moon). Spiritually, the Moon is reflecting the light of the longest day, which means it is the mirror in which we see our longest ibadat reflected at us, and we marvel at its beauty. But it’s our beauty, after all.

Related: Why a Muslim welcomes the summer solstice, and my contribution to the moonsighting debate.

dumbbell, foam roller, and tasbih

dumbbell, foam roller, and tasbih by aabde on Flickr

The overwhelming priority of most people during Ramadan is to decide what to eat and when. However, for those with an active lifestyle, food is just half of the equation. Professional athletes have long balanced Ramadan and training – from Kareem Abhdul Jabbar and Zaid Abdul-Aziz (basketball), to Husain and Hamza Abdullah (football), to Kulsoom Abdullah (weightlifting), to Ibtihaj Muhammad (Olympic fencing). In fact, Mrs. Abdullah wrote a guest post here at City of Brass a couple years ago discussing the challenges for the athlete in Ramadan.

However, what about us normal folk who aren’t athletes? Let’s leave aside cardio and consider weight training. The bottom line is that during Ramadan, if you don’t binge (which is very common, due to large post-iftar meals and fat/carb-heavy suhoor, coupled with a general sense of abandon), you are going to lose some muscle due to catabolism. Ramadan is the perfect time for a cut – (reducing caloric intake below TDEE to lower bodyfat percentage) and lends itself well to a “leangains” philosophy. The biggest problem is figuring out when to workout, juggling the requirements of real life (jobs and family) and the additional burden of our ibadat (going to masjid, extra prayer), not to mention the fact that we are fasting during the majority of the day (especially right now, while Ramadan falls squarely in summer, at least in the Northern hemisphere).

Unfortunately, most of the workout advice for Muslims who fast in Ramadan is flawed in this regard. Nabeel Azeez, founder of the Becoming the Alpha Muslim motivational program, has a great writeup about Ramadan workout recommendations, and critiques most of the better-known versions you see. In a nutshell, most of the advice out there is not applicable to someone who is not a professional athlete, has a normal day job, and also wants to actually prioritize ibadat in Ramadan. Further, most of the nutritional advice out there is “broscience” or anecdotal. My friend Aamer Jamali MD (a frequent contributor to City of Brass) has been lecturing for years about nutritional requirements in Ramadan, which can insufficiently be summarized as: complex carbohydrates good, simple carbs bad, protein good, sugar bad.

Here are a set of recommendations for weight training in Ramadan, based on Nabeel’s guidelines, nutritional advice from Aamer, and my own research. In general: stretch before training, and train before breaking your fast. Eat, pray and sleep at night. Eat complex carbs and protein for suhoor, drink a lot of water and get enough sleep.

  1. Workout window: The ideal time to train is around 2 hours before breaking your fast. You will be working out in the fasted state – this is essentially a modified Lean Gains routine. In most of the United States, Maghrib is around 8pm, so this means you’d be working out around 6pm. This is compatible with coming home after work and hitting the gym (or the garage, as the case may be).
  2. Stretch: You are dehydrated, which means you are at higher risk of injury. Therefore, stretching out is critical. Get a decent foam roller and roll your joints, especially your hamstrings, glutes, and back. Do some basic flexibility stretches every day, pre-workout or just after you awake in the morning to get blood flowing. If yoga is your thing, keep it up. Note, core exercises do not count. If you are going to train during Ramadan, this is not an optional step.
  3. Workout routine: Dial back. You are aiming for maintenance; hypertrophy is out of the question. Drop cardio. Aim for 75% of your usual weight, higher volume (3×5 or 5×5). Supersets of opposing groups (antagonists) is the most time-efficient, since you don’t have energy for a long workout. I also would recommend focusing on bodyweight exercises rather than free weights, since there is less chance of injury. Examples: Dips and chinups (for biceps and triceps), pushups and pullups (for chest and back), squats and lunges (quads and hamstrings). As usual with supersets, there is no rest period between the exercises, but you must rest at least 3 minutes between supersets. Add some dumbbell accessory work to round things out.
  4. Iftar: Keep this small, with full meal to follow an hour later. Dates are favored for iftar because they are high in fiber and glucose (the form of sugar that requires least processing for use). Some fat intake is ok here to replenish stores, but avoid sugars. Drink water!
  5. Dinner: Eat a healthy meal but do not binge. Concentrate on complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid processed and fried foods due to high fat and simple carbohydrate contents. Fats should be from healthier sources like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. Drink water!
  6. Water: Too much at once can overwhelm the kidneys, so it is best to drink water in small, regular doses, especially with food. Obviously, during Ramadan the water window is shortened, which is why it is critical that you don’t neglect water during iftar, suhoor, and dinner.
  7. Sleep: Maximize your sleep at night. Moving the workout to pre-iftar keeps your evenings open for ibadat and rest. Remember that muscle isn’t built during a workout, it is built during the recovery period, which is why adequate rest is an essential component of fitness. If you have time and opportunity, get a nap in during the day as well.
  8. Suhoor: Avoid simple carbohydrates (sugars, white bread, baked goods). These will cause fatigue in the late morning/early afternoon, and hunger starting at noon. Also, too much fat will fill you up, but not provide the energy you need during the day, and will simply be diverted to storage. Avoid fruit juices, which have high acidity and sugar; water is best. Favor whole wheat and whole grain bread, minimize syrups and jelly. Maximize complex carbohydrates (fiber) and protein for maximum sustained energy and minimum hunger during the day.

The above should not be considered medical advice, but is probably the best distillation of the good advice out there, and provides a simple and reasonable outline for weight training during Ramadan. Of course, modify as needed with what works for you.

Related: Fasting for Ramadan with Diabetes, and The Athlete in Ramadan: working out, training, and diet.

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