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Moderation: The healthy way to Ramadan fasting

by Dr Irfan Ahmad Alladin
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Don’t turn fasting into feasting. Prophet Mohamed said, we should consume only to the point that one third of the stomach is occupied with solid, one third is occupied with liquid and one third is left empty.

The month of Ramadan is a great time for us to raise ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and morally. We Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset daily for one lunar month. During this month, we cannot take any food or beverage or even medication orally from dawn – or the time when one can distinguish a black thread from a white thread when held by the window – until the sun has set. 

The ‘Sunnah’ or practice of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was to wake up and offer the Tahajjud or pre-dawn optional prayers and eat ‘Suhoor’ or the morning meal up until the time of ‘Fajr’ or the morning prayer. Often, the Suhoor for him would be only a few dates and some water, but Muslims are encouraged to take a proper, nutritious meal which will provide sustenance for the day’s activities.

We break our fast once the sun has set, and, again the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would consume only a few dates, some water or some salt. Afterwards, Muslims will offer the Maghreb or prayer after sundown and then partake in some dinner. 

Muslims are advised to eat in moderation. Often, there are lavish feasts with myriad dishes but the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) always guided us to simplicity and avoiding excess as he said as recorded in a Tradition of Hadith, “The best way is the middle way”. 

Specifically, regarding food, he said we should consume to the point that one third of the stomach is occupied with solid, one third is occupied with liquid and one third is left empty. This principle corresponds to the three states of matter in terms of solid, liquid and gas. In particular, it is encouraged to leave one third of the stomach empty as this will prevent the formation of hiatal hernias or outpouching of the gastric lining. 

Hiatal hernias are common pathology known all too well by gastroenterologists and general and bariatric surgeons. They are often associated with gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and treated with proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers but often require surgery such the Hill and Nissen fundoplication. The vast majority of these cases could be prevented through following the Sunnah or practice of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the Hadith I mentioned above as well as through fasting in the month of Ramadan. The fasting helps us restore the proper contour of the gastric wall provided we do not eat to excess at times of Iftar and Suhoor and in-between. The Holy Qur’an also stresses moderation as it is written, “Eat and drink, but not to excess.” 

Once a person from another religion complained to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that your people discriminate and only visit the Muslim physicians. The Holy Prophet replied that it is uncommon for my people to become ill because my people eat less.

This is in stark contrast to those who eat a massive meal after the Maghreb prayer and then continue eating all night, even after the Taraveeh prayer which is an optional prayer offered after Isha or the night prayer only in Ramadan. Many Muslims eat intermittently throughout the night to the time of Suhoor or morning and then sleep during the day. This is in contradistinction to Sura Bani Israil, chapter 17 of the Holy Qur’an where we are told to “wake up in the latter part of the night for the Tahajjud or pre-dawn prayer. It will surely elevate us to an exalted state.” Also, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would ask Hazrat Bilal to give the Azan for the Isha or night prayer not too long after the Maghreb or sunset prayer and the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would offer the Isha prayer and go to sleep. 

Let’s pray that Muslims throughout the world follow the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith and reap the great rewards of this holy month. May Ramadan be a source of spiritual, physical, moral and mental health for all of us. Ameen.

Illustration courtesy ayatportal.com

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