Once again it's the month of Ramadan. Contrary to the general belief the month of Ramadan is not merely one of fasting but a time to reassess the faithfuls' commitments to God and society.
Every Ramadan, my thoughts go back to the times when I had left the comfortable home of my parents to go abroad for higher studies. In the inhospitable weather of London and the difficult circumstances of a student life, my fasting was an economic necessity. Managing my affairs on a shoestring budget, I often skipped lunch in the hope of stretching my limited resources.
It was one of those days — in the dark and wintry months of England — that I experienced my first Ramadan away from home. The love of my mother, elaborate snacks, delicious dinners and the ‘in-betweens’ were a thing of the past. Sometimes, groups of foreign students would assemble to cook something that looked like a dinner. One day, a friend invited me for lunch, but I politely declined since I was fasting.
“Why fast?” My classmate’s idea was that since I was skipping my lunch regularly, I knew everything about fasting. But experiencing hunger is only a part of the story. In this tension-riddled world, it needs to be emphasized that: ‘The beauty of the belief lies in moderation, balance, kindness and universality of which Ramadan is the most striking symbol.
Fasting in Ramadan is not what is commonly known as ‘going on a diet’. The Ramadan fast has its own rules and prohibitions; its own system and social goals. It is enjoined for the moral elevation and spiritual development of a person. Fasting is actually a kind of training and not just a part of the ongoing ‘battle-of-bulges’ being fought in most affluent homes. Since every faculty of man – and that includes women too – requires training to attain its full potential; the faculty of submission also requires a course of training and re-training.
Ramadan places everybody in the same situation. The well-to-do experience the pang of hunger and thirst like their not so well-to- do. The hunger and privation cease to be mere expression and become an experience shared by all.
One of the important aspects of Ramadan is that it prepares us for a life of hardship and frugality and exercises a good effect on our general health – not just losing a few inches here and a few grams there.
It’s a well know teaching of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that diet control is the best cure for many diseases – a fact proved by recent researches in medical science.
Ramadan is not just a month of fasting and feasting – it’s also the time to reassess our commitments. This Ramadan comes against the backdrop of a ground-breaking attempt to engage members of other faiths in a dialogue and debate about the mosque near Ground Zero is an example. The Qur’an which was revealed in the month of Ramadan is very clear on the issue of freedom of faith as made clear in this verse: “There is no compulsion or coercion in matters of religion (Islam).” (2: 256).
In addition the Ramadan fast places everybody – the privileged and the less privileged alike – on the same level. The other aspect of this season of goodwill is the spirit of sharing and caring as evident from elaborate breakfast arrangements in mosques all around the world. A marked increase in generous and charitable acts and good deeds in general is the hallmark of this month.
So what can be the best way to achieve the spirit of Ramadan – meditating or going to the markets? Helping others or helping ourselves? The commercial exploitation of the month is visible everywhere. First came the Eid card, then came ritualistic exchange of gifts, and then came special offers from business houses. Now it has become more of a norm rather than exception – for shopping arcades, manufacturers and supermarkets to offer Ramadan specials. Remember business houses never make an offer that will not benefit them. So the practice is as catching as common cold but unlike flu it leaves a hole in your pocket. So one must go easy on the wallet, spare unnecessary shopping and be patient for Ramadan signifies moderateness, thriftiness and concern for others.
Syed Neaz Ahmad is a London-based critic, writer & TV anchor.