Ramadan 2013 has left many people around the world with one thing on their mind: food.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims around the world observe a period of fasting. The annual Ramadan observance is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, or one of the five, obligatory and basic acts that comprise the foundation of Muslim life.
Muslims believe that fasting can redirect the heart away from worldly activities and can thus cleanse the soul. Many Muslims with medical conditions are exempt from fasting, but insist on doing so anyway in order to satisfy their spiritual needs.
The Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, so the exact dates of Ramadan shift slightly each year. This year, Ramadan is particularly early, lasting from Monday, July 8 until Wednesday, August 7. This year’s particularly hot summer weather and later sunset times have made fasting more difficult for practicing Muslims.
Ramadan is easier when the month falls in the winter, a time when the span from dawn until sunset can be as short as eight hours. This year, Muslims around the world may be fasting for up to 18 hours in regions of the world where the sun rises at 3:20 a.m. and sets at 9:02 p.m.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, consuming food only before sunrise and after sunset. This period of fasting is accompanied by an increase in prayer offerings and more frequent recitations of the Qur’an. Two main meals are served: the suhoor is a hearty, heavy meal served when the sun rises while the iftar meal is served after sunset after the Muslims break their fast by eating dates.
The traditional dishes served as Ramadan meals vary by country, ranging from Middle Eastern tabbouleh salads and North African fava bean spreads, to Indian paneer cheese. Eating dates is the only common religious tradition, stemming from the Prophet Muhammed’s historical practice of eating dates to break his fast.
The date tradition may have a powerful health claim along with a religious one. Nutritionists advise that fasting Muslims can avoid the headaches, low blood sugar, and lethargy associated with fasting in the summer heat by eating foods like dates in after the fasting period has ended for the day. Dates have a high content of fiber, magnesium, potassium, and slow-digesting carbohydrates to keep energy levels up and low nutrient levels at bay.
Physicians like Dr. Michael Finklestein of Toronto Public Health also warn practicing Muslims to be wary of keeping up their water intake, as dehydration is very common during Ramadan around the world. In addition to drinking water, physicians warn against consuming overly salty foods during the iftar and sohoor meals that can increase thirst. Finklestein warns those observing Ramadan to look out for dizziness, lightheadedness, intense lethargy, and dry mouths as typical warning signs of dehydration.
Whether you’re looking for new dishes with which to break your Ramadan fast or are looking for new additions to your cooking repertoire, we have a list of recipes for you. Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Dates, and Kumquats Recipe offers a twist on the Ramadan date tradition while Um Ali, a popular Egyptian bread pudding recipe can make a sweet finish to your meal.