On foodie culture

Ramadan is known as the month when Muslims go without food and drink during daylight hours. So it is understandable that Ramadan is somehow linked to food and what we are eating, or rather not eating. But despite the annual protestations at masaajid and talks that Ramadan is not intrinsically about food, come iftar, we can unwittingly fall into making it just that.

The idea 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. The phones come out as soon as the meal is delivered in a restaurant: cameras are poised to get the best shots, plates are arranged to make the most of the lighting, with a rush to upload them and the location. Food bloggers can make thousands from their photos and reviews of different restaurants, hopping between eateries often without eating all the food they order. Never before has eating food for pleasure become an acceptable hobby, or a profession. 

As much as this is observed in wider society, the Muslim community have also picked up on this trend with the added feature that restaurants be halal. To an extent, in the absence of going to bars, clubs or other environment not encouraged in Islam, eating food as a social exercise is understandable and not wrong.

Nevertheless there are numerous aspects of modern foodie culture that should give us caution. Firstly, the need for validation via social media. This is something that manifests itself more than just in our food, but nonetheless evident in the hundreds of thousands of pictures under the hashtags #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 to feel discontent and insecure.

This quote attributed to Ali (ra) reminds us of the consideration we must bear in mind when we think of others:

“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”

Secondly, this culture is symptomatic of gluttony. Muhammad ﷺ said

“The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach.”

Sunan ibn Majah 3349

Imam Ghazali 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 ﷻ warns us in the Qura’n 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.”

Qur’an 7:31

Whilst enjoying delicious food is an act in and of itself that is neither rewardable not punishable, excessive involvement food’s decoration and the time spent eating it and relishing it are ways in which it can become a waste of time, an unnecessary extravagance and cause us to become preoccupied with such matters.

The example of Muhammad ﷺ, his sahabahs and generations since, had the simple understanding that we eat to live, not the other way around. They tried to maximise the barakah in their food by maintaining the manners of eating recommended in the sunnah, including saying the appropriate dua before we eat, eating with our right hand, and offering others first. The Prophet ﷺ also recommended the proportions by which we should eat and drink:

“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.”

Sunan ibn Majah 3349

Ramadan is a time for us to detach ourselves from the pleasures of this world and that includes lessening our expectations when it comes to food. Come iftar time, we remember what Ramadan is supposed to teach us, of how to tame our desires for the sake of Allah ﷻ. And we try to use those last minutes before sunset to make dua for all we desire, and for all those in the world who face this hunger everyday.

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