Can We Talk About Biryani For A Moment? by Asma K Arif

“We got to feed them after the event otherwise no one will come” goes the mantra in the lead up to many Islamic programs. Asma K Arif questions why it is that Muslims struggle to organize successful programs without the element of food.


Disclaimer: Though the intention to offend is not present by the author of this article, this could seriously offend those who like eating briyani, fried food, pilau every day or love their intake of fizzy drinks. Read on with caution.

Otherwise No One Will Come

“We got to feed them after the event otherwise no one will come”

The first time I heard this was in my first year of university, sitting in an Islamic Society meeting. The suggestion that an hour-long lesson by a local Imam did not warrant food was very quickly refuted. After all, when dozens or hundreds of people have come out of their homes to sit in a hall to learn or expand their knowledge, the mind will start stirring and so will the digestive juices. It is only right to placate these digestive juices so that the participants do not need to worry about cooking or eating when they return home.

That was back in 2003 and we are now in 2017.

I get the logic and that this line of thinking comes from a place of generosity. I really do. I also appreciate the long hours, sleepless nights, and anxiety that goes into running community events.

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Now keeping the above points in mind, I want us all to picture the following scenario.

It is Rabi al Awwal, the blessed month on the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims come together to increase their celebrations of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Most Muslims already, on a daily basis, honour and emulate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, but during Rabi al Awwal there are more frequently held community events commemorating his birth, peace and blessings be upon him.

Venues are kitted out with prophetic food workshops, arts and crafts activities tailored around learning something about the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him; singing praises, story time sessions, bouncy castles or archery sessions outside and some even are fortunate enough to have real life relics from the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him…all of this to instill love in the hearts of all, young and old. No doubt, knowing the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is a worthy and enjoyable goal.

The energy at each session is electric and colourful, everyone from the children, parents and organisers are on a spiritual high, all eager to learn more. Even though the event is now coming to an end and everyone is ushered to the food hall, the energy is still high as children share their happiest moments from the day with their parents or the new friend they have just made.

The attendees enter a hall and are advised to sit down in rows. In front of them: Spicy fried or roasted chicken, fried lamb samosas, spicy chicken biryani, with a spicy yoghurt and fizzy pop. And let us not forget the “sweet dish”, usually overly saturated in refined sugar. Oh, and there is a salad, cucumbers at best.

The mixing of two meats, the deluge of spices, the clash of hot and cold foods together, the fizzy pop, etc. all enter the stomachs of each participant and something changes: the electric and colourful energy from the events prior to the meal is turning dull and torn.

There is a stressful tension in the air…but it cannot be the roasted chicken or lamb, or the incorrect food combination of rice and meat which is causing our brain confusion as to which enzyme to release to digest it all… no, it must be the tension we are feeling from the organisers running around trying to serve us. Yes, let us blame them.

The children who were just a few moments ago singing about the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, are now talking like the animals they are eating (some swearing, some inaudible and others screaming at another). Did someone just shout out goody bags? Yes, there are going to be goody bags! Red cherry carbonated pop, sweets filled with artificial colours (one even with the warning that it can cause change of behaviour in children), sugared cakes with that extra bit of icing on top (because no cake is worthy of being called a cake if it does not have a mountain of sugar on the top of it), and a marketing pen with sticky notes.

After the event, parents rush into the cars with a headache and the need for a cup of caffeine to survive the journey home. Children are munching on the “goodies” filled with artificial colours, refined sugar, emulsifiers, preservatives and a whole lot of things they cannot even read let alone make sense of… till eventually, they recall their day was great because they got a goodie bag, which tasted so good.

This Needs To Stop!

This is a real-life event that has happened repeatedly for a very long time. Please, it needs to stop.

I am a mother of three and I know children (let alone us adults) need to eat after a lot of activities. However, my question to you is: would it have been better to give the children a meal that embodied the meal of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to continue the theme of these celebrations? Don’t we want to nourish the children physically, emotionally and spiritually?

Imagine filtered or spring water being offered to participants throughout the activities so that by the time they are at the “meal table” they are well hydrated and so may have already satiated their hunger pangs. As they have drunk water before their meal they gain reward for following the way of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. And hey, look at this scientific fact, since they are no longer drinking water with their meals they diminish the process of putrefaction to occur in the digestive system and thus, the person reduces their risk of digestive issues.

Imagine some barley bread with a vegetable based soup, olive oil, vinegar, beetroot, dates, cucumbers scattered across the rows for everyone to try as and when they wished. A lesson being taught whilst they eat to allow the congregation to reflect and appreciate the food in front of them and its link to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. The parents taking mental notes of what non-prophetic food they can dispose of in their kitchen and what food is aligned with the way of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and thus needs to be welcomed into their home. Surely this would have left the participants in a better spiritual, physical and emotional state?

Eating Right…Too Expensive?

For those arguing it is more expensive to eat organic or Prophetic foods, I would like you to try it because it does not have to be more expensive. Traditionally, the rich ate meat and the poor ate fruit and vegetables or wait for it… fasted… so applying this principle, eating meat would be the most expensive option.

Here is another handy tip: if you cut out the meat from the events all together (because newsflash: the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, barely ate meat) then you will reduce your expenses. That money could go towards better goodie bags – children love post it notes, pictures to colour in, pens, jigsaws, books, or some form of construction.

Cutting out the meat will also give the participants a spiritual, physical, and emotional benefit. In certain cultures,  unmarried men or women who had anger issues were prohibited meat in their diet. Some cultures even limit certain meats amongst women, believing that it causes them hormonal problems.

But the Kids Won’t Eat It…

For those arguing children will not try food that is different to what they are used to at home, I would like to argue two points.

Firstly: there was a convert family at one of the events and I heard the child ask her mother what the rice was called. She clearly had never eaten a biryani before and she still managed to eat it, albeit with difficulty due to all the spices.

Secondly: there are a lot of children who attend these events who also go to a school where a variety of dishes are given that may not be the staple menu of what they eat at home… and yet they try it.

We as adults, in so many ways, deprive our children of using their curiosity to learn something new. We put them down before they have even tried these new foods. Let us take a step back and see what happens when they are offered prophetic food with an explanation of what each is. Let us also be proactive in introducing the prophetic foods and learning about the prophetic way of eating and drinking in our households so that it is not alien to them when they go to the Islamic events. This in turn will make it a lot easier for the event organisers to not succumb to the existing fear “if there is no food, the crowd will not come”.

What About “The After Party”?

It has to be said – many event organisers look forward to “the after-party” at the local steak house – a non-prophetic meal of beef, depleted of any nutrition, followed by a gelato dessert – all in celebration of the hard work one has put into an event before slumber overtakes them. Amazingly the effects of this “after party” meal are instantaneous since there is a link between the food we eat and our mental state. For the sake of one’s physical, emotional and spiritual state, is it not time to accept the steak house meal is not benefiting you, take the blinkers off, and make an intention to change?

To conclude, it takes one cog in the wheel to get the rest of the cogs moving, so let us be proactive and understand it is a moral responsibility for the event organisers and parents to educate themselves on the food they are eating; to monitor how far or close it is to the way of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him; and to make active steps to change their diet so that they can gain the proximity they seek with the best of mankind, peace and blessings be upon him. This, I assure you, will result in them gaining a stronger physical, emotional and spiritual being; and the fear of “We got to feed them after the event otherwise no one will come” will naturally diminish. Who knows, it may even become an extinct fear in the next year or so. It is possible. And Allah Knows Best.


Asma K Arif is an advocate for the earth, a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother of three creative souls. She nurtures wombs as a mizan abdominal therapist, and is pursuing the knowledge of prophetic medicine.

Feature photo by Pranjal Mahna.

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