No one can get away with saying that Ramzan is anything but a blessed month without getting into an argument that it is Ramadan not Ramzan. It is kind of like that food served to you as a kid at an aunt’s that you can’t say is mushy. You swallow it with a smile and dovetail that with a sincere prayer of thanks. Ramzan can have three sides to it, depending on who is on the receiving end of it, assuming that the world is inhabited by people who read different scriptures and somehow even interpret them independently. There is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Because there is more of it, let us start with the good. Philanthropy goes up. Alleviating human suffering is not just the cornerstone of our religion it is also a practice among the devout. In Pakistan particularly this month has seen a gush of giving, from across socio economic strata. If you don’t have money, Pakistanis have big hearts, to help in cash and kind. Any sceptic must simply visit a Shaukat Khanum or Akuat, fundraising iftar to know that Pakistanis are perhaps the most generous and conscientious people in the world. The above organizations are among our most credible charitable institutes with openly available account audit reports.
Then there is the festivity the season brings. In the days leading up to Eid, Pakistan becomes the diametrically opposite experience of everything the HBO show, Homeland depicts it to be – There is color, henna, embroidered Sunday bests, house upgrades and all the beauty parlours make up for the energy shortfalls of the year. This is not insignificant, this is the experience that every child growing up in Pakistan will remember and eventually will be pulled back to contribute to his or her motherland. We are building a cache of memories that make a future Pakistan.
The aromatic meethi eid is perhaps the sweetest day of Pakistan, and God knows we could do with sweet days. Eid is also a day we retrospectively connect with those who lost a loved one. It humanizes us as we could do with that too, some more humanity. As slowly and steadily what defines Pakistaniat is taken away by an intellect-less leadership, take Basant for instance, we need to hold on to the traditions we have. The ISIS now thinks Eid prayers are unislamic. We need to turn exactly 180 degrees away from that militant mind-set. That turn-around lies in adorning our children with the colours of festivity and culture.
Rituals, undeniably provide the human experience the ability to ward off evil – the addictions, the loneliness and the isolation. It brings harmony to thousands, regenerates purpose, ensues the sense of sacrifice and controls the beast that Pakistanis are often found spewing in road rage and domestic disputes.
Yet, how much of this enormous value of goodness do we channel positively? Much of it unfortunately is left to the bad category. The generosity that peaks in Ramzan is hardly organized, despite it being abundant. This month is the 15 minutes of fame for the religious right, who actually profiteering from religiosity instead of being humbled by its blessings. These groups, many that are indistinguishable from hard core terrorist organizations that launch religious wars of their own customized brand. They have franchised terror and yet are found opening putting up Zakat/ alms collection centres at busy traffic points, without fear or any retribution from authorities. People who are taken by the symbolism of religiosity give openly to ward off their human failing repercussions and guilt. Gullibility or callousness, either way, Pakistanis pay for a lot of terror in this month.
Then it gets really ugly too. Recently a man from Somaila asked a mufti in Saudi Arabia if he should fast when there is no food to break the fast or to keep it. The mufti broke down and cried. We forget that fasting is a middle-class-and-above phenomenon. It was ordained to feel pain for the hungry, not to get the hungry to starve further.
Thanks to the Ehteram-e-Ramzan ordinance it is a crime to sell food or water in ramzan, eat or drink in public or even make food and water available for free. I mention water repetitively, because about 40,000 people were treated for heat strokes in Karachi and over a thousand were not treated in time and hydrated in time. Piety could kill. The country has gone from one that respects religious doctrine to one that enforces it with the barrel of the gun. The poor are its biggest sufferers, because they have to work with their hands to get the wage and food they can fuel for another day of work. Making the miserable more miserable had got to be a greater sin than any other. The state has no business choosing one doctrine over another and then harassing the people bitten by it – the poor, the religiously ordained to not fast, non-Muslims and the non-practicing.
It is ugly to convert this month of simplicity into a month of excess and artery-clogging foods while on the other hand the poor get sick and die. It is time to reclaim this blessed season and bring back the one thing it was meant to inculcate – empathy.