While food sharing in Ramadaan has many benefits, SALEEMAH JAFFER writes that the most important benefit is that it is an opportunity for closeness to Allah subhana wa ta’ala.
GROWING up in Cape Town, Ramadaan was filled with excitement as plates were hurriedly exchanged as the Maghrib adhaan approached. Over the past few years, this tradition continues in certain community pockets, and is a cherished adornment to the Cape Town Ramadaan experience.
Food plays an integral role in Muslim history in South Africa, as well as in present-day practices. It can be used as a tool of reconciliation, and an opportunity to make amends. The gesture of offering something sweet, to add sensory pleasure to an apology is a common practice observed locally.
Food can also be a token of bereavement – it is comforting from both a sensory and physical perspective. In many cases the intention is two-fold: to provide nourishment at a time when the bereaved may be feeling fragile or weak, and to assist them, as they might not be mentally, emotionally, or physically capable of preparing meals during that time of difficulty.
Food is a basic human need for survival but also adds much joy and comfort, fulfilling our needs of belonging, security and satisfaction. Sharing a basic human need with another person is an opportunity. Sitting together and eating the same shared food becomes a platform for dialogue, with the foundation being our commonality as human beings.
Many local festivities involve preparing traditional foods on special occasions and sharing this with loved ones. During the month of Ramadaan, special foods are prepared and shared with family, friends, neighbours and those in need. This sharing tradition is based on Prophetic narrations, which guide us to actions pleasing to Allah ta’ala.
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, ‘Whoever helps break the fast of a fasting person, he will have the same reward as him without decreasing anything from the reward of the fasting person.’ (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)
This hadith encourages us to share food with people who are fasting so that we too can reap the benefit. The beauty of this action is that the reward already starts in this world – as sharing food creates an opportunity for love, compassion and human connection.
Food-sharing is also a means to maintain and rekindle the connections of family ties. Sayyidah Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, ‘The best of you are the best to their families, and I am the best to my family…’ (Sunan al-Tirmidhi). This hadith, together with the sunnah of the Messenger (SAW) emphasises the importance of being good to one’s family. Ramadaan is a wonderful opportunity to prepare food dishes or sweet treats and share it with loved ones.
Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: ‘Jibreel kept urging me that neighbours should be treated well until I thought he would make them heirs.’ (Al-Buhari and Muslim) From this hadith we can see the emphasis on being good to our neighbours and treating them well.
Ramadaan, with its bounties and blessings, allows us to amplify the benefits and goodness that come from performing acts that are in alignment with the sunnah of the Messenger (SAW) and his message.
Food-sharing can also be a means of charity. Abu Musa Al-Ashari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger (SAW) said, ‘Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and set the captives free.’ (Bukhari)
Feeding the hungry is an encouraged act of worship, in servitude of the creation for the sake of the Creator. In Ramadaan, we know the blessings of good actions are amplified, and thus often find ourselves making significant efforts to give charity and feed those in need.
While this is – and should be – practised, we should also remember those people who are in need of food and basic necessities during the months pre- and post-Ramadaan. Many organisations in South Africa accept zakaah, saqadah, fitrah and fidya during Ramadaan for food distribution. We can also prepare foods at home or with our families and distribute it to those who need it.
Sharing food in Ramadaan can have many benefits – from the physical benefit of a nourishing meal to the emotional high of receiving a sweet treat from a loved one. The most important benefit, however, is that it is an opportunity for closeness to Allah ta’ala.
When we share food with the intention of serving His creation for His Sake, in the hope of pleasing Him, it becomes an act of worship.
- Saleemah Jaffer is a community researcher and facilitator. She works in the youth programming department for Madina Institute and is a student of the Alawi Husayni Ninowy Zawiyah (Spiritual School).
This article was first published in the March 17, 2023 print edition of Muslim Views.