When Less is More

By Ayah Chehade

Picture this. You spent the whole day mentally listing what you would eat as soon as maghrib hit. You scrolled through menus and hashtags and Instagram stories. You even went to your nearest grocery store to buy the bag of chips and the very specific cereal brand you’ve been craving for the past 10 hours.

And now, here you are: four minutes away from sunset. Four minutes away from the instant gratification of the elaborate meal you’ve prepared. Four minutes turns into three, three turns into two, and two finally turns into one. And just like that, your day of fast is over. You utter a prayer, take a sip of water, and eat a date.

As you look over at the feast in front of you, you feel overwhelmed and realize perhaps you didn’t need it all. Perhaps you spent an entire day dwelling over what you could eat, only to discover that after filling your belly with the bare minimum, you really have no need for such foods at all.

You see, one of the great things about fasting is realizing how little is sufficient and how much of our wants are unnecessary. As the days go by, we find ourselves seeking sustenance and sleep, not to satisfy our fleeting desires but to generate enough energy to get through the day. In a world that is constantly telling us “more!”, in this month, we pause and fight back with the word “enough.”

As Prophet Muhammad SAW has said: “if the son of Adam has one valley, he will wish that he had a second, and if he had two valleys, he would wish that he had a third. The stomach of the son of Adam will be filled only with dust (i.e., he is never satisfied)” (Reported by Ahmad, 5/219; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1781). So much of our unhappiness is due to a market-enforced sense of emptiness. Through appeals to instant gratification, notions of individual happiness, and an obsession with the material, we have been groomed to consume.

Ramadan is a return to the basics — an appeal to simplicity and gratitude and a reminder of the beauty of these things. As a scholar once said, “At maghrib time, the greatest thing in the world becomes a cup of water and a date. Life becomes as simple as this.”

This simplicity permeates even deeper than simply gratitude for food and drink through fasting — it is a deep contentment for the gifts of the present moment and a conscious choice to acknowledge the infinite gifts before us.

Indeed, simplicity and gratitude are of the most productive of sentiments, and once we make the choice to live by them, they become habitual. Truly, less becomes more. As we begin to learn how a little goes a long way, we come to ponder on quality over quantity and come to realize some of our greatest blessings cannot be counted. You can count the number of cookies on your plate and the amount of dollars in your bank account, but you cannot possibly enumerate the bounty of your mother’s love, or the ability to speak, or a stranger’s smile.

We wonder how people can be happy with so little and find the answer in the form of the present moment. For the here and now itself, if you choose to be mindful of it, is in itself an infinite blessing beyond what we can repay, and it is something all of us — as we read this sentence — undeniably have.

Other acts of goodness associated with Ramadan, like zakat, reaffirm this. Our giving a portion of our wealth, annually, is a reminder that we are not entitled to what we have and that it doesn’t truly belong to us.

This is apparent in the joyful nature of so many Zakat Foundation beneficiaries we assist around the world. Take Zulea and Zaina, for example: two orphan girls from Kenya with a difficult past of poverty who were contented to use their own shirts as hijabs in the absence of any. Or take the example of blind Rohingyan refugee Muslima, who beamed, “God give you long life. You who sent me warmth” with the simple joy of receiving a blanket through our programs.

Zulea and Zaina washing dishes. Before they were sponsored by generous donors – they used to walk barefoot and would pull their clothes up to act as hijab.

Through the example of those who know simplicity and through intensive experiences like Ramadan, we come to know the power of “less” and how we neglect thanks for so much while seeking “more.”

In this holy month, ponder the “little things” that are actually the “big things” in life. Give where you can.