One of my favourite things about Ramadan is the proximity I feel with Muslims worldwide. Maybe this is what draws me to the tent year after year; the Open Iftar Tent itself is an embodiment of community spirit, social belonging and unity that is brought out through this holy month. But the beauty of Ramadan is truly outstanding, numerous and universal. For a full month, the Muslim ummah is in sync; we sit making du’a in the moments before the Maghreb adhan, we break our fast as the muadhin calls, and we await the highly-anticipated plate of watermelon.
Whether you pick out the seeds before you tuck in, cut off the rind before slicing, eat it with jibneh baida (white cheese) or sprinkled with fresh mint, or blended into a smoothie; Muslims around the world are ready for the delicious hydrating fruit that makes its most beloved appearance at iftar settings around the world. Though the fasting time is shortening in the UK, the long hours of a fast leaves the body needing nutrients and hydration, and watermelon is a good source of both.
As the name suggests, watermelon is rich in water, aiding hydration after hours without drinking. Watermelon is also a fat-free and sodium-free nutrient-dense fruit, containing high levels of Vitamin A, C, lycopene, citrulline and more. But what does all of this mean?
Lycopene gives watermelon (and tomatoes) its red colour, but it will not turn you red! It is instead a powerful antioxidant. The magnesium in watermelon helps keep the heartbeat steady, and citrulline also has cardiovascular benefits, supporting the production of arginine. Arginine is an amino acid which, when converted into nitric oxide, causes blood vessels to open wider for improved blood flow, lowering blood pressure. Arginine is also important for organs such as the lungs, kidneys and liver, and has been shown to facilitate the healing of wounds.
Like most superfoods, watermelon is one of the sunnah foods. It is narrated in Al Tirmidhi that the Prophet (PBUH) ate watermelon with fresh dates as “the cold effect of one removes the heat of the other, and the heat of one removes the cold effect of the other.” In his book ‘The Prophetic Medicine’, Ibn al-Qayyim says that eating watermelon cleanses the body and helps expel stones from the stomach, and is quicker to digest than cucumber. It is also beneficial for a fever and, if ginger is added to it, can also be used to treat a chill.
Watermelon is related to other sunnah foods, like squash, pumpkin and other plants that grow on vines on the ground. It is also said to be one of the Prophet (PBUH)’s favourite fruits, alongside grapes – a fruit mentioned numerous times in the Qur’an.
Nutrition is important year-round to take care of the great amanah (trust) that is our bodies, but it is even more important during Ramadan. As we fast long hours without food and water, let us look towards the sunnah and incorporate these superfoods into our diets to nurture our bodies in this blessed month, and beyond.