Con­sumerism coun­ters Ra­mazan’s mes­sage

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION -

RA­MAZAN is a month of tre men­dous bless­ings. To­day it is also a time of great chal­lenges. The chal­lenges come from a head-on col­li­sion be­tween Ra­mazan and the ma­te­ri­al­ism, con­sumerism, and he­do­nism that have un­for­tu­nately en­gulfed Mus­lim so­ci­eties. Ap­proached cor­rectly and ob­served dili­gently, the for­mer could help us over­come the lat­ter. In our present state of de­cay, the op­po­site seems to be hap­pen­ing in many cases.

Ra­mazan’s month long in­ten­sive train­ing pro­gramme be­gins to teach self-dis­ci­pline by re­ar­rang­ing our daily life. It changes the time we go to bed, the time we get up, the times we eat. We learn to do with­out the per­mis­si­ble joys of this life for the long pre­scribed hours of the day. Af­ter a day of fast­ing, we break the fast only to rush to the maghrib salat, which can­not be de­layed be­yond a few min­utes. An hour or two later we are ready for the spe­cial nightly prayer, a unique prayer which can only be per­formed dur­ing Ra­mazan and which both high­lights and ce­ments our spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the Qur’an. We stand and lis­ten to the en­tire Qur’an be­ing re­cited from heart in the taraweeh prayer. This is in ad­di­tion to our own read­ing of the Qur’an that aims at fin­ish­ing at least one cy­cle of the com­plete read­ing dur­ing the month on our own.

With all the ex­tra acts of wor­ship, there is hardly any time left for any­thing be­yond the es­sen­tial dur­ing the day and night. This is spe­cial time, when the re­wards for vol­un­tary acts of wor­ship equal the re­wards of manda­tory acts and the re­wards for the lat­ter are mul­ti­plied up to 700 times. With the scales of re­wards so ex­traor­di­nar­ily high dur­ing this month, it would be folly to waste our time on things that can be done dur­ing or­di­nary time — through­out the rest of the year. The op­por­tu­nity cost is just un­be­liev­ably high to do oth­er­wise. Yet that is pre­cisely what we man­age to do in so many cases.

Con­sider if­tar, the break­ing of the fast at the end of the day. A Jewish ac­quain­tance once told me about his fast of Yum Kip­pur. Un­like the Is­lamic fasts, all Jewish fasts are a one day af­fair but the day is longer. It starts twenty min­utes be­fore sun­down on the pre­vi­ous night. At the end of the fast, he said, “I went to a restau­rant and ate like a pig.” With the maghrib salat and the taraweeh, the Ra­mazan fast does not per­mit that. Nei­ther does the spirit of Ra­mazan per­mit in­dul­gence. Yet to­day one can see fancy restau­rants in the Mus­lim world of­fer­ing high priced if­tar din­ner spe­cials that in­vite you to do just that.

One could sub­sti­tute Dubai or Jeddah or Kuala Lumpur or any other Mus­lim city for Karachi; the mes­sage will re­main the same. In­stead of turn­ing your at­ten­tion to Al­lah, turn it to the ex­quis­ite set­ting and culi­nary de­lights. In­dulge. Turn the break­ing of the fast into a sta­tus sym­bol. Ex­quis­ite (i.e. es­o­teric), ex­trav­a­gant, lav­ish. This is how the agents of ram­pant con­sumerism counter Ra­mazan’s mes­sage of sim­plic­ity, sac­ri­fice, and self dis­ci­pline. All while ad­ver­tis­ing their spe­cial re­gard for the holy month.

To be sure, the frac­tion of Mus­lims go­ing to th­ese fancy restau­rants is small, al­though it is in­creas­ing. But their in­flu­ence on the so­ci­ety goes be­yond th­ese num­bers. For they set the norms and ex­pec­ta­tions for the larger so­ci­ety. Lav­ish if­tar par­ties for which peo­ple drive long dis­tances and miss their prayers are an in­di­ca­tion of th­ese in­flu­ences. The same ob­ser­va­tions can be made about Qiyam-ul-Lail. Ra­mazan nights, es­pe­cially dur­ing the last third of the month, are meant to be spent in per­sonal acts of wor­ship, in salat, zhikr, duas, read­ing the Qur’an and seek­ing for­give­ness. In­stead th­ese are spent in talks, so­cial­i­sa­tion, and vis­it­ing bazaars.

The most solemn and de­mand­ing act of wor­ship for Ra­mazan is the I’tikaaf, when a per­son se­cludes him­self from the world around in a cor­ner of the mosque to de­vote him­self to­tally to re­mem­ber­ing Al­lah and strength­en­ing his per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Him. The act could pro­vide spir­i­tual re­birth and car­ries tremen­dous re­wards. Yet to­day one can see laptops, cell phones, iPads, and other mod­ern wid­gets rou­tinely form­ing a part of the equip­ment of itikaf. It is an open ques­tion how can anyone re­al­ize the goals of itikaf with ac­tiv­i­ties like watch­ing videos, In­ter­net surf­ing, tex­ting, and chat­ting. One fa­mous ha­dith states that there are those who get noth­ing from their fasts but hunger and thirst and noth­ing from their qiyam-ul-lail but sleep de­pri­va­tion.

While telling us about the great bless­ings of Ra­mazan, the Messenger of Al­lah (PBUH), also warned about the pos­si­bil­ity that it could ce­ment our loss and wretched­ness if we are not se­ri­ous about tak­ing ad­van­tage from its bless­ings. In one fa­mous ha­dith He said that there are those who get noth­ing from their fasts but hunger and thirst and noth­ing from their qiyam-ul-lail but sleep de­pri­va­tion. In an­other ha­dith he said ameen as an­gel Ji­brael cursed the per­son who finds Ra­mazan in a state of health and yet does not use it to win free­dom from the Fire through acts of de­vo­tion and wor­ship. There can be no sterner warn­ings than th­ese. We have been fore­warned to be forearmed. If we pay at­ten­tion to them and be­come se­ri­ous about Ra­mazan, then it would be a month of tremen­dous bless­ings.

This re­quires fast­ing with our whole body and soul. Our eyes, ears, tongues, and hearts should be to­tally committed to the fast by not see­ing, hear­ing, or speak­ing haram things or think­ing haram ideas. Hon­esty, truth­ful­ness and Al­lah con­scious­ness or taqwa should be our guid­ing val­ues. We should avoid all fri­vol­i­ties, in­clud­ing the ones that are committed in the name of reli­gion.

Only then we will re­al­ize the sweet­ness in the acts of wor­ship like prayers and recita­tion and ut­ter foolishness of ex­chang­ing them for en­ter­tain­ment. This will turn Ra­mazan into a month of spir­i­tual re­newal that would recharge our bat­ter­ies of iman and taqwa and pre­pare us to face the world and its temp­ta­tions with moral up­right­ness for an­other year. — Cour­tesy: Al­bal­

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