Over one billion people worldwide live on $1 a day. And that includes everything not just food.
To put it in practical Ramadan terms, there are Muslims around the world who survive on an Iftar and Suhoor meals that are simple, inexpensive, and limited.
Those of us blessed to enjoy a table full of a variety of foods when we break our fasts perhaps don’t consider this. Maybe we feel entitled to eat our fill. But for many, this is clearly not an option.
A good number of them are probably Muslim Americans. I heard Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo's Chief Scientific Officer, say that while there is so much hunger in the world, 20 percent of the world population is obese. In the United States, the statistics say that we have 40,000,000 obese people. (I intentionally spelled out the 40 million so it does look as big as it is.)
This Ramadan I invite you to take the dollar a day Ramadan challenge. I have done it for the last couple of years and count it as a true blessing of Ramadan. The idea is simple. You reduce the food and drink consumption at Suhoor and Iftar times to one dollar.
Trust me, it’s not a big deal. If you can do it as a family whatever you can save can go to fight hunger in your neighborhood and across the world.
If you cannot commit to a month try it for a week or at least a weekend during this blessed month. Remember that this is a time in which we are expected to experience hunger, give charity so that we are grateful to God, and have better character, key goals of Ramadan.
I found it was not hard at all. It is not a starvation diet. There is a plenty you can eat within a dollar a day fast. I did not lose more than ten pounds during the month.
Ramadan, in which we are supposed to experience hunger to achieve a better connection with God’s Creation and with the Creator Himself, somehow has become a marathon feast. It is self-defeating. Those who cook are overburdened and do not have enough energy left for extra worship recommended for Ramadan. There is no Hadith about feasting at Iftar. There is no Sunnah of food celebrations and special cooking at Iftar throughout the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his Companions. May Allah be pleased with all of them. The feast actually is supposed to be Eid at the end of Ramadan not at the end of each day of fasting.
The Prophet, who encouraged us to fill only one-third of our stomachs even on normal days, ate far less in Ramadan.
Do a family Shura (consultation) before Ramadan and develop a menu of simplicity. Reduce the burden of cooking and divide it up across all family members.
- I have eaten quarter to half a flat bread…
- with a couple of dates and water and felt it was good enough
- or dipped the bread in leftover curry from the night before
- once in a while I have take half a bread with a fried egg
- I have eaten half a cup of oatmeal…
- prepared with a little milk
- or prepared it with water on which I poured some left over curry
- or some fruit like an orange or an apple
- I have eaten a small portion of anything left over from the previous night
- At times I have just taken one banana just taken one banana
All of the above, if done at home, is around half a dollar. If I was invited to an Iftar party, I would reduce my Suhoor to just one date and water so my Iftar could be little more.
Please don’t skip Suhoor. The Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, asked us not to skip it. Eat just a little as he did and as simply as he did. Allahumma Salle Ala Muhammad.
Iftar is not supposed to be a feast. Don’t divide up Iftar into snack followed by an evening meal. Just stick to one eating session. If you prefer to pray as soon as the time comes, break your fast with one date or water only, and after prayer sit down for the rest.
It is important to achieve a variety while maintaining simplicity at the Iftar table. Try to limit it to just one main dish per evening. Or maybe just have a various snacks instead of a main dish once a week.
I have done the following for Iftar
- Just taking a tablespoon or two of whatever is being served
- The more variety the less portion you take
- If I have not taken a date in the morning, I will take one in the evening
- I will take half to one piece of whole wheat flat bread or a couple of scoops of rice
- with two tablespoons of any vegetable or curry on the table.
- if there are more than two types of dishes on the table, I would just take one spoon each
- For drinks, avoid those bottles. They break your dollar a day budget just by themselves. Maybe a small glass of milk, homemade lemonade or for Pakistanis who want to ardently maintain their Ramadan tradition, Rooh Afza
Iftar party eating
Iftar parties have become an important part of Muslim culture, which unfortunately encourages the following
- Too much food
- Too much preparation time
- Insisting that guests eat more by almost harassing them
- Wastage of food since no food rescue programs are organized
The Prophet encouraged us to invite each other for Iftar and he was a generous man. He was not always poor. Initially he was married to the richest lady of Makkah and in the later part of his life, he had enough wealth to sacrifice as much as 70-plus camels during his last Hajj. But he chose to live simply and eat less.
An Iftar party must not defy the Prophet and the spirit of Ramadan.
Here is what I have done in Iftar parties to stick to my dollar a day diet:
- Be the last in the line to take food. It will allow more time to socialize without food. It would bring time for Isha closer so there will be no time left for the host to insist on seconds.
- Take half of what you plan to eat. So when hosts insist on you taking more, you have room left for it.
- Make Ramadan and fasting a topic of the table instead of the usual useless discussions. There is nothing wrong in discussing the Prophet’s lifestyle and simple eating habits. There is nothing wrong with talking about hunger and how 15 million Muslim refugees live.
Eating less while traveling
Initially I found I had most difficulty eating under a dollar while traveling. You cannot demand at the Secretary of State’s Iftar dinner or some other important official evening to be served such a small amount of food. Nor can you easily find very low cost restaurants. So initially, I accepted eating as little as possible in these types of situations which resulted in me probably violating my dollar a day meal plans for about seven eight times a Ramadan.
However, I eventually found a very delicious solution. I started visiting local grocery stores while traveling to a city and buying a few items:
- Some bread
- A small amount of grapes
- or 50 cents worth of peanuts
- or other fresh produce which would last me for a couple of days during the trip
I was surprised to see how much variety I was able to find to stick to my dollar a day Ramadan. Now when it is not Ramadan, I enjoy doing this. On a recent trip to Switzerland, that is all I did for three days and enjoyed every bit of it, or shall I say every bite of it.
Some More Tips
1. Skip the meat
Meat, in most cases, is more expensive than other foods. Cutting it out of a meal is a surefire way of cutting costs. Limiting meat consumption is also considered healthier. If you cannot completely eliminate it due to what is available on the dining table, just take a small piece or limit yourself to the gravy around the meat.
2. Skip eating out or ready to eat meals
Hardly anything comes cheap in this category. So avoid it completely. It is not very healthy anyway.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables
These are not only necessary to maintain optimum health, they are also less expensive than meat and other processed or packaged foods. Although I rarely eat canned food, don’t shun frozen fruits and vegetables. These are often cheaper while retaining health and flavor. Look up this dollar a day healthy food guide by WebMD.
4. Eat beans and lentils
And here, you’ve got a great amount of variety. From the garbanzos familiar to lovers of Hummus to black eyed beans, you can experiment and find your favorite for a tasty, protein-rich, low-cost meal.
5. Yummy yogurt
Yogurt is inexpensive but offers you great taste and calcium either by itself, as a spread or added to some fruit to make a smoothie. But buying ready-made yogurt could be costly. Try making your own.
6. Water, water, water
The Prophet’s drink of choice when breaking his fast was water. Not even milk, which he loved. This is not only free, but it’s an alternative that replenishes what your body needs most to survive after a long day of fasting.
7. Skip the Shawarma
…and opt for nuts of all kinds for your protein intake, as well as eggs every other Iftar.
8. Add inexpensive pasta, rice, and/or noodles
This helps round out a meal and gives you some carbohydrates.
9. Make food from scratch
Processed foods, frozen dinners, and other convenience foods are costly and very often not healthy. Cooking from scratch does not have to be difficult or intimidating. It’s one of the best ways to save money and maintain your health.
Do it for the right reason
I was fasting with a dollar a day food very silently. But those close to me who knew about it encouraged me to share this with others.
Our intentions should be two-fold with the dollar a day Ramadan:
- Pleasing our Lord by following His Prophet’s path of sharing more and consuming less through simple living
- Developing a higher level of connectedness with those more than a billion human beings who go to sleep hungry most nights.
A conservative South Asian scholar, Ashraf Ali Thanvi, once said you must become a good human being before you can ever become a good Muslim.
Ramadan can help us become better Muslims to fulfill the twin tests of faith given by God in the Quran. These require a better connection to service to God’s Creation and a better connection with the Creator through worship:
Have you ever seen a human being who contradicts the essence of faith? That is the person who pushes the orphan aside and does not promote feeding the needy.
Woe, then, unto those who pray, but their hearts and minds are remote from the essence of their prayers, those who want but to be seen and praised, whereas they refuse to help others who need help. (Meaning of the Quran 107:1-7)
May Allah give us life to see Ramadan and use it as a month-long exercise in simple living, consuming less and sharing more as the Prophet did. Ameen.
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