Ramadan is known for being the month when Muslims go without food and drink during daylight hours. So its kind of understandable that Ramadan is somehow linked to food and what we are eating, or rather not eating. But despite the annual protestations at masaajids and talks that Ramadan is NOT intrinsically about food, but is so much more, come iftar, we can unwittingly fall into making it just that.
The concept of being a “foodie” is a relatively new phenomenon. Whilst throughout history, food has always been enjoyed, coveted and used as a status symbol by the wealthy; the rise of social media has resulted in unprecedented exposure to this aspect of our lives. We’ve all seen how the phones come out as soon as the meal is delivered in a restaurant, cameras poised to get the best shots, arranging the plates to make the most of the lighting, rushing to upload them so you can tag in the location. We’ve seen the rise of food bloggers who are making millions from their photos of their food, lunching at various places or cooking themselves all for the perfect picture. Never before has eating food become an acceptable hobby, or a profession. The broader media has also picked up on this trend and we’ve seen a rise in popularity of cooking shows, baking competitions and the launch of many self-proclaimed foodie cookbooks and websites.
As much as this is something that affects wider society, the Muslim community especially have picked up on this trend with the theme of halal food and halal restaurants. To an extent, in the absence of going clubs, or other forms of entertainment not encouraged in Islam, eating food as a social exercise is understandable, and is not entirely wrong.
Nevertheless there are numerous aspects of this foodie culture we need to be wary of.
Firstly, the need for validation via social media. This is something that manifests itself
more than just in our food, but especially applicable, given the rise of hashtags such as #instafood, #iftargram, #foodporn, #foodgoals. One of the one hand, this can be seen as a form of boasting, something we are warned against in Islam, and on the other, it can cause those who do not have such a lifestyle but would want to, to feel discontent and insecure
The quote of Ali (ra) perfectly sums up the attitude we should have in regards to this, and social media as a whole:
“Do not speak about your money in front of a poor person. Do not speak about your health in front of a sick person. Do not speak about your power in front of a weak person. Do not speak about your happiness in front of a sad person. Do not speak about your freedom in front of a prisoner. Do not speak about your children in front of an infertile person. Do not speak about your mother and father in front of an orphan. Because their wounds cannot bear more”
The second issue is that this culture is symptomatic of gluttony. In a hadith narrated by Miqdam ibn Maad, Muhammad (saws) said “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach”
Imam Ghazali (rh) specifically speaks about this issue in his book “Disciplining the Soul and Breaking the Two Desires” where he identifies gluttony and love of food as one of the two sins (the other being fornication) that is the gateway to all other sins. His reasoning is that once we have stuffed ourselves with food, a natural human desire, we will go on to fulfil our other desires, be that acquiring wealth, prestige, and that this leads to pride, boasting and arrogance. These qualities are the cause of envy, competition, and hatred; easily leading the afflicted person into all other vices and ugly acts. All this results from not paying attention to the stomach and what we are putting in it.
The third element to be considered is that of israaf, which summarises the concept of extravagance. Allah (swt) warns us in the Quran to not pay undue attention to that what we spend on out of what He has provided for us
“…and eat and drink, but do not be excessive. Indeed Allah likes not those who commit excess” (7:31).
Whilst enjoying delicious food is an act in and of itself that is neither rewardable not punishable (mubah), excessive involvement in the preparation of food, its decoration and the time spent eating it and relishing it are all ways in which it can become a waste of time, an unnecessary extravagance and cause us to become preoccupied with such matters.
When we see the example of Muhammad (saws), we see that he and the sahabahs and even generations of our grandparents, had the simple understanding that we eat to live, not the other way around. We should instead try to achieve barakah in our food by saying our duas before we eat, eating with our right hand, offering others first, and all other manners Islam has encouraged us to adopt; as the hadith says:
“The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of air.”
So this Ramadan, don’t expect mountains of delicious food from your mothers every day. Come iftar time, put the cameras away. Remember what fasting is supposed to teach us; about struggling against our desires for the sake of Allah (swt). And use those last minutes before sunset to make dua for anything and everything you want, and for all those in the world who face this hunger everyday.