July 28, 2014 was probably a day like any other for most-spent relaxing on the beach, enjoying a nice swim, or even preparing a backyard barbeque. For many Muslims around the world, however, the day marked the end of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar-Ramadan. A month devoted to fasting and prayer, abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours- sunrise to sunset. Only two meals are served; suhoor before dawn and iftar after sunset. These meals vary by region, but may consist of vegetables, fruits, breads, cheeses, and halal meats. Although fasting is a common practice in the Islamic faith, Ramadan is significantly different in that all able bodied Muslims are expected to participate. For non-Muslims, such an observance may seem foreign or extreme-but a closer examination at other religions shows a common deep connection between food and spirituality.
A commonly used term to express certain types of foods-kosher is one that many may be familiar with as they frequent kosher delis or markets and order kosher options at restaurants. Kosher foods are actually those that meet the requirements outlined in the kashrut (Jewish dietary law) and are deemed “fit” or allowed. In Judaism, there are particular animals that can be eaten as well as specific ways that foods need to be prepared. Animals that have a completely split hoof, fish that have scales and fins can be consumed while pork and shellfish are prohibited. From an outside perspective, this may just seem like an outdated list of dos and donts that is just kept habitually or a cultural diet practiced without much significance or meaning. However, what is amazing is that these laws have been kept for over 3,000 years. The longevity alone is an impressive display of the heart of devotion and obedience that many in the Jewish community continually seek to show towards their God.
On the other hand, in the Hindu religion, there is no single set of scriptures or teachings, but a vast majority of its followers refrain from eating meat. There is no dietary law; and more than a restriction- it is an ethical decision stemming from a deep-seated respect for all life. Gandhi who at an early age attempted to give up his vegetarian lifestyle, only to adhere to it again because of his family’s influence stated “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated.” At the core of the issue is one of Hinduism’s long standing doctrine of karma-the connectivity of all life. In this case, this consideration of life expressed through abstaining from eating meat, shows Hinduism’s goal to live in peaceful harmony.
In all three of these religions, the spiritual health of an individual can be measured through a seemingly routine physical act. It is clear to see that, however, it is not just a simple matter of eating and drinking, but through the food that a person eats or does not eat-a deep expression of faith is conveyed. A person is really what they eat.