Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fasting, not feasting

THE holy month of Ramadan is upon us again. It is a time for fasting, abstinence and prayers. But, many an outsider would be forgiven for thinking that, in Malaysia, at least, the holy month is also one for feasting.
Weeks before the fasting month, advertisements promoting scrumptious buka puasa buffets have been screaming for attention, tempting the most seasoned palate with that delectable kambing kuzi, ayam percik, siput masak lemak cili padi or that "to-die-for" bubur lambuk Kampung Baru.

Ironically, during a month where abstinence should take precedence, Malaysians are spoilt for choice. The long queues (of Muslims and non-Muslims alike) at the Ramadan bazaars in every village, town or city is testimony to our love for food.

Nothing wrong with that. After all, it is not everyday that one gets to enjoy air bandung biji selasih and murtabak daging, replete with pickled onions. Nothing wrong at all -- if it's done in moderation.

And, it's not unusual either to find the grocery list twice as long in preparation for Ramadan, as we convince ourselves that there is no harm in a little indulgence as a "reward" for fasting.

But, "moderation" does not appear to feature prominently in the vocabulary of most Malaysians. Just look at how we pile our plates with food at the buffet counter, or how we insist on ordering the larger value meal set, just to get our money's worth. And then, when there is only so much that our stomach can take, we think nothing of binning the uneaten portions. Portions that can sometimes feed a poor man or two.

Rightfully, our diet during the fasting month should not differ too much from our daily intake of balanced meals. It was the practice of Prophet Muhammad to break his fast with three dates and water, and after the maghrib prayers, eat a moderate meal. One or two treats may be acceptable but sitting down to a king's feast every evening should not be the norm.

Is it any wonder than that two out of every five Malaysian adults are either overweight or obese? According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006, the number of obese adults had more than tripled over a decade, from four per cent in 1996 to 14 per cent in 2006, while 38 per cent of youngsters aged between 12 and 18 were overweight. With obesity, come lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, all of which are growing at an alarming rate among Malaysians.

In our eagerness to satiate our hunger, it's easy to forget the essence of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan -- to train ourselves in self-control. Fasting should not be about feasting.

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