Ramadan: The Holy Month of Fasting and Introspection

Today, August 1, 2011 marks the first day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar celebrating the revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad.  With anywhere between 200,000 to 1,000,000 Muslims residing in New York City, you can bet that the impact of Ramadan affects 1 out of every 8 people in NYC.  The neighborhood of Harlem is also known to house the largest population of Black Muslims in the city.

Ramadan lasts 30 days and is a time of control over physical desire in order to practice patience, self-restraint, and introspection. The typical Ramadan-day begins with a meal before sunrise and ends with one after sunset.  The rest of the day is spent fasting from food, drink, and sexual activity at least until the sun drops below the horizon.  A form of sacrifice, fasting is used to center one's mind and shift perspective towards a sort of God-consciousness.

Whereas most people seem to focus purely on the fasting, I cannot help but wonder how unbelievable the food must taste after an entire day (sometimes six days) of hunger.  I imagine that no sip, taste, or morsel would be taken for granted, and many of the false priorities in life melt away.  Most Americans struggle to eat a salad for lunch, let alone skipping a whole day's worth of meals.  It is no wonder that once Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, a three day celebration of belt bursting feasts.

Bring on the food!

It is hard pin down any one particular style of food eaten during Eid ul-Fitr because the Islamic culture is so geographically broad.  Traditional Pakistani Eid ul-Fitr features foods like mithai (flour and milk cakes), kheer (rice pudding), and kala kand (a cake made of ricotta cheese, milk, and heavy cream).  American Muslims have reserved Six Flags amusement parks for their Eid ul Fitr celebrations where rows of Muslim vendors from many different cultures provide all different kinds of halal.

Regardless of the type of food, the only restriction is that the food be halal.  According to Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) the term "halal" simply means "lawful or permitted."  The IFANCA mentions that all foods are considered halal except:

  • Swine/Pork and its by-products
  • Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
  • Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
  • Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals
  • Foods contaminated with any of the above products

(IFANCA, 2011 August 1, http://www.ifanca.org/halal/)

For more facts about Ramadan, check out our sister site Food Republic, here.

Happy Ramadan, Everyone!