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Food for the soul: A Ramadan reflection

By Nada Alwarid, Issaquah Highlands Resident

The first thing I look forward to every morning is my caffeine fix. However, I will part with my morning habit on June 6th, 2016 (which coincides with Ramadan 1st, 1437 in the Hijri lunar calendar), as I join the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world in observing the annual month-long fast.

“Oh you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you, as it has been prescribed upon those who came before you, so that you might attain piety/ God consciousness.”
– Qur’an [2:183]

Ramadan’s significance. Muslims believe that during this holy month, the final testament -the Qur’an- was sent from God to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) through the Archangel Gabriel (PBUH), reaffirming and building on tenets of preceding sacred scriptures, including the Bible and the Torah.
Who cannot fast? Children, pregnant, nursing, or menstruating women, the elderly, travelers, or anyone with a chronic health condition for whom fasting would be harmful.

Last year Blakely Hall was full of families gathered to celebrate Iftar.

Last year Blakely Hall was full of families gathered to celebrate Iftar.

How and when? Daily: abstain from food and drink, from sunrise to sunset (physical). Prohibit the self, mind, and tongue. Do, think, and say in the most excellent manner you can, exercising increased patience (metaphysical). The fast enables greater focus on spiritual nourishment, thus climbing a ladder of personal excellence. Whereas physical mechanics enable ritual practices, the metaphysical realm enriches them with meaning and purpose. This is at the core of the Islamic tradition.

Spiritual nourishment comes in different forms: Reading scriptures, reflecting, praying, feeding and helping the needy, engaging in various community or humanitarian projects, participating in interfaith events, hosting communal iftars (breaking fast), and/or partaking in communal nightly prayers, among other acts of worship.

Ramadan is a month of blessings, mercy, forgiveness, and community. It is a month of increased closeness to the divine, introspection, and soul searching. Observers take this opportunity to atone and start anew, exiting Ramadan feeling spiritually cleansed. Though if they were able to speak, our digestive systems would surely thank us for the break, as well.

The rice dish author Nada had made for last year’s Iftar event at Blakely Hall.

The rice dish author Nada had made for last year’s Iftar event at Blakely Hall.

Food is still important to us mortal beings. So it is also a time for great dishes, desserts, and communal parties. At iftar time, people say a silent prayer, sip some water, and eat some dates. It is a profound moment – of true appreciation for the provision of sustenance by the Divine.

Muslims are from all colors of the rainbow when it comes to ethnicity, so all cuisines are represented. Typically, people start with soup before the heavier meats, carbs, salads etc. One of my personal favorites is lentil soup. Here is how I make it.

Lentil Soup
– 2 cups red lentils (washed)
– 1 medium onion (chopped)
– 3 garlic cloves (minced)
– 1 medium potato (small cubed) (optional)
– 2 chicken stalk cubes (reduce if adding salted broth)
– 1 Tbsp tomato paste
– 1½ Tbsp cumin powder
– ¾ tsp curry powder
– ¼ tsp turmeric powder
– 1 Tbsp milk or cream (optional)
– 2 Tbsp oil
– Water or broth (~ 4 cups to start)
Heat oil in pot, then add onions. Sauté till they start to change color, add potatoes, then garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add rinsed lentils and sauté together for ~1 min. Add water (or broth) till lentils are fully submerged. Bring mix a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook lentils fully (~10 min). Liquid will be absorbed by lentils, so you will need to add more. Add spices, tomato paste, and cubes (adjust number per taste or salted broth added). Let simmer till spices are fully cooked (~2 min). Add cream (optional). Blend for smooth consistency using hand blender. If soup is too thick, add more liquid and simmer for a few more minutes. Adjust spices/ salt per taste.