It’s that time of the year again, the month of sleep deprivation and abstinence from all unnecessary indulgence. The time of the year where there are millions of cranky Muslims (though according to the media, these millions of Muslims are apparently always cranky) going about their daily life whilst undergoing caffeine withdrawal, nicotine withdrawal, expletive withdrawal and a lack of sex.
The last condition can make men very cranky whereas us women thankfully embrace this month 🙂 But all kidding aside, as much as I make Ramadan sound like a chore and a hardship, it’s the one month Muslims look forward to like no other.
Why is this month so important to Muslims and why do we eagerly wait its appearance every year? For anyone of faith with a belief of a greater power; you will understand. Ramadan offers the chance for Muslims to gain endless rewards whilst erasing sins. Every good deed and action is doubled in reward. This month Satan is chained up and cannot whisper in our ears to lead us astray. So, we use this month to perform great deeds and give charity knowing that Satan cannot interfere and all the while racking up our brownie points.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is based on the lunar cycles instead of the solar like the Gregorian calendar. In this month, the Holy Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the Angel Gabriel. The verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet and they are unchanged since then. It is said that the Qur’an is protected against any change in the writings and what we read now, in our daily prayers and during Ramadan, are the very verses that were revealed more than 1400 years ago.
In this very holy month, we are commanded to fast, it is one of the 5 pillars of Islam (i.e., it’s a foundation of the religion and mandatory) and during the fast, which lasts from dawn to dusk, apart from not eating or drinking, we are to watch our actions and our bad habits. Whilst we are fasting, we should not swear or curse or lose our temper, all these void our fasts and we lose the good deed of the fasting.
We are encouraged to read the whole of the Qur’an this month and increase our prayer. We are encouraged to get up in the middle of the night to perform night prayer while everyone else is asleep to earn more reward. It is said that God ventures down to the lowest heavens in the middle of the night looking for His believers who are praying so that He may answer their prayer.
We are to increase our acts of kindness and charity. It is mandatory for all to donate money or food to the needy in this month before the end of Ramadan. We can increase our reward by donating money, food or even your time, like volunteering.
What is the purpose of fasting? One of the reasons God wanted us to fast was to give up what we love the most. As we all know, most of the things we love are the hardest to give up and this is when we learn restraint. It is also to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are not as fortunate as us. It’s to make us feel the hunger and thirst and in turn, appreciate and be grateful for all that we have and enjoy. Millions of people around the world, including in rich Western countries, are hungry and do not have a proper meal if any, during the day. We put ourselves in their place to feel what they feel. The thing is though, for us it’s temporary, we get to eat at sunset, but these people continue to be hungry without any hope. This is why we are encouraged to donate as much as possible during this month.
Another reason for fasting is for our health. It’s to give our body a break from the continuous onslaught of food and drink. Our body needs the break from all the constant eating and it cleans out the system (providing you don’t clog it up by making unwise choices when it’s time to break your fast).
We prepare for the fast by eating a small breakfast before the break of dawn, this is known as suhoor. This may include a full out eggs and meat breakfast for those who choose to have that or preferably, a simple breakfast of cereal or whole wheat toast with nut butter. In our house, it’s usually granola cereal or oatmeal, fruit, dates maybe toast. I actually like a bowl of thick lentil soup with a whole wheat pita. I find that the soup, full of vegetables and lentils, keeps me quite full all day. I also find that the more I eat, the hungrier I get during the day so I keep my breakfast quite light and drink lots of water.
I get upset when I hear people constantly complaining during Ramadan, they complain about the heat, about the hunger, about being thirsty basically anything and everything. They seem to forget that complaining defeats the purpose of fasting and it’s reward. I have never had a problem fasting. By the grace of God, I never get hungry and I never get thirsty, even when I forget to set my alarm and sleep though the morning breakfast. It can be a 100 degrees but come the first day of Ramadan, a cool front comes through, or there is a string of thunderstorms that drops the temperatures; something happens that always alleviates our discomfort.
Right at sunset, which is around 8.30 for us here in Colorado, we get to eat. The breaking of the fast is known as iftar. Now, once again, we are supposed to show some restraint and not stuff our faces. A simple dinner is all that is needed and appreciated by our body, but of course there are those who like to go all out.
The South Asians, are incredibly guilty of over indulgence come fast breaking time, my family included. We usually break our fast with some dates and water, then we pray and then eat a simple dinner (that’s in my house)
Other houses: a huge Iftar consisting of many fried delights, fruit, dates and sugary drinks and then prayer, followed by a huge dinner a little later. That’s way too much food! But in some houses that’s the norm and if its Ramadan, then it’s definitely expected…because you know, they starved all day!
I don’t make all the fried goodies during Ramadan, that’s not to say I don’t love them! I do make some of my children’s favourites throughout Ramadan, usually on the weekend or the days my husband is off from work. In defence of those who do go all out, I have to say that Ramadan is a very happy and joyful time for us. Its like Christmas I guess. A big part of any holiday is food and Ramadan is no exception. Most of the time, what we eat during Ramadan is only made during Ramadan. My husband once asked me why we save all these good things for Ramadan and not have them all year around! I guess we do that because it’s a special time, its like turkey and sweet potato casserole which always seems to be reserved for Thanksgiving.
I am hoping to post my family’s Ramadan favourites during this month. Kicking things off, are these onion bhajis or pakoras which are my favourite.
They are basically, spicy onion fritters made from gram flour or besan batter. Besan is widely used in Indian cooking for savoury dishes to sweet ones and can easily be found at an Indian grocery store. It is naturally gluten free and another reason why I love these! They make a great GF snack along with some spicy ketchup. They can be easily varied too by swapping out the onions for a myriad of other vegetables. Some of my other favourites are potato bhajis, spinach bhajis and cauliflower bhajis.
Serves: about 18 depending on size
- 2 cups/250g gram flour/besan
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin
- 1 small green chilli pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon ginger. minced
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon salt (add more if needed, check the batter)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- handful cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup/235mL water
- oil to deep fry
- Place the sliced onions in a bowl and all the other ingredients on top.
- Pour in 1 cup of water to get a thick batter.
- If the batter is too thick, add extra water by tablespoons.
- The onions tend to release water too so adding too much at first will make the batter runny as time goes by.
- Heat oil in a deep fryer, wok or pan.
- I don't deep fry mine; just with enough oil to come up to the sides of the fritter.
- About a half inch to an inch of oil in the pan.
- Heat on medium high heat to start and then lower as needed.
- Drop teaspoonfuls into the hot oil.
- You can make them big or small.
- I like them about medium size because they get cooked through and crispy.
- Once one side is done, little bubbles will appear on the surface, flip them over carefully and brown the other side.
- The fritter should be cooked through and not mushy or gooey in the centre.
- Drain on paper towel lined plate.
- These are traditionally served with either a tamarind chutney or a cilantro mint chutney.
- In my house, we like them with sriracha spiked ketchup.
My next post will probably happen once Ramadan has started. So let me take this opportunity to wish every one of you much joy, peace and happiness. May we see an end to all wars, intolerance and hatred amongst the people of this Earth and a step towards peace and unity. As is customary to say at the beginning of the season, Ramadan Kareem!