Personal Life – Fast, Pray, Love
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Going foodless in Ramzan.
[Text by Sadia Dehlvi; pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
During Ramzan, the month when Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad, we Muslims are required to keep a fast. That is, we have to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk.
As a child, in my old house in Sardar Patel Marg, I was not expected to fast and there was no bar on feasting. The kitchen was stocked with pheniyan, khajla, khajoor and other Ramzan specific delicacies for sehri, the pre-dawn meal, and for iftaar, the evening meal after breaking the fast. But as I grew older, the thought of fasting for a whole month brought a kind of dread to the heart. After I moved to my apartment in Nizamuddin East, my feelings changed. I became a disciple on the Sufi path.
Now I find happiness in fasting even though I recently had a root canal treatment. My only meal during the day is at 4am – the Earl Grey chai, two boiled eggs and a buttered-toast. In a few minutes, the siren from the mosque starts blowing and the fasting starts. Then you could not swallow even a drop of water.
Mystics in various religions have believed fasting to be an effective way of controlling the lower instincts. Sufi Masters stress that hunger brings about illumination of the soul. Rumi wrote, “Hunger is God’s food for which he quickens the bodies of the upright.” Sahl Tustari said, “Hunger is God’s secret on the earth.”
In this month I hardly leave the house except when I have to see my mother in Nizamuddin West, or when I have to go to the Nizamuddin dargah. The rest of the day I stay at home – reading, sleeping or listening to Quranic verses that I have downloaded on my Mac.
After a few days of fasting, the physical system slows down and the ‘I’ separates from the body. Hunger is felt not as ‘ I am hungry’ but as ‘My body is hungry’. This helps me recognise that the intellect, body and heart are different components, readying me for a spiritual journey. I also feel the pain of those who go without food and learn to appreciate whatever is on my plate.
Once the evening siren goes off, signaling the fast’s end, I help myself with apple slices and that much needed cup of Earl Grey. Later, my son Arman leads me in performing the namaaz in our living room where we are also joined by our cook and driver.
[The author has written the book Sufism: The Heart of Islam]
Ms Dehlvi with mother, son, and a friend
Ms Dehlvi at Nizamuddin dargah
Evening prayers at Ms Delvi’s living room