Revving rice

Life Desk :

Veganism and Ramadan

Life Desk :
I “discovered” fasting at the age of 40. The number 40 has great significance throughout all the holy books. It represents transition or change; the concept of renewal; a new beginning and apparently has the power to lift a spiritual state. I felt rather special and “chosen” by this sudden change and decided to embrace the new me. The old me, who grew up in a very religious home, would be dragged out of bed to eat sehri at 3 am, go out during the day with friends to a pizza palace (that’s all we had back then) to have lunch, and then come home on time for iftar and act famished. I don’t have any memory of my younger self holding a fast properly, except one year, when my mother declared a monetary reward for completing all 30 fasts. Cheating to win an award was too low, even for me, so I completed the fasts with my eye on the prize. The experience left no mark in me. I left home at the age of 19 and moved to the states. Ramadan would disappear from my life for the next 20 years.

My father was a deeply religious man. I was very fond of him. My parents always encouraged us to fast, but I would make up excuses – “I get headaches when I am hungry” or “I can’t study when I fast (as if).” To each argument, their response was – God will make it easy for you. My mother would say, “When you fast, you get more energy to do things. This is how Allah’s Rahmat works.” I would roll my eyes and think that it was just her ploy to get me to fast. After all, everyone knew that food gave us energy and hunger made us weak.

When my father passed away in 2015, I decided to observe the next Ramadan to honor his memories. I held all 30 fasts effortlessly and realised that my mother was right all along. I felt revived and rejuvenated! By now, I had developed the understanding that the benefits of such rituals across the belief systems had scientific explanations. I dug deep into the topic of fasting.

Fasting is actually extremely beneficial for the body and mind. If you fast on a healthy diet, then you will feel a boost of energy during the day. This is because, when we fast, our body goes through two processes – it stimulates autophagy (the normal physiological process in the body that destructs old cells) and secretion of human growth hormone. By stimulating autophagy, we are clearing out all our old, junky proteins and cellular parts. At the same time, the growth hormones tell our body to start producing some new snazzy parts. We are really giving our bodies the complete renovation. I got a jaw dropping, first-hand evidence of this “renovation”, when I first completed a 3 day water fast (that’s right, you don’t eat or drink anything but water for three days!) and the unsightly mole that I have had under my right eye for the longest time, disappeared on its own! My body was consuming itself to sustain and decided to “eat” my mole at one of her meals! It was no surprise that fasting was being used in many places to prevent and even reverse many types of diseases including type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and even many forms of cancer.

Whether you fast for health or for religion, your mind and body will yield the same benefits. But since the majority of us associate fasting with an Islamic ritual, I cannot but talk a little bit about the food choices we make during this holy month. Although the traditional iftar menu is mostly vegetarian, we compensate for that “sacrifice” by loading up on twice as much kabab, biriyani, and rolls at dinner time. It is somewhat presumed that the meat that is sold in the markets in a Muslim majority country would all be halal – derived from animals and/or poultry that have been prepared according to Islamic law. But do we even know what the Islamic law is? According to Islam, if the life of an animal must end for human survival, then its life should only be taken in the name of God. The operative words here are ‘must’ and ‘survival’. Not desire, appetite, craving, or ritual, but survival. If you have been stuck in a jungle for days and weeks, and all you have are poison berries on the trees and wild deers grazing the land, then yes, you are indeed allowed to kill the deers for your *survival*. But there is more. For that meat to be *halal*, the animals must be well treated before being killed; they must not see other animals being killed in front of them; the knife must not be sharpened in the animal’s presence; the animal must not be in an uncomfortable position and several other rules which one must follow when processing meat. Can you think of any factory or meat market in Bangladesh that can adhere to these rules?I didn’t think so.

Human body in its natural and healthy state will never crave food that it’s not meant to consume. Cravings for sugar, meat, cheese, fried food, processed food, are indicative of parasites, deficiencies, and other imbalances in the body. Fasting, if done one a vegan diet, fixes these imbalances and teaches our body to desire (not crave) the healthy foods. Sustain that for a while and you will become the master of your own stomach. And that my friend is truly Allah’s Rahmat!

Bringing Out the Eid Spirit

Life Desk :

Amidst all the divine chaos surrounding Eid preparations, the last one to get our attention is our home. Have you thought about what look you are going to give it? What ambiance will greet your guests? Or what interior will welcome you back from delicious food infused Eid get togethers? If not, it is still not too late to give it a thought. We got your back!

Before setting up your home space for Eid, it is important to keep in mind a few things that you need to do outright:

Tidying the space by putting away things out of sight

Dusting the room, furniture and the ceiling

Cleaning the soot off your lights

Henna-ed Happiness

Henna has come to symbolise celebration, especially in the Eid culture. Intricate patterns of burnished amber and chocolate browns decorating the hands of a bride or of scores of women and girls on Eid bear testament to the fact, and add to the festive ambience. Henna has been around for centuries, but its origin is difficult to trace. Cultural interaction caused by centuries of migration makes it almost impossible to ascertain where the tradition of applying henna began.

The Egyptian Pharaohs were known to have used it. Cleopatra, the last reigning queen of the ancient Egyptian civilization, used henna to adorn her body. Evidence of the use of henna on the hair and nails of Egyptian mummies is apparent by the reddish brown tint found on them. The belief that the naturally derived red substances of henna had the potential to increase one’s awareness of the earth’s energies lead Egyptian commoners to apply it as well, hoping to help them keep in touch with their spiritual side.

The cultures of the Indian subcontinent and that of many other African countries and the Middle East deeply establish the use of henna. The people of desert countries used henna as a coolant during hot summers. They would slather henna paste on their palms and on to the soles of their feet to cool off, creating an almost air-conditioned effect for the body.

Henna has been apart of African traditions for thousands of years now, and it is likely that henna had been growing in North Africa since the Roman period. An integral part of Nigerian weddings, henna is also called Lalle in the Hausa language of Nigeria, is applied on the brides’ hands and is considered a ‘barakah’ or blessing.

In the Indian subcontinent, the use of henna is clearly depicted in the wall cave murals of Ajanta, and also in similar cave paintings in Sri Lanka, proving the usage of henna in this part of the world for centuries before Mughal takeover. The murals depict the use of henna on the kings, queens, deities and common folk alike, disassociating it from only ceremonious use in early India.

Today, henna art has become a valued aspect of auspicious ceremonies. Generally applied to celebrate weddings, pregnancy, birth of a baby, naming ceremonies etc, Eid along with many other religious occasions are favoured times for henna application. Apart from decorative purposes, henna also has medicinal uses as an herb. It has skin healing properties and can be used as a cleanser. Henna oil is known to have multiple benefits like curing rheumatic pain. Its properties as a dye to help cover greying hair and stain finger nails, acting as a natural nail polish.

Patterned henna application has primarily three broad style categories, namely Indian, Arabian and African. Where Arabian designs are less dense yet large floral and vine patterns, Indian designs involve dense fine lines of lacy, floral, paisley patterns. African designs, however, are starkly different from the former two styles. They are usually simple, yet bold geometric shapes and abstract designs. When it comes to henna art, the sky is the limit. A henna artist is free to etch out any design as the stains are temporary and will fade away in a matter of days.

Henna has virtually become a style statement in the western world. Worn as a temporary tattoo, henna application is a fast growing fashion fad with henna art studios popping up all across the globe. The ‘east meets west’ culture has ensured an increase in its global popularity.

Interestingly, there are quite a few myths and superstitions connected to henna when applied on a bride’s hands. It is believed that the deeper the colour of henna on her hands, the more love she will receive from her husband and mother-in-law. A bride’s hand bare of henna are considered inauspicious, robbing the couple of blessings from the heavens. Alternatively, brides in the Middle East adorn themselves with henna to protect themselves from the ‘evil eye’ that could render a woman barren.

Over centuries, across continents and cultures, henna has stood the test of time, and remains sought after for more reasons than one, even today. Where the use of henna is concerned, change is not the only constant.