A few years ago, sitting at the iftar table at an uncle’s place, I found the lady of the house toiling away in the kitchen, around Maghrib time, to put together an intricate meal for breaking fast. We devoured the meticulously prepared delicacies as the aunt stayed back in the kitchen to serve some more smoking hot fritters. ‘Won’t aunt join us?’ I enquired. ‘She does not fast,’ the uncle said. ‘Besides, she earns her reward through serving us, people who are fasting. She doesn’t need to fast.’
Ramadan is the month of fasting. Paradoxically, it has become the month of food. Lots and lots of it. It is when consumption of food goes up and you find yourself thinking more about what you will feast on at iftar and suhoor. It is that time of the year when our mothers and wives take their roles as ‘kitchen queens’ too seriously and the above scenario — of the mother/wife slaving away in the kitchen up until the Maghrib azan becomes a common one.
The truth is women also have the same spiritual needs as that of men. They are as much obligated to fast, pray, read the Holy Qur’an, and perform all other acts of worship as men are. Why then should they be burdened solely with increased cooking, which results in them missing out on the bounties of the blessed month?
Moreover, eating like there is no tomorrow at iftar is not from the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to prefer breaking the fast with simple foods such as dates, and water. He is reported to occasionally enjoy dishes such as Sawiq (a coarse mixture of ground wheat and barley), Tharid (meat mixed with bread), Talbinah (a sweet), soups, vegetables, roasted meat and dishes prepared with cheese and refined butter, but he never demanded for special dishes to be made.
Sadly, today the time, energy, effort and money that women should spend in worshipping Allah SWT is instead spent in preparing, consuming and clearing up multi-course meals, all in the name of keeping up Ramadan ‘traditions’. Not many seem to remember that charity, fasting and prayer are the actual prophetic traditions of Ramadan.
While mostly women are expected to rustle up elaborate meals, sometimes, they themselves are to blame for their state. Exerting oneself to cook elaborate meals, a favorite dish for every member of the family, and setting up tastefully done iftar party tables with at least two more dishes than the neighbor’s iftar party table, are not unheard of.
While it is rewarding for women to cook for their families, women who spend every day of their lives preoccupied with housework and/or child care will tell you that it is endlessly tiring and even dispiriting. Even an hour’s break a day to immerse oneself in spiritual acts can be a luxury.
What should you do in Ramadan?
From the lives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Sahabah, we understand the concept of Ramadan to be:
— A month of obedience, righteousness and learning
— Days of activity, production and good deeds
— Nights of prayer, supplication and more good deeds
— Recitation and study of the Qur’an
— Avoiding sin and seeking forgiveness from Allah
— Simple meals
— Visits to relatives, the ill, the distressed, etc., that are pleasing to Allah SWT
— Efforts to help the needy and the poor
— Patience and caution in speech, with tongues fasting from gossip and dispute, thanking and praising Allah, advising and comforting others
— Additional acts of worship, such as attendance of Taraweeh prayers, especially during the last ten nights.
How can you do it?
— Men, help your mothers and wives in the kitchen. And maintain that practice for the rest of the year. There too is a reward.
— Plenty of food stalls and restaurants across the city sell tasty ‘Ramadan special’ treats in reasonable rates. It’s a good idea to get a few food items from outside to take some load off home cooking.
— Think about the less fortunate ones to arouse compassion in the hearts. It will help you avoid gluttony.
— Focus on the spiritual aspect of Ramadan and busy yourselves with acts of worship, allotting minimum time and thought for eating. Be thankful that Allah SWT has blessed you with another Ramadan, another opportunity to seek His forgiveness.
— Ponder over this Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “The offspring of Adam fills no vessel worse than his stomach. Sufficient for the child of Adam are a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink, and a third left for air?” (Musnad Ahmad)
— One good deed that women ignore is the Taraweeh prayers. Many mosques, especially the bigger ones, across the Kingdom allocate specific areas for mothers and children. Even if your toddler makes it impossible for you to pray, you can still enjoy the cool, spiritual ambiance of the mosque while reading the Holy Qur’an, a blessing that many women who are unable to go to mosques in certain parts of the world are deprived of.
One needs to look beyond women’s role as cooks and caretakers in Ramadan so as to enable them to entirely benefit from this blessed month. Men and other family members should introspect if their culinary expectations are depriving the women of doing more important good deeds and seeking rewards. Women’s spiritual needs and their obligations are not second to those of men. It’s high time we realize and let not this Ramadan be wasted away.
-Written by my friend Afifa Jabeen Quraishi
Originally published in Arab News