Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hunger: Best seasoning. Rust remover.

In an attempt to bring more religion into my life, I’ve decided to try a diet that sort of follows the Sunnah. It’s the 5:2 or Fasting Diet, where you fast two non-consecutive days a week and only have 500 calories on those days. The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) typically fasted two days a week – Mondays and Thursdays – and as a practice, only ate to fill one third of his stomach with food.

So when I read about the 5:2 diet having actual proven health benefits and results, firstly I thought, OF COURSE IT WOULD! ISLAM IS FULL OF SCIENTIFICALLY-BACKED CONCEPTS! (We supposedly backwards and barbaric Muslims are always happy for a bit of empirical validation of our beliefs). And then I figured, I should try a version where I follow the Sunnah as much as I can. So for me that means I am doing a proper Islamic fast on Mondays and have no more than 500 calories when I break my fast in the evening. And as we host a family dinner on Thursdays, which would be hard to do when fasting and less fun limited to 500 calories, I do the normal 500 calorie diet on Wednesdays instead.

It’s been about 4 weeks, and Alhamdulillah, so far so good. I’ve lost a bit of weight and I am not as constantly hungry for carbs as I usually am. But what I like most about it is how every Monday, it’s like the first iftar of Ramadan. Because I only do one proper Islamic fast a week, my body can’t get accustomed to fasting as it does in Ramadan, where it becomes easier as the days pass. That means every Monday is a struggle – I am hungry, headachy, emotionally ragged and exhausted – and every Monday night, is a revelation. 

As I finally get to eat my long-awaited 500 calorie meal, suddenly I remember how amazing the blessing of food is. Fasting shows you the taken-for-granted access and reliance on food and drink you have – throbbing as you are through the day for the want of caffeine, water, sugars, salts and satiation.  We don’t have to go to Mongolia for that Mongolian beef –  we can order cuisines of every kind to be delivered right to us at little cost. And there are numerous cafes with caffeine on offer in every make you can imagine. There are hardly any foods you can’t get with a bit of trying and nothing is rationed.

Which is not the case for many many people in the world. While we get to put our ‘suffering’ to end when the sun sets, for about 842 million people in the world, their starvation isn’t voluntary and doesn’t have a pause button. In the developing world, nearly 15 percent of people live with chronic hunger. Globally one in four children has stunted growth due to insufficient access to food and poor nutrition is the cause of half of deaths among children under five. 

These are numbers we hear all the time without much reaction, but when your memory of how awful it feels to be hungry all day is so fresh – refreshed every week in fact – it becomes harder to turn a blind eye. When you fast, you not only rediscover how amazing food can taste (“Hunger is the best seasoning”) and appreciate your access to it, but more importantly, you get a glimpse into the horror of unassuageable hunger and starvation. That is one of the best things about Islam’s tradition of fasting – it not only can lighten your body, but it can also clean off the rust on your heart. And that’s some weight we can all afford to lose. No wonder why our Prophet lived like this. :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On the theory of loss and hope

Do you ever just sit back and marvel at all the things in your life that got you where you are today? The lucky breaks. The miserable mistakes. The pleasant accidents. The uncountable little blessings and trials that paved your way and made you who you are? The mind boggles.

When I was in my early 20s, I thought I had an idea of my story. Who I was. Where I came from. And where I was headed. As if I had read my stars and could plot my course. I was such an idiot. A few years later, life would get so utterly and jarringly turned upside down that I no longer had any idea what it was all about. The only thing I had left was hope, as terribly cliched as that sounds. Hope that, though I apparently had gotten much of my life wrong, that it wasn't all for nothing and it'd come round.

And you know, it did. In ways I could never have guessed at. I'd grown up believing that God takes things away sometimes to give you something better in its place. You know, like, I didn't get into the fancy school but I did develop a lot of street smarts in the one I went to instead. Or, like when I'm trying reconcile my shallow wants, God didn't give me great beauty because He knew it would put too many temptations in front of me. But it was nearly always theoretical. I never had anything bloodily wrenched from me, and out of me. I never had to experience the death of a loved one, or the loss of my savings, or the apostasy of a family member. For all my life's roughness, it was without tragedy.

But then it happened, and I lost something so massive it took with it my sense of worth, my strength, my compass, my confidence and my entire narrative of who I was, and left only that hope that it would make sense one day. And I lived on that hope for a while as I slowly sifted through the wreckage and put myself back together from the few sound pieces of me left.

And today I can say with as much certainty as someone who's self-inflicted scars are still pink, I think I know why it happened. It was one of the many pieces of pavement on my path. A path that just a few years later lea me to where I am today, with a life so much better than the one I'd lost years before.

Subhanallah. I can't thank God enough.