On the fast and ongoing slow

One has to wait for the whole year to pass in order to see utter mayhem and madness on the streets. But one does see it eventually. The month of Ramzan brings with it a combination of general frustration and low blood sugar, ideally set to instill patience and temperance in believers, but it often has the opposite effect. You see it all: people driving in the opposite direction along the roundabouts, getting into petty fights with hawkers and, closer to iftar time, people behave like torpedoes while they are on their way to buy their samosas and other oily edibles. It is however not just the spike in traffic accidents that is a problem with our general approach towards the holy month, it is the fact that we behave as though we have done the world a great favour by choosing to shift our meal times. This sense of great superiority brings with it the need to clear anything in its path. The first casualty is often productivity.
Out of the fast diminishing culture of Pakistan, one thing that is increasingly being affiliated with the country is the fact that you cannot get anyone to perform any task in any workplace across the board, the government especially. Pakistan’s cities were the capital of “Sorry, service not available, please try later” but have now become the capitals of “Get lost, no service here, try after a month.” This is bad. Bad for the economy, bad for those who work on daily wages and bad for any self-respecting country that wants to attract investment and become a global power. For all the pain that is felt for the injustices Palestinians are going though, the fact that a Muslim majority country like Pakistan has no economic muscle to create any pressure is a guarantee that injustices will continue. Capitalism is a system that is here to stay and the pace is not set by the great unproductives like Pakistan.
Seen another way, a spiritual path of hardship that alienates one from the ability to induce influence cannot be endorsed, and this certainly is not the way it was intended to be. Muslims have previously fought holy wars while fasting and have never let their religious observance come in the way of their mission and duties. The problem is that, without a mission, the Muslims of today think the fact that they fast is an end in and of itself. This is a disservice to the message.
The magnified focus of Ramzan, also known as the Arabised “Ramadan”, is on food, whereas the initial intent was to take focus away from food, and towards minimalism. Ours has become extravagance and pomp. Iftar parties on steroids. Food that gets dumped at these is enough to feed an army. The burden of this in our homes falls disproportionately on women who are pressurised to prepare gourmet meals for the entire family for iftar, dinner and sehri only in the span of a few hours while they too suffer the exhaustion of the fast. It is summer and the kitchen can be hellish. A month of compassion usually does not extend to men, who often do not venture close to the kitchen and, in fact, impatiently do the equivalent of ringing their glasses with forks, demanding faster service.
The media does not help the cause: with shows like Pakistan Ramadan hosted by the infamous Amir Liaquat — yes, the one who was caught on camera cursing like a cowboy and who called for the murder of Ahmedis on live television — these shows reinforce the values of commemorating external hype around a month that is supposed to encourage an internal cleansing. The more you put your piety on display the more points you get, literally. If this is not selling religion, what is? At least the edible oil industry is booming because of it. The result: a few get rich and the many get morally poor. Charity, the central pillar of this month, is tossed aside like a forgotten coat. There is no real innovation on the media on how to promote organised philanthropy or expose those elements of our society that are in dire need of help.
What of the spirit of volunteerism in the fast? There is none. There is so much social pressure that the entire nation — the sick, the old, the non-Muslim, the religiously exempted from fasting — all feel the need to submit to the custom. The worst thing about it is the Ehteram-e-Ramzan ordinance that forbids eating in a public place for the entire duration of fast times in the whole month. Labourers and old men have been beaten by mobs for violating the rule. This is barbarity at its worst in a month that forbids violence of any kind. The worst kind of violence is that which judges another human being. Let us be reminded that that attribute is God’s alone.
It would serve our religion well if this Eid, while we celebrate our achievements in days and hours we refrained from food, to also remember that we should refrain from absurdity. There are greater battles to be fought, those for the weak and the oppressed being the first. Our struggles must develop empathy for them, not complacency.

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