Ramzan: More important than ever before to observe restraint

A file photo of Muslims offering prayers during Ramzan

Today, when religion has come to mean superficial propaganda more than anything else, fasting reminds us that we are not the protectors of religion, but need religion to lead life in a harmonious way

The holy month of Ramzan has arrived. It is touching to recall Mahatma Gandhi’s words when he described how a Muslim village had cooked for him when the entire village was observing fast during Ramzan.

This is how Mahatma Gandhi had responded: “It has touched me deeply and also humbled me to find that at a time when, owing to the Ramzan fast, not a kitchen fire was lit in the whole of this village of Mussalman homes, food had to be cooked for us in this place. I am past the stage when I could fast with you as I did in South Africa to teach the Mussalman boys who were under my care to keep the Ramzan fast. I had also to consider the feelings of Khan Saheb who has made my physical well-being his day-and-night concern and who would have felt embarrassed if I had fasted. I can only ask your pardon.”

The humility of the one who did not fast and the generosity of those who fasted and cooked for him must be remembered and replicated. Fasting is meant to remind us that we are not the protectors of religion and religion is what guides us to lead this life beautifully and peacefully.

We have started believing in demonstrating our religion more than practising it. The intimidating processions during Kanvad, noisy jagratas during navratra and the grandiose Iftar parties during Ramzan have now become a norm. While the reality remains that all religions promote restraint and austerity through these fasts; introspection and not outward assertion of one’s religious identity has always been the focus.

So once again, we must remind ourselves that Ramzan is not about fasting, but about disciplining your mind. In fact, all the religions prescribe some particular days for fasting, be it Lents for Christianity or Shravan and Navratras in Hinduism, or taanis in Judaism. Why fasting, when it just aims at torturing oneself with hunger and thirst?

Does that mean then that religion also aims at strengthening faith by penitence?

Religion, above all, aims at bringing about humility within and awareness of the human fallibility. The holy Quran mentions, Allah desires that he should ease your burdens, and man is created weak.

That’s why the scope for penitence, for improvement. But for us, fasting has come to mean entirely a different thing. During Navratras, the focus is not on what kind of fast we have to observe, the focus instead is on what can we eat and drink during the fast. During Ramzan too, the focus, somehow, has shifted from fasting to Iftar.

We have started believing in demonstrating our religion more than practising it. The intimidating processions during Kanvad, noisy jagratas during navratra and the grandiose Iftar parties during Ramzan have now become a norm. While the reality remains that all religions promote restraint and austerity through these fasts; introspection and not outward assertion of one’s religious identity has always been the focus.

Mahatma Gandhi had once written about the significance of fasting in Ramzan and it rings so true in these times of heightened religious passions and intolerance for the other one: “ We have gathered that merely keeping the fast cannot be considered sufficient for a proper observance of the Ramzan.

The fast is a discipline of the mind as well as of the body. If not all through the year, then at least during the Ramzan month, all the rules of morality should be fully obeyed, truth practiced and every trace of anger suppressed.

“We seem to think that the observance of Ramzan begins and ends with abstention from food and drink. We think nothing of losing temper over trifles or indulging in abuse during the sacred month of Ramzan. If there is the slightest delay in serving the repast at the time of the breaking of the fast, the poor wife is hauled over live coals. I do not call it observing the Ramzan, but its travesty.

If you really want to cultivate non-violence, you should pledge that come what may, you will not give way to anger or lord it over members of your household. You can thus utilize trifling little occasions in everyday life to cultivate non-violence in your own person and teach it to your children.”

This is in fact what the practice of fasting is aimed at. And this is what one has to keep in mind today, when religion has come to mean superficial propaganda more than anything else. The attention has shifted to trivial issues of constructing a temple or a mosque or deciding a place to offer namaz.

Now, more than ever, it is relevant to stop and think, to ponder over why do we fast, to practise restraint and patience and austerity.

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