by Suraiya Ali
Being considered a Heterodox Muslim, participating in orthodox activities can cause much confusion. But there is a vital conversation point that was missed in the open letter Brown Girl Magazine recently published —the actual conversation on food.
[Read Related: An Open Letter to Ramadan From the Perspective of Three Muslim-Americans]
Food is a part of every aspect of my identity. My family takes such consumption seriously. Being ethnically mixed, we are accustomed to having Persian, Marathi, and traditional Pakistani dishes all grace the table at once. I have fond memories of seeing my father take a bite of haleem at a restaurant, close his eyes, and proclaim with all the devotional energy the Old Sufi can muster – “Ahfut.” It’s likely he banged his fists on the table as well—exulting God in the presence of the carnivores delicacy.
He says “Ahfut” after everything really; a nice cup of hot chai, a piece of juicy ladoo, a Double Double from In and Out, an ice cold beer on a hot Texas day. Every time I ask him what it means, he responds with “Allah har ek nivala mein rahata hai,” which translates to, for all my non-Hindi/Urdu speakers: “God lives in each and every bite.” Of course, my mother says the word “Ahfut” is gibberish. My father says its a Devotees call to exultation. The act of seeing God in what one consumes has much credence in this Holy Month of fasting. We, as Muslims, focus much of the dialogue in this month of what it means to abstain from food, but often never give much rhetoric to the food itself.
Food is a fraternity. But what does that mean? To turn this conversation into a political science analogy—food is a social contract. Every bite we eat; we sign ourselves over to the group cultivating it, the group manufacturing it, and the group selling it. Eleven out of the 12 months of the Muslim calendar—this social contract can be pushed to the garbage disposal. What would it matter anyways? As long as you don’t eat pork or gelatin, you’re good! Being a busy modern individual, you’re lucky if you get time to eat, let alone sit down and contemplate the ethical and moral complexities of what you’re eating anyway. The people who do that are virally annoying, to begin with! That one vegan dude you work with—the one who alway judges you for your “oppressive” Jamba-juice smoothie. That’s the dude you don’t want to be. It’s just food, no need for complications.
Well, if Ramadan is the time for cranking your ethical behavior to 350 degrees or above, food may be the best place to look for devotional fervor. As I am my father’s daughter, I do firmly believe God resides in everything. Even in the food, I’m digesting.
There have been Ramadans in the past that I have rejoiced in eating out every Iftar. Going out for burgers, fried chicken, milkshakes and french fries- the stuff that makes oppressive capitalism. Now, I’m not trying to be the annoying vegan guy at work. What I simply am is a Sufi who has come to a realization that this is a heightened time of prayer i.e. a heightened time for eating. I haven’t eaten out once this Ramadan. I make my suhoors and my iftars myself. I have switched to almond milk, coconut milk yogurt, strictly egg whites, and no processed meat. I make sure to eat at least two whole fruits every suhoor and drink at least 30 ounces of water every iftar. Absolutely no soda or chocolate has been consumed.
[Read Related: Iftaar Chronicles: Love in the Food Line]
We pray with every bite we eat. Food is one of the most sanctified extensions of God’s showcase of glory and one of His most incredible extension of His mercy towards us. When we pray, we are given an energy—the same goes for when we eat. Food can be a fraternity with the exoteric world—with all those crummy social justice words like “capitalism” and “oppressive systems.” But it can also, and should also, be a fraternity with the esoteric world—with the most mystical concept of divinity.
To be completely honest, I don’t pray as much as sunna has prescribed. But I do eat as much as nutritionists have prescribed. So instead of signing your contract with groups that disparage third world countries, drain your wallet, and make you bloated; how about we actively consider food as prayer, its ingestion as penance, and its enjoyment as devotion, and make this Ramadan one where we actively consider what goes in our bodies, turning all those Taste Made’s videos you watch from fast-breaking opportunities into a more palatable form of divine inspiration.
Suraiya Ali is a student currently living in Dallas, Texas. Her interests include feminist theology, mystic poetry, and the pursuit of the perfect matte lipstick. She wants to eventually couple a business degree with one in linguistics and theology.