Every Ramadan, along with the serenity of the last 10 nights, there’s always a few “Itikaaf horror stories” that inevitably get passed around our local Masjid. One year, a brother fainted in his salah, presumably due to intense dehydration. Another year, an uncle collapsed to the floor, feeling nauseous after a heavy masjid iftar. Although everyone was awfully worried when the ambulance pulled up to carry away the poor man in a stretcher, the event was soon forgotten once the particular uncle returned a few days later. After all, that was a freak accident that would never happen to YOU, right?
Unfortunately, there are many more stories of sickness, weakness, lethargy and general lack of wellness during the last 10 nights of Ramadan. While we all strive to reach new spiritual heights, often we forget our health. Poor nutrition results in a lack of energy. Overeating can make a person dizzy, nauseous, and cause digestion issues. Add to this a lack of sleep, and many people feel their bodies suffering slowly during the last 10 nights of Ramadan.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“Verily, your body has a right over you.” 1
The last 10 nights of Ramadan are most certainly a time to focus on our spirituality above all else. However, keep in mind that your soul has a home—and that is your body! Our body requires proper fuel to keep ourselves running at top performance. If you want to get through some serious worship, you need serious energy! By feeding ourselves nutritiously at iftar and suhoor, we will have the energy to sustain ourselves during long night prayers, insha’Allah. And we can prevent our bodies from breaking down, causing us cut our itikaaf short—especially via an exit in an ambulance!
Here are 5 essential tips to make sure you are maintaining your body properly in the next 10 days, to ensure you have the energy for all the worship that awaits you, insha’Allah!
1. Do NOT rely solely on your masjid’s iftar program!
I don’t mean to insult any masjid’s iftar program in any way. Masjid ifars are a great way to bring together the community, and serve the less fortunate in a dignified manner, as well. However, unfortunately, we all know the standard foods that are served at masjid iftars: greasy and oily foods, not a vegetable in sight, piles of white rice and, of course, brightly-colored sugary drinks. These are all fine in moderation once in a while. However, for those who plan on spending a lot of time in the masjid for the next 10 nights, please, do NOT eat this food (if you can help it!) for 10 days straight! This kind of food is very low in nutrients. Oily, greasy, deep-fried carbohydrate-only meals will NOT provide lasting energy to sustain you in salah. You will feel bloated, lethargic, sleepy, heavy and nasty throughout the night. Sugar provides no nutrients, no vitamins, and no benefit at all to our diets. Yet, it is found in almost all the drinks that will be served to you at the masjid. This does NOT sound like a smart way to kickstart a night of worship! You need FUEL for the night, not JUNK!
If you are able, I’d encourage you to pack your own food for the masjid, or eat at home beforehand, and take a pass on the community iftar for these last 10 nights. If you can convince your masjid administrator to change the menu (or, better yet, sponsor an iftar yourself!) then, great, but let’s be practical and take precautions against the reality of masjid iftars.
- Come prepared with some “emergency supplies” for itikaaf!
If you are performing Itikaaf, you obviously will need to eat in the masjid. However, your local masjid probably has a kitchen (if not, that’s okay, too!). If you are serious about having a high-energy 10 days, then realize you are going to have to fend for yourself and come prepared. There are many ways to eat clean, lean food sources that require minimal effort. These foods may not be what you are used to or would consider “comfort food”… but if the purpose of your food is high energy and health, these foods will do the trick and save you time from the iftar lineup, too. I highly encourage all itikaaf participants to come prepared with the following essentials:
- 1-2 loaves of whole wheat bread (no fridge necessary)
- Tupperware full of boiled eggs (these can be made in advance and will last a long time! Just peel them and eat!)
- Canned food & can opener (no fridge necessary): Canned tuna in water, canned black pitted olives, canned green beans, canned chickpeas, etc.
- Nitrite-free natural turkey slices
- Raw nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.
- Lots of water bottles
- Sugar-free jam
- All-natural peanut butter
- Lots of bananas
Now, when iftar hits, you can casually walk over to the iftar table and see what’s available. Mostly greasy food that will ruin your night, right? There may be a meat curry or some protein that looks good, so feel free to serve yourself some. Skip the naan or rice, and take some salad (if there’s any being served!) Now, head back to your emergency food corner, and eat your plate with your whole wheat bread, with a side of canned vegetables! If you’re still hungry, feel free to make yourself a lean turnkey sandwich and munch on a few boiled eggs. Be sure to drink lots of water, and you just saved yourself from an iftar food coma later that evening!
As the night progresses, you also are equipped to give yourself sustained, quality energy. A handful or two of nuts throughout the night is more than enough to keep your energy high, and you will feel alert and light on your feet in salah, without a belly full of oil to keep you from your worship.
At suhoor, you will probably be served sugary pastries, or at least sugar-filled toppings for some white bread. But you are a smart ‘Abid who knows that WHOLE GRAINS provide longer lasting energy for your fast and worship ahead! Spread some sugar-free jam & natural peanut butter onto one slice of your whole wheat toast and enjoy an open-faced sandwich. Add a banana, an egg if you’re still hungry, and that makes a very fulfilling and healthy suhoor!
If you come prepared with these lean foods, you can also gain major ajr by SHARING these foods with your fellow itikaaf goers!
3. Maintain your energy by walking during the day.
Did you know that sitting too much may kill you? Recent research finds that a sedentary lifestyle and sitting too much is very dangerous for your health – even if you exercise! During Ramadan, Muslims seem to take our fasts as an excuse to move around as little as possible. There is absolutely no reason for this! You will actually feel MORE energetic if you make sure to walk frequently during the day, and shake out your tired muscles!
If you are staying in the masjid, during the day and between naps, walk around the perimeter of the masjid, and take deep, steady breaths. Swing you arms as you walk, and tip your head, looking up slightly while you walk. Walk for 5-7 minutes, and repeat this every hour until Maghrib. You will feel MUCH more awake, alert and energetic when it comes time for your serious late-night ibadah, guaranteed!
4. Be extra-cautious for poor hygiene
Health is holistic, and includes overall wellbeing, in addition to your nutrition and activity! Many itikaaf goers get very sick during their masjid stay, or at the very least, come home by Eid with a cold, runny nose, or illness that they caught from someone at the masjid. At the masjid, many bodies are in close proximity and can pass on germs easily. Here are some tips to protect yourself, and others, and maintain overall health!
- When handing dates to your fellow brothers & sisters, do not touch the dates with your hands! Offer the whole bowl, and let each person pick their own date. If you touch it, you must eat it! This prevents multiple hands and possible bacteria from creeping onto other people’s foods.
- NEVER drink from a disposable cup if you are not sure it is yours.
- Request that your masjid DOES NOT leave piles of dates or food uncovered in the building overnight! Flies, insects, even rodents may come to piles of dates and walk all over your food and sticky dates when they are uncovered. This is an obvious way to transmit bacteria.
- Wash your hands and any cutlery before eating! This is an obvious reminder but many people are so eager for iftar that they dive in without making a trip to the masjid bathroom. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. If your masjid is handing out utensils, have a peek to see where the utensils were stored overnight. Were they in a sealed bag? Or were they kept open beside the tray of open dates, all night long? For all you know, a rat could have licked your spoon! Wash your plastic cutlery if you are not sure!
Cleanliness is a big part of our beautiful faith, so let’s be sure to return to this Sunnah, insha’Allah.
- When we talk about health, too many times we ignore the obvious factors that could be making us unwell – HYGIENE! Cleanliness is a big part of our beautiful faith, so let’s be sure to return to this Sunnah, insha’Allah.
- Take naps!
Our bodies have been created to require sleep. Of course, we aspire to spend the night in prayer, so be sure to get enough sleep via naps in the day, so your body can get through 10 nights of standing in prayer! Many people exhaust all their energy in the first few days of being at the masjid, so they don’t make it through all 10 with the same vigor as when they started. In the daytime, many itikaaf goers spend time chatting and socializing. If you are not worshiping… you should be doing good deeds or sleeping! These 10 days are a spiritual marathon, and you must be prepared and willing to make every minute count. Yes, that may mean sacrificing a chat with a friend at the masjid. But your sleep is more important and will allow you to have energy in the night for meaningful worship, insha’Allah!
At Amanah Fitness, we believe that our bodies are an amanah – a trust to us from Allah . It is our responsibility to care for our bodies appropriately. Please try to implement these 5 essential tips during these blessed 10 nights, and be sure to make dua for your lasting health and well-being as well, insh’Allah.
“Two blessings are often overlooked by most of mankind: Good health and free time.” 2
Let’s work hard to maintain this immense blessing during these precious last 10 nights of Ramadan – our health!
About the Author
Amina Khan is the founder of Amanah Fitness, an organization aimed at fitness & nutrition education towards a healthier Ummah! Amanah Fitness seeks to improve health and wellness through health, nutrition and exercise programs of the highest quality. Amanah Fitness has prepared a special HEALTHY EATING & EXERCISE IN RAMADAN eBook – Grab your copy HERE at www.amanahfitness.com/ramadan! Be sure to like Amanah Fitness on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amanahfitness for more free health advice!