Beyond the rituals

People observing the month of Ramadan have certain codes of conduct to adhere to

This was back in 2010 in Darfur, Sudan. The Head of the Mission UNAMID Professor Gambari, an Under Secretary General at the UN, was addressing his “town-hall meeting,” incidentally, on the first day of Ramadan. It was quite a large gathering of more than a thousand participants of the hybrid mission in Sudan, made up of military, civilians, aid groups, and local Sudanese employees.

It was truly an international community representing so many nations from across the globe of heterogeneous culture, tradition, and faith groups. Professor Gambari, attired in his traditional Nigerian robe and the colourful headgear, started with a greeting “Ramadan Kareem” in his usual loud voice. There was a mild murmur. He looked up at the audience with a gloom in his face and repeated with a little more assertion this time and even louder: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think I said ‘Ramadan Kareem’.”

Actually, he expected the audience to greet him back with “Ramadan Kareem” in unison. This time, it was a rumbling response. The professor was happy and continued with his speech. I was a little taken aback because in the UN environment, sensitive issues like faith and religion are treated with utmost care so as not to overreact, unnecessarily highlight, or create an unease for others.

Like many in the audience, I also failed to understand the professor’s expectations, and hence failed to respond the first time. The professor, in his wisdom, experience, and his usual sense of humour, said a few sentences mentioning how people observing this holy month should behave with others, and how others should also respect the traditions of the Muslims.

Mutual respect, tolerance, sharing, and caring were actually the crux of his Ramadan sermon, for which he took a few minutes before he went into other serious business of the day. A Muslim should not say to his colleague, “I am fasting, hence at the late hours of the day, I have no energy left to carry on with the job; rather, come tomorrow morning.” And a non-Muslim, again, shouldn’t be munching on his sandwich in front of his fasting colleague.

And the evening feast called iftar could very well be shared with people irrespective of their faith. The blessed month in Darfur was observed in due fervour. The evenings came lively with a big get-togethers of Egyptians, Indonesians, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Americans, Canadians, Nepalese, Sudanese, Ethiopians, and others.

While rituals are an important part of observing the holy month, its appeal is much deeper beyond the discipline of long hours of abstention, prayers, and recitation. We call upon the Almighty for His endless mercy and favours, we seek forgiveness for all our sins and refuge from all evils. We share our wherewithal with the less fortunate and needy. 

In this tumultuous world today we are still very fortunate to be living in peace while there are conflicts and struggles all around. Millions of innocent people have been rendered homeless because of war and atrocities, while there are others whose country has gone bankrupt, leading them to endless misery. We seek His mercy for the afflicted and also express our deepest gratitude to the Almighty for keeping us full of beans.  

As we get overwhelmed in our observance, we tend to ignore minor details which could make us more caring for people around us. We can be mindful in not making indiscriminate use of loudspeakers, so as not to create inconvenience for others. For waking people up for sehri or the early morning meal, we don’t actually need loudspeakers when every home has cell-phones with alarms. 

We must carry out the obligatory giving away from the prescribed part of our savings. 2.5% is a handsome amount which we need to set aside for the needy and less privileged. Just think, a person having Tk1 crore in savings, has to give away Tk250,000 lac to the poor. As a matter of practice, we usually fulfil this obligation in Ramdan with an intent to multiply our rewards with the Almighty.

The idea is to alleviate poverty from society. It would be really possible to send poverty to the museum if only every affluent in the society would abide by this divine decree. Thanks to our judgement and good sense that nowadays the distribution of “zakater sari is on the decline. While there is no harm in giving away clothes to the poor, but actually that does not alleviate poverty. 

We have numerous grand masjids in big cities and even small townships in our country.  Masjids are very clean places with nice washing facilities, the interior is cozy with air conditioning, and in many cases, the sound system is tuned up in the finesse of acoustics.

A few decades ago, we were not this fortunate as a people, as a country.

The recitations during the prayers are distinct and soothing. Being a non-Arab society, it is amazing to find the holy book being recited in perfect tone, poise, and pronunciation. Mecca, to Jakarta, Khartoum, London, Sydney, Tashkent, Delhi, or Dhaka -- it is hard to distinguish between whether it is being done by an Arabic speaking person or otherwise. 

This is also a blessing of globalization and the rise of technology. 

A cursory glance at the fruit stalls will reveal that we have a great variety of dates of premium quality from KSA to Algeria to Kuwait. This was unthinkable ten years back. 

Sehri under the starlit sky is the latest trend in the city. To some, it could be an essential part of socialization, some may view it as an extravaganza. People tend to be a bit spend thrifty when shopping for near and dear ones. But again, Ramadan shopping is a big boost to the economy after it has been battered by Covid-19 for two long years. 

Let the spirit of Ramadan help us in winning over our ego; let us all pray for all oppression and injustice against humanity to come to an end; let us inculcate more tolerance and empathy towards our fellow human beings.

Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected].