In the past few years I have seen a shift in the fasting habits of my people. We are seeing the rise of commercialised Ramadan. The shops put out a variety of ready-to-eat foods during this period, while the shopping mall food courts and neighbourhood bakeries do brisk business selling high-fat, baked goods that don't do your stomach any favours after a day of fasting.
The idea of fasting is to grow strong mentally and spiritually. This is supposed to be a compulsory detoxification period for all Muslims, when the body should be unburdened with processing food during the day. To prepare the body to absorb food, we first rehydrate with nourishing fruit, vegetable juices, soups and dates. When people skip this step and go directly to solid, fried foods, it's not surprising the system rebels, causing health problems. The fault is not in the fasting, but in the feasting that follows.
You can identify the people who break their fasts in this manner by their sluggish behaviour. A body that is suddenly flooded with food requires a high amount of energy to digest food. So instead of feeling energised by the detox, these poor people tend to sleep off the evening hours digesting their feast.
This is contrary to the Prophet's advice. He advises us that, while the body and mind are spiritually cleansed by sawm (fasting), our spirit should then be cleansed with community service in the evenings. Instead, people troop in to the Ramadan tents hosted by hotels and restaurants to meet and socialise. Sometimes, people spend less time at the mosque than they do at the Ramadan tent, so that this time of spiritual renewal and austerity becomes a time for ostentation and meaningless socialisation. I don't mean to point the finger, but I feel we should pause and reconsider what our goals are during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
It is a time to rejoice. Although there is some solemnity attached to it, it is not one of sorrow or mournfulness or even laziness, as many expats have come to believe. We are very cheerful and active during this time. In fact, at the end of Ramadan, a common form of greeting is a request to the Almighty that we may live long enough to spend another Ramadan together.
Some people break down and cry at the end of Ramadan in sheer gratitude for the purification of their spirit. It is indeed a very special time for us. And should remain that for all of us.
Arabic: Subhan Allah
English: Praise the Lord
You might hear this in the mosque after repeating a prayer 33 times on the prayer beads. You could also use it after spotting one of God's beautiful creations, when it could mean "Wow!"