23 September, 2006

The Spirit of Ramadan

One of the puzzles I've never been able to answer throughout my 8 years in the Gulf, is that during this one month of Ramadan, the sales of food items increases phenomenally throughout the GCC region - despite the fact that this month is supposed to be the fasting month! What could be the reason? More influx of foreigners to expereience Ramadan? Food offered to more poor and hungry people during this period (who are otherwise ignored throughout the year)? Or is it that more Muslims congregate in GCC countries to experience Ramadan closer to the place of birth of Islam? Or is it that people tend to waste more food more often?

Any statistical insight available from any of the contributors on this forum?

One of my Muslim Friends sent me a very thought provoking piece on the Spirit of Ramadan, which I wish to share with all bloggers contributing to this forum. Many of the Muslim brethren would already be aware of what's mentioned here. Nevertheless, no harm in repeating good words :) :)

I'm reproducing the full article from my mailbox (Thanks AH!!):

Fasting in Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is generally taught with ritual precision: abstaining from food, drink and intimate relations from dawn to dusk. Ironically, Ramadan is best known,whether by Muslims or others the world over for its exotic culinary delicacies.
Ramadan, however, has nothing to do with feasting. The spirit and intent of Ramadan lies in a human transformation, with hunger and thirst being merely the first stage, the external dimension, in a month-long inner journey of struggle and discovery.
For starters, fasting is not solely about hunger and thirst. The prophet taught that God has no need for the hunger and thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity or usurps their rights. The fasting of the stomach must be matched by the fasting of the limbs.The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongues temptations, for example - lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity and senseless argumentation - must be challenged and curbed to maintain the integrity of the fast.
Consciousness of behavior and vigilance over action are meant to lead to the most profound dimension of fasting: the fasting of the heart in focus on, and attachment to, the divine. It is then that Ramadan really becomes a source of peace and solace.
Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human.
We are more than the sum of our parts, more than mere material creatures or a series of conditioned responses. Different traditions have different names for it - soul, spirit, heart - but almost all argue that we possess an essence beyond our physical body. It is perhaps this recognition that accounts for the fact that fasting is a common practice in other faith traditions.
True fasting is self-purification and, from this, a rich inner life embellished with values such as justice, generosity, patience, kindness forgiveness, mercy and empathy - values that are indispensable, especially mercy and empathy, to communal life as we know it.
The world has shrunk but so, it seems, has our empathy for one another.
Perhaps we should ask why is it so difficult to connect with others?
One reason is that knowing about hunger is different from knowing hunger. Empathy is not an intellectual equation; it is a human experience. In our ivory towers, we are typically spectators to the human drama around us. Our hardness of heart often springs from our distance from the human condition of others. The poor, sick, disenfranchised, oppressed - we have rarely walked a mile in their shoes, or even just a few footsteps. "Rest assured," cautioned one teacher, "if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are."
That 1.2 billion Muslims are fasting concurrently speaks to the universality of fasting in transcending the barriers of geography, colour and race. For fasting to be truly universal, however, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend to forging a common humanity with others. Each one of us must look within.
As an abrupt break in our annual routine, Ramadan will come and go with such stealth that we cannot but be reminded of our mortality. What is it that we value and why? The food and drink, previously indulged in with a sense of necessity, even urgency, were reduced with no dire consequence. Habits, customs, obsessive behaviours like smoking, too, were curtailed with relative ease in the face of a higher calling. What does it mean to be a global citizen? How much of me is really an algorithm of consumption?
Though the annual ritual of fasting takes 30 days, its true destination is endless.
May we always have hunger to discover our heart!


DG said...

Shansenta, thanks for the informative post. Unfortunately Ramadan is no more a month of fasting, rather we should call it month of feasting.

Last night one of the scholars was saying on the radio that each of us should note down our body weight at the start of the holy month. On the day of Eid, if we have not lost at least 2 to 3 Kg, it means we have never realy fasted. He said the ideal situation should be like this: the amount spent on food in Ramadan should be 50% of what an average family spends during the other 11 months.

BD said...

The problem of feasting instead of fasting comes in when people focus on observing the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. People focus solely on the technicality of not eating from dawn to dusk. Furthermore, the general wealth enjoyed in this society today has allowed the break fast hours to evolve into a time for feasting, which is technically all well and good as long as the letter of the law continues to be enforced.

So, what is more meaningful--to consume half as much food per day even if the hours are not strictly observed, or to fast and feast while following all the rules. People should be encouraged not to follow rules, but to use reason instead.

Mohammed UK said...

It's not just feasting. It's the purchase of large amounts of food, based on the hunger pangs and a major portion of it going in the bin. Particularly the case at buffets, I think.

Again, one feels like eating some special dish, but cannot really manage it in the end.

I don't think there is a requirement to lose weight during Ramadhan. Moderation, though.

onik-onik said...

"People should be encouraged not to follow rules, but to use reason instead."

BD: Islam is one of the world's "legalistic" religions, which means the letter of the law is more important than the intent of the law. The intent may have some significance, but it is of no value in terms of enforcement. Hence, feasting at Iftar is quite acceptable,and no one has any right to complain about it. It's meaningless to do so.

DG: If a person gains weight during Ramadan, no one has a right to say he has not fasted, especially not someone who calls himself a "scholar". The question is one of whether the person abstained from food from between sunrise and sunset, which is what his religion requires of him.

In actual fact, food consumption increases dramatically during this month, and most supermarkets are geared for it; this is when their profits shoot up. The greatest amount of food wastage (in Gulf countries) also takes place during this month. In nearby Somalia and Ethiopia, babies and children continue to starve to death, while in Gulf countries, tonnes of uneaten food is thrown away during the month of Ramadan.

Spending on food purchases increases in "fasting" households, whereas in non-fasting households, it remains the same.

By observation, therefore, it is a month of fasting (during the day); it is also a month of feasting (during the night). Non-Muslims eat during the day, and refrain from food during the night (while they are asleep). The meal they have before they begin their fast is called "Dinner" or "Supper", and the meal they have at the time of breaking their fast is called "Break-fast".

If "reason", rather than "rules" are followed (as BD suggests), then eating establishments would not have to close, neither would non-Muslims be required to refrain from eating in public.

BD said...

It's not just feasting. It's the purchase of large amounts of food, based on the hunger pangs...

That's a good observation. Although I don't fast I do find if I go into a supermarket or restaurant hungry then I'm liable to buy or order much more than I need.

Several years ago I decided to fast for a day, just to give it a try. When iftar rolled around I was with a Keralite friend who was fasting out of religious duty. It surprised me that when the moment to break the fast rolled around, he was content with a few pieces of fruit and nuts. He never feasted after that but went on with the rest of the evening as normal. I suppose that is the way to do it. My friend was not a wealthy Gulf Arab but a humble Indian worker.

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