Ayesha Yahya reflects on the loss of vital ingredients for barakah (blessings) in her local iftars (meals for opening the fast) over recent years and offers a recipe for improving the situation
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious the Most Merciful.
So the month of Ramadan is just around the corner alhamdulillah and I can feel butterflies in my stomach. The thought of reciting the beautiful Qur’an, and of trying to perfect my tajweed (elocution of the Qur’an). The countless hours of praying during the night and generally changing myself for the better through my actions and speech.
Hold up a second: the butterflies are fading. Now I’m feeling apprehensive at the thought of all the samosas, kebabs and chicken rolls I have been preparing for two months in advance. Will there be enough food or will I have to make some more?
It feels like Ramadan has become a competition about who can serve the best food
You see, the number of people I call for iftar is vast and is getting bigger now that my husband calls his friends over. Please do not take this the wrong way, I love visitors, especially for iftar. It’s amazing opening the fasts, having family and friends over to eat and accumulating all the blessings. But what I have noticed is, over the past few years, it feels like Ramadan has become a competition about who can serve the best food.
As we know, the Prophet (peace be upon him) never bad-mouthed food; he would eat and never complain. Surely this is the way we should be.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (may peace be upon him) never criticised any food (he was invited to) but he used to eat if he liked the food, and leave it if he disliked.
Sahih Bukhari, Book 65, Hadith 320
Good, healthy food is a must, especially during Ramadan, as we can easily become constipated or bloated by not eating the right foods. Also important is the need to make an effort in the local community to inform others of the benefits of Ramadan. My favourite way to share the blessings of Ramadan is most definitely by sharing food with my neighbours. This way we build love and understanding between each other.
It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed: He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should either utter good words or better keep silence; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should treat his neighbour with kindness and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should show hospitality to his guest.
Sahih Muslim Book 1, Hadith 75
One of the best times I had in Ramadan was whilst studying at university. I met many sisters from different parts of the world. Needless to say we had very interesting iftars with lots of beautiful food. These iftars gave me opportunities to not only meet new sisters but learn how to cook all kinds of food. So if you’re at university and feeling lonely and missing your mum’s food during Ramadan then check out the Islamic society who always have something going on in Ramadan. It probably won’t beat the feeling of home but it will give you a sense of love and of the family that we are all a part of: the Ummah (community of Islam). Be first to welcome other sisters who are studying away from home – if you see them on their own invite them to iftar, as no one likes to eat on their own.
Why not make some cupcakes and deliver them to your neighbours?
If you are spending Ramadan in a family environment, try to be involved and get the younger children involved with the food preparations even if it’s setting the table or taking out the seeds from the dates before iftar. Make it a family affair so that everyone appreciates how much effort goes in to preparing the Ramadan food. Telling children to get involved can fall on deaf ears especially when children have been fasting all day – to help with this, ask them to choose the surahs to listen to whilst working or even ask them to recite the Qur’an whilst you prepare the food. My teenage niece loved setting the table and soon her mum did not need to tell her what jobs to undertake; she would do everything from setting the table to making decorations out of the napkins mashaAllah.
I have to admit a pet peeve I have is seeing people hand out food two doors down and leaving out the house in the middle due to reasons such as, “Oh they’re not Muslim, ” or, “They never give us food.” Seriously, it’s Ramadan. Let’s give food equally and not leave people out. Alienating neighbours has a lasting effect on the community. Especially during such a blessed month, isn’t this not only insensitive but also defeating the purpose of Ramadan?
And to the ladies who feel like they have no say in where the food goes because their mum, aunt, or grandma does all the cooking, why not make some cupcakes and deliver them to your neighbours? I’m sure they will be appreciated.
Narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas told Ibn az-Zubayr (Allah be pleased with him): “I heard the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.’”
Al-Adab al-Mufrad Al-Bukhar, IV 61, 112
I love the above hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him): simple, but at the same time an example of a true believer.
So whilst we are busy preparing food, let’s remember why we are doing so. To help keep your intentions present, how about having the Qur’an recited in the kitchen whilst you’re cooking and preparing food? We can memorise ayahs or hadiths and educate ourselves in Islam as we work. (Women excel at multi-tasking.) We are Muslim women who need to make a change for the better and be recognised by our Islamic character not by how well we cook.
Ayesha Yahya is a mother of two who has studied a community development degree at university, and worked for the council in social care. Her best jobs were her voluntary ones including teaching children who were visually impaired to read Arabic Braille. She is hoping to go back into education to study to be a midwife insha’Allah.