Monday, August 08, 2011

Eat your meal before the fast


A simple sahur meal of cereal, dates and water. Picture by Jehan Mohd.

Non-Muslims often bombard me with this question: how can you eat so early in the morning? They are referring to sahur, the pre-dawn meal practising Muslims take before the fast during Ramadan. 

That is an easy one. Actually, I have no problem consuming food at that time. The tough part is getting up at 5am or earlier for the sahur meal. That's why in previous years I have always eaten this meal at around 1am and turn in half an hour later. 


I have changed the routine this year and sahur is now at 5am. I struggled on the first day; getting up at 6am is bad enough. It takes a lot of willpower and discipline to drag myself out of bed at 5am, head straight to the kitchen and fix the very early breakfast.


But as Zafar Nomani aptly puts it: "To follow the spirit of Ramadan and other fasting traditions, discipline, control and behavioural change are critical." The reason for making the switch is simple: I wanted to see if I could do it. So far, so good.


Some of my Muslim friends, who skip sahur altogether, say they can't eat a thing at that time of day. For that reason they prefer to eat after midnight and then go to bed an hour or so later. Even though my stomach welcomes food during the hours before dawn, I have to be selective about the type of meal I prepare; rich, fried and spicy stuff is out. It has to be light and warm.  

A plate of rice with some protein and vegetables doesn't work for me. I feel sluggish and heavy afterwards. Sandwiches (tuna or egg) are fine but this year, I thought I should stick to warm oatmeal with raisins and a banana, my Monday-Friday breakfast fare on non-fasting days.


According to Ramadan Health Guide, "a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours" is the best option. "It is particularly important to include slowly-digesting foods" in the pre-dawn meal. I am on the right track then. Since dehydration is a common complaint it is necessary to "adequately rehydrate before a fast". I have to make a conscious effort to drink enough water during the non-fasting hours.


That sahur is vital during Ramadan is noted by Muslim religious reachers and nutritionists. Indeed, it is sunnah (the Prophetic traditions) and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reportedly favoured a light sahur. Experience tells me that a fast with sahur allows me to function well during the hours before iftar, which is the meal that breaks the day's fast.

I will feel drowsy in the afternoon but will perk up after a 5 to 10 minute walk away from my desk (if I am at the office). The air conditioning in the office makes me shiver a little but I try to forget about it. Other colleagues (who are fasting) wrap themselves up in colourful pashminas to keep warm.


The times when I missed sahur proved to be difficult. I felt weak and irritable. I recall the advice of a religious teacher: "Try not to miss sahur. Drink at least a glass of water, if you can't bear the thought of food at that hour."

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