Ramadan is about restraint and charity, not judging the practices of others
Bangladesh has come a long way towards development by cmoving towards developing nation status. In this journey, Bangladesh has managed to cross quite a few lines, like the line between a religiously tolerant state and a religiously intolerant one.
The public sphere in Bangladesh is increasingly becoming a Muslim-majoritarian region. However, let’s forget for once how the state protects and promotes and then forgets minority rights. Instead, let’s think of how some individuals, who often have nothing to do with state policy and administration, interact with the 10%.
I don’t think it is the number that matters most. It is not just the fact that, demographically, Muslims are over 90%. No. It is how some individuals use this statistic against the rest that matters.
Ramadan is the month of purification, self-control -- the month of charity. How much do these values get observed by the 90%? While there is no compulsion in religion, it seems like, during Ramadan, many members of the 90% make it a point to ensure that their majoritarian powerplay is in full effect.
Take my friend, for an instance, who is a non-Muslim. She went to a restaurant on the second day of Ramadan and ordered lunch. The restaurant, after 15 minutes, came back to inform her that they were unable to serve lunch. Why? Well, allegedly, some policemen had come and ordered the restaurant to close.
Upon my inquiry, I found out there was no such order or gazette preventing restaurants from serving lunch during Ramadan. Then why did the restaurant lie?
Then, a few days ago, a family friend (yes, non-Muslim) told me that a few of her colleagues, more than once, had asked her not to have lunch during Ramadan, because: Firstly, it is not fair that she eats while others cannot (cannot, or do not? Isn’t choosing to observe religious obligations a matter of personal decision?). Second, seeing her eat “lightens” their fasting (roja halka hoye jae).
Is it someone else’s responsibility to take care of the essence of your fasting? Seeing my dumbstruck expression, she went on to share that she has often been criticized by her colleagues for not covering her hair, because, why shouldn’t she when Mother Mary used to cover her hair?
Then there is the story of my friend’s wife (non-Muslim, of course). She received an extraordinary dose of criticism along with lectures on discipline for lunching during Ramadan from her supervisor -- that she should cover her hair at the time of azaan. Upon her refusal to oblige, she faced even more criticism for not showing “humility.”
Do some people actually think minorities should be submissive to their ways?
And take my former classmate, now a corporate lawyer. A party animal, he was told during an office party that he loves partying because every member of his community is alcoholic and follows the West (and other Bangladeshis don’t?).
The implication was that non-alcoholic iftar parties must be excruciating for him.
These are examples of passive discrimination and passive aggression at an individual level. But the phenomenon also prevails at a community level.
So many non-Muslims I know have been denied apartments for renting, because the landlord does not like the smell of dhup, does not want pork to be cooked in his kitchen, does not want a protima to be placed in the flat, because the said community is known to be dirty, etc.
I could go on and on.
These are not stories that I’ce picked up from newspaper reports. These have been told to me by real people who are parts of my life.
These stories make me think: Since when did the majority take it upon themselves to protect the sanctity of Ramadan by disciplining those of other faiths?
When did everybody forget that non-Muslims do not have an obligation to observe Ramadan rituals?
Respect works both ways, observing religion is not equivalent to displaying majoritarian force, simply because the minority member may choose not to protest.
If Ramadan is a time for restraint and charity, then playing the majority card is not the way to do that.
With the end of Ramadan this year, let’s reflect on the charity of love, harmony, and mutual respect for humans, all and sundry.
Arpeeta Shams Mizan is a socio-legal analyst. She can be reached at [email protected]