The Essence of Ramadan
This morning while driving to work, I passed a long line of vehicles waiting
to fill up their CNG tanks. At one point along this line, I had to stop
because a crowd was blocking the road and in the center of this mass of
people, two young men were locked in battle. It was the sight of these
individuals getting at each other's throats that inspired this week's piece.
The Holy Month of Fasting is received, where ever Muslims live and work, with
much reverence and enthusiasm. What we tend to forget however is the fact that
the central message of this month resides not in abstention from food and
drink alone, but in seeking forgiveness for our sins through prayer and a
display of patience, forbearance and magnanimity towards our fellow creatures.
Regretfully, it is during these thirty days that we tend to bring out the
worst in us – we shirk work, frequently lose our tempers and become irritated
at insignificant things.
Take for example, the food stalls that mushroom at various spots in cities and
towns, selling items for Iftari. These become the scene of squabbles and
arguments as ‘rozadars' (fasting persons) mill around the counters shouldering
and shoving in an effort to be served first. Commuters driving back after work
break traffic laws with impunity in a bid to get home quickly, often getting
involved in verbal duels with other drivers and sometimes in accidents. The
prices of fresh commodities are hiked up to obtain maximum profit in utter
disregard to the window of salvation that Ramadan provides us and which we so
Some people blame the hot weather for the lethargy that usually engulfs the
nation during this month, but in doing so they forget the balanced
practicality of the lunar calendar wherein religious festivals and events are
rotated through all four seasons. In spite of this, people display the same
listlessness and incapacity of sustained work when fasting in winters. The
only explanation I am prepared to consider is the medical one, where lower
sugar levels may inhibit output and performance. Some Muslim countries around
the globe have found a workable solution to this. They change their official
work timings in a manner that offices function at night, while day light hours
are reserved for rest, but whether this routine can be adopted in the ‘Land of
the Pure' is a moot point. If people can watch late shows in cinemas and then
proceed to a swanky restaurant for ‘Sehri', then they can jolly well spend the
nights doing something more productive.
It has also become fashionable to have the two meals, not at home, but in
restaurants. So popular has the practice become that tables have to be
reserved well in advance and those that arrive without one, have to seek
I fondly remember my own childhood when the entire family used to have ‘Sehri'
and ‘Iftari' at home. The menu for these occasions was kept deliberately
simple. The predawn meal consisted of ‘Roghni' roti, ‘Shami Kebabs' and a
‘chatni' (sauce) made by grinding red chilies, garlic and salt. The fare for
‘breaking of the fast' included the ever present ‘sherbet' accompanied by just
two items. Like all things that have been blown out of proportion, the two
rituals of ‘keeping' and ‘breaking' the fast have become ostentatious affairs,
contrary to the spirit of the month. Throwing an Iftar party is now essential
to establish ones social credentials amongst friends and relatives – I am told
that such parties now include ‘Sehri' too.
My endeavour in today's piece is to show a mirror to those who think that not
eating anything from dawn to dusk fulfils their obligations to the Almighty.
These individuals are in grave error as without a display of attributes such
as tolerance, accommodation, courtesy, honesty and goodwill towards fellow
humans, mere abstention from food may not be enough.