The lessons from Ramadan

A new moon heralds the start of the holy month of Ramadan, which brings along its characteristic festivities. For Muslims all around the world, Ramadan--the month of fasting--brings a distinctive sense of togetherness, a respite from the busy day-to-day life, and a definite means of catharsis. Ramadan is most prominently known for restricting Muslims from eating or drinking anything from Fajr--the prayer that marks the dawn--till Maghrib, the prayer that marks the dusk. However, what strikes me the most is that the month works in a very counter-intuitive manner. One would think that not drinking or eating anything the whole day would cause frustration, agitation, and short-temperedness amongst the observers. Yet, in reality, the month is widely seen to instigate a sense of patience, empathy and tolerance amongst its observers. As president Obama duly noted in his recent statement about Ramadan, the month is unarguably a time for veracious brooding, introspection, and reflection--reflection upon one's actions, morals, and codes of conduct--and most importantly appreciation of and gratitude towards all that we have that others in need do not.

Slouching on our cozy living-room sofa and watching the Ramadan transmissions that are broadcasted on myriad channels here in Pakistan, I see my mother and my maid prepare scrumptious dishes and rejuvenating drinks, neatly lining them on the Iftar table. Iftar, which unites neighbours, friends and family in harmony to share a most valued meal of the day, marks a sense of togetherness. However, as I notice the screeching sounds my stomach makes in need of food, my knees feel weak upon realising that what is only a day for me is, quite unfortunately and sadly, a lifetime for some needy people who are no less deserving than I am. My heart sings for these needy people who do not have food to sustain their livelihood throughout the year. However, their faith does not waiver; these people do still not hesitate from fasting, which is truly remarkable and a sight worth savouring, an example worth aspiring towards, and a determination worth applauding and emulating.

Furthermore, the month of Ramadan has uniform obligations and duties that it sets forth for both the rich and the poor, the doctors and the lawyers, the engineers and the artists, and everyone else alike. Ramadan thus works to eliminate any disparity in the light of fairness, equality and brotherhood, diverting our focus, instead, towards helping those around us, appreciating all that Allah has bestowed upon us, and on expunging any sense of conflict. The month of Ramadan teaches us to purify our faiths, to eat together in harmony, disregarding nuances in race, cast, gender, and social status. After Iftar every day, the occasion of Taraweeh--an extended prayer performed in congregation--invokes a sense of unity amongst the Muslim brotherhood, which further elucidates the importance of unity and fosters a sense of clear direction and focus.

The word Ramadan evokes the coming together of severed parts, pieces and fragments of the Muslim Ummah from all around the world to become a whole. On the occasion of Ramadan, we aim to be one under the umbrella of humanity, to eliminate any superficial differences, and to focus instead on unity, peace and tolerance. Although the month of fasting is unique to Islam, I certainly feel that its lessons of spiritual growth, reflection and empathy are applicable to almost all religions of the world. Moreover, through this universal connectedness, Ramadan also unites all humans regardless of their religions. Starving the whole day brings a deep realisation of what the needy and the underprivileged must undergo everyday, the challenges they must face everyday--not to fulfil a desire, but to merely satiate their starving stomachs. Truly, as president Obama pointed out, "We must continue working together to alleviate the suffering of these individuals" and, to this end, Ramadan gives every individual, regardless of religion, status and identity an opportunity to help those in need with their full zeal and zest.

Happy Ramadan and warm wishes to all my brothers and sisters on this festive occasion!