The 24th of April marked the beginning of Ramadan in Malaysia in 2020. Practicing Muslims around the country and the entire Islamic world began their fast on the first day of the holy month and will continue to do so till around May 24th (The end of Ramadan is Subject to the Moon Sightings). To Muslims, Ramadan is not just about fasting, it’s more than that. It is a time of charity and a time for Muslims to be the best person they can try to be.
Some Muslims may see fasting as a great way to shave off a few kilos and adjust their dietary habits. While some may speculate that fasting during Ramadan in Malaysia may lead to losing a few pounds, some have finished the Holy Month without losing an ounce, and in some cases some may have gained a kilo or two?
So how can this be? And how can one practice a balanced and healthy diet when they are not supposed to eat during the day?
We answer that question and more in the rest of this article below.
What Is Ramadan?
First things first, let’s start with a little refresher of what Ramadan actually is. I’m sure our Muslim readers will definitely know what the Holy month is and what it’s about. But, for those who don’t know and would like to know a little more, Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. By Muslims, it is seen as a month of fasting, reflection, prayer and community.
The act of observing Ramadan and fasting is one of the main 5 Pillars in Islam and it lasts between 29 to 30 days, based on the observations made on the moon cycle.
It is believed that the spiritual rewards, or thawab are multiplied during Ramadan for any good deed done by a Muslim.
During the month, Muslims practice fasting in which they refrain from consuming food and drink during the day. In addition to this they must refrain from smoking, sexual activities and other sinful acts during the day as well. The fasting begins right before sunrise where Muslims will eat their breakfast or Suhoor, to prepare themselves for the day, and ends at sunset where they break their fast with a feast known as Iftar.
All able Muslim adults are obliged to take part in fasting, but exceptions are made for those who are travelling, the elderly, those who are diabetic, the sick, children, the mentally ill, pregnant women, women who need to breast feed and women who are on their periods.
During the fasting period, most Muslims may spend their day in prayer or solat, reading the Quran and giving charity whenever they can in order to advance their purity and awareness of God.
Here is a fun little fact, there are some places in the world where there is no night sunlight or no night (Midnight Suns and Polar Nights) , usually in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. So you may be wondering, how can a Muslim practice fasting there? Well if this is the case, Muslims in those regions would usually follow the timings of the Holy Islamic city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Ramadan in Malaysia
In every Muslim country, the month of Ramadan brings about it’s own set of festivities to their local area. So, what are the festivities that come along with Ramadan in Malaysia?
For one, there are the Ramadan Bazaars, which are basically a night or street markets that are set up for Malaysians to get food for when they break their fast. Non-Muslims can also go to these markets as well and get some delicious food. Staple Ramadan food includes Nasi Kerabu, Ayam Percik, Satay and a variety of different Kuih.
Some mosques around Malaysia will also host gatherings where Muslims can attend the Iftar feast and break their fast together, after all, Ramadan is all about community. And it’s not just the mosques either, Muslim households will sometimes host their own gathering with friends and family, Muslim and Non-Muslim alike, to join them in the feast.
Like all Muslim countries, most Muslims would attend the optional Tarawih prayers after breaking their fast and after the Isha prayer times. While attending the Tarawih is optional, many Muslims would head to their nearby mosque or surau, filling these spaces up with worshippers.
I myself enjoyed the activities after the prayer, which usually involved me and my pals hanging out at an eatery or at each other’s house.
But as you know, with the lock-down in place, most of these festivities have been cancelled as instructed by the government. So this year’s Ramadan would not have the Bazaars or any gatherings.
You can read this article about How Muslims in Malaysia are coping with the Lock-Down in Ramadan over here.
Either way, this year’s Ramadan is either the easiest, because most of the people in Malaysia are all staying at home, or the loneliest, because we are stuck at home and that we cannot go out to see friends and break the fast with them.
Indeed, Ramadan in Malaysia may be more challenging to some this time around, but it is through these struggles that some Muslims become more motivated to carry on. To struggle a bit, while remaining patient in the face of dificulty, is a noble aspect in Islam and leads to more spiritual rewards especially during Ramadan.
Health Benefits of Fasting
Some may speculate that not eating or drinking for an entire day is unhealthy and can cause harm to the body. It all depends on the individual doing it, if they do it wrong, then yes, fasting can become unhealthy. But, when done right, fasting has been known to improve and bring benefits to one’s health. So here are some health benefits fasting can bring:
It Can Help With Weight Loss
We already see modern diets that include fasting that have great results for those who aim to lose weight. This is because in theory, avoiding food and drink for a period of time can reduce one’s calorie intake, leading to weight loss. One 2015 review found that whole-day fasting can reduce the body weight up to 9%.
Can Increase Metabolism
In relation to weight loss, fasting can also lead to an increase in the body’s metabolism. This is because fasting encourages the body’s liver enzymes to break down cholesterol and fats in order to convert them into bile acid, which then converts to heat, hence, stimulating faster metabolism rates.
Controls Our Blood Sugar
There are a few studies that suggest that fasting can improve one’s blood sugar levels, this is especially beneficial for those who have diabetes. In one 2014 review, it was found that intermittent fasting, as well as to alternate-day fasting, were effective in reducing one’s insulin resistance due to the decreased calorie intake. However, it should be noted that women are more affected by this than men.
Can Improve Heart Health
Heart disease is among the top causes of death around the world. Some research has shown that fasting can reduce the risk of heart disease in an individual and can also reduce the levels of cholesterol, lower triglycerides and lower our blood pressure. One 2010 study showed that 8 weeks of alternate-day fasting can lead to a reduction of LDL cholesterol by 25% and a reduction in blood triglycerides by 32%. Another study which looked at 110 obese adults yielded similar results.
May Increase Mental Capability
So far, most research on the mental effects of fasting has been limited to animals, but the results have shown that fasting can have a significant impact on the brain’s cognitive functions. In one experiment, mice that were practicing intermittent fasting for 11 months had improvements to their brain functions and structures.
How To Stay Healthy During Ramadan
While fasting can bring about some benefits, it all comes down to the actions of the individual as well and how they approach fasting and breaking their fast during Ramadan in Malaysia. It is still important to retain a balanced diet, even when fasting. Some people may end up in worse shape then they were before Ramadan, so to avoid that, here are the following tips you can follow to keep healthy during the holy month.
#1. Do Not Skip the Suhoor
We know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it is not recommended that we skip it even during Ramadan. The Suhoor feast is your breakfast, it provides you with the energy you need to have as you are fasting throughout the day. During Suhoor, you must ensure that you load up on adequate amounts of nutrients and fluids. But do avoid overeating.
#2. Stay Hydrated
Hydration is extremely important during the fasting month, especially for those who live in warmer climates. So this tip needs to be applied to Muslims who are fasting in Malaysia. So be sure to drink lots of water during Suhoor and after Iftar, but not so much till the point where we become sluggish and need to use the bathroom every minute. Also, try to hydrate yourself with water and avoid sugary drinks and strong caffeinated drinks. If you want some flavor in your drinks, stick to fresh juices with no added sugars. Try drinking four glasses of water in between Iftar and Suhoor (but not in a single hour) and 3 glasses during Suhoor for a start.
#3. Break Your Fast Starting With Dates
Dates are a good source of energy as they have a high natural-sugar intake. This is why Muslims usually eat dates before they move to their main meal when they break their fast. Dates are a great way to load up on the energy that has been lost throughout the day. But, since dates are high in sugar it is best that you eat one during your Iftar and Suhoor.
#4. Tone Down The Fried Stuffs
I get it, we Malaysians love our fried foods, I sure do. But it is important to keep all things in moderation. If you really want to be healthy or try to lose some kilos this Ramadan, it is best you avoid fried foods during Suhoor and Iftar. Instead of fried chicken, why not grill it? Instead of frying your dumplings in oil, why not steam them?
#5. Avoid Overeating
You may be tempted to eat a lot when time comes around, but this is something you should also avoid. Because we are hungry, some of us may end up making more food or buying more food than we could eat. For example, some of us may remember buying more Ayam Percik than needed during our last Ramadan, and when we come home it comes time to break out fast, we end up eating only a little. When we break our fast, we should not see it as a way to make up for all the food we missed out during the day, we should instead see Iftar time as a single meal, as if we were just eating dinner on any other day.
#6. Avoid Salty Food
Salty food can increase our thirst so it is best to avoid them during Suhoor and Iftar. Avoiding foods with a high-salt content like potato chips, salted fish and so on will be beneficial in keeping us hydrated throughout the day.
#7. Keep It Balanced
We must remember to ensure that we still retain a balanced meal during the times when we can eat in Ramadan. So ensure that you load up adequately on your carbs, fibre, fats and proteins, as well as your vitamins and minerals during this Ramadan.
#8. Keep Active
Just because you are not eating for the whole day, doesn’t mean you should just lounge around and do nothing while you are fasting. Exercise is still important, even during Ramadan as it promotes a better well being for yourself. The best time to exercise during Ramadan is after Iftar, a few hours or so later. This can help increase metabolism and burn off the calories that you took in when you break your fast.
#9. Don’t Eat Too Fast
When we have our lovely spread of food in front of us during Iftar, we may be tempted to just dig in and munch all of the food as fast as we can, doing this can but bad for your health as your body won’t have enough time to properly ingest all the foods you are shoving down your throat. After a day of fasting and disciplining yourself to cope with hunger, it should not be a problem for you to eat at a comfortable pace.
#10. Eat In Moderation
This is a tip we should all follow, even when we are not fasting during Ramadan. Moderation is key when it comes to trying to improve your health. Too much of anything can be bad for you, so remember to eat in moderate quantities.
And those were some health tips for you to follow during this fasting month, so try them out and see the results! Hopefully this article has also given some of our non-Muslim readers a little insight to what Ramadan is and what it is all about. For more articles such as these, be sure to check out the rest of our blog.
And we wish our Muslim readers a blessed and healthy Ramadan.