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Citizen Voices Religion

In our zeal, we fail to spread the blessings of Ramazan

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A couple of years back, a Hindu man was beaten in Pakistan for eating in public during Ramazan. A Christian woman has recently shared her story on social media how she almost got arrested for the same act few years ago. This year out of fear, she endured heat in the middle of the day by walking to her bank and standing in a long queue without drinking a drop of water, despite being three months pregnant. For the non-Muslims, this is a forced respect they pay to a religious month celebrated by Muslims. What respect do the Muslims give to them is a big question mark.

How the Ehtaram-e-Ramazan clause incorporated into the constitution by an Islamist dictator?

In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq, the then President of Pakistan, among many other regulations for the Islamisation of the nation passed the ‘Ehtaram-e-Ramazan ordinance’. The most fundamental purpose of this ordinance was to ensure that the sanctity of the month of Ramazan is preserved.

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Article 3 of  the ordinance states that ‘No person who, according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast shall eat, drink or smoke in a public place during fasting hours in the month of Ramazan’. Punishments include simple imprisonment up to three months, fine up to Rs 50,000 or both. Around 90 citizens were punished for violating Ehtaram-e-Ramazan Ordinance last year, while this year, already more than 40 have been arrested and over 10 imprisoned.

Non-Muslims are under no obligation to fast but they are, in practice, forced to

All the main super stores, malls and restaurants are closed during the fasting hours. The ordinance clearly states that ‘no proprietor, manager, servant or other person in charge of a hotel, restaurant or canteen, or other public place, shall knowingly and willfully offer or serve or cause to be offered or served any eatable during fasting hours in the month of Ramazan to any person who, according to tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast.’

80-year-old Hindu man was severely beaten up for eating during the fasting hours in Sindh.

And there are Muslims as well who can’t

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While the rules may seem not so strange in a predominantly Muslim majority country, what most of us seem to overlook is that there are many among us who are not obligated to fast. Although the ordinance in all clauses states strict regulations against eating in public for those who are under an obligation to fast – which does not apply to the non-Muslims – in practice, even those belonging to other religions are roped in and forced to comply with the ordinance, on the pretext of respecting the sentiments of fasting Muslims.

Do we also respect the fasting months or days of the minorities?

This sentiment of respect disappears when many Pakistanis belonging to the Christian and Hindu communities fast during their respective obligatory periods. Since they belong to the minority, the burgeoning Muslim population, perhaps, does not feel the need to make any adjustments. For, adjustments are to be made by others only.

The strict enforcement which goes beyond the Muslim population also overlooks the fact that many may be ill and many out of poverty are forced to continue working as labourers in sweltering heat. In fact, many Muslims, who work under harsh conditions, choose not to fast. But they all have to be discreet in consuming food or even few drops of water to avoid legal action against them.

And then, there’s the ambiguity of the text and the practical implementation too

While in Pakistan, much ambiguity lies in the text and practical implementation of the Ehtaram-e-Ramazan Ordinance, many other Muslim countries share the zeal of our country, although some are relatively considerate.

How other Muslim countries deal with the respect for Ramazan?

In Algeria, citizens are condemned to prison and heavy fines when failing to fast during Ramazan. In Kuwait, the penalty is a fine of no more than 100 Kuwaiti Dinars, or jail for no more than one month, or both penalties, for those seen eating, drinking or smoking during Ramazan in daytime. Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia seems to take Ramazan ‘more seriously than anywhere else’, for there are harsher punishments including flogging, imprisonment and for foreigners, deportation.

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However, in some places in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), eating or drinking in public during the daytime of Ramazan is considered a minor offence and would be punished by up to 150 hours of community service. In Malaysia, there are no such punishments.

Some countries have laws that amend work schedules during Ramazan. Under UAE labour law, the maximum working hours are to be six hours per day and 36 hours per week. Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait have similar laws.

Is this the real essence of Ramazan?

What Ramazan teaches us is patience. We practice restraint not only in consuming food but in our thoughts, words and actions, which should reject evil and practice piety. Then how do we justify the wrath and hatred we project towards others? By imposing restrictions, we cannot force a Muslim to fast, if it is an act they choose not to perform; it is purely out of will and the consequences to be borne by self, not the society. So how and why does the society spend energy on moral policing others rather than benefit from the blessings of a holy month? Is the faith of Muslims so weak that it can be shaken by an image or act of consuming food? And what justification does the society have to harshly treat the old, the sick and the non-Muslims for not performing an act because it is not compulsory for them?

Like many other acts of violence we perform in the name of our religion, forcing upon others the laws of Islam which we ourselves are bound to follow, sends across a message of fear and hatred. In our zeal, we warn of Allah’s wrath on those who bring harm to Muslims. Little do we realise that we ourselves have brought this wrath upon ourselves – by practicing hatred, intolerance and prejudice against others.

To be able to earn the full blessings during Ramazan, we need to clear our hearts of all evils. That also includes correcting others. Let us first look upon ourselves and try to steer a clear path towards a harmonious environment.


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