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 callously ignore.
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 solace elsewhere.
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.
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