Consumerism counters Ramazan’s message

The Spirit Of Islam

Khalid Baig

Ramazan is a month of tremendous blessings. Today it is also a time of great challenges. The challenges come from a head-on collision between Ramazan and the materialism, consumerism, and hedonism that have unfortunately engulfed Muslim societies. Approached correctly and observed diligently, the former could help us overcome the latter. In our present state of decay, the opposite seems to be happening in many cases.
Ramazan’s month long intensive training programme begins to teach self-discipline by rearranging our daily life. It changes the time we go to bed, the time we get up, the times we eat. We learn to do without the permissible joys of this life for the long prescribed hours of the day. After a day of fasting, we break the fast only to rush to the maghrib salat, which cannot be delayed beyond a few minutes. An hour or two later we are ready for the special nightly prayer, a unique prayer which can only be performed during Ramazan and which both highlights and cements our special relationship with the Qur’an. We stand and listen to the entire Qur’an being recited from heart in the taraweeh prayer. This is in addition to our own reading of the Qur’an that aims at finishing at least one cycle of the complete reading during the month on our own.
With all the extra acts of worship, there is hardly any time left for anything beyond the essential during the day and night. This is special time, when the rewards for voluntary acts of worship equal the rewards of mandatory acts and the rewards for the latter are multiplied up to 700 times. With the scales of rewards so extraordinarily high during this month, it would be folly to waste our time on things that can be done during ordinary time — throughout the rest of the year. The opportunity cost is just unbelievably high to do otherwise. Yet that is precisely what we manage to do in so many cases.
Consider iftar, the breaking of the fast at the end of the day. A Jewish acquaintance once told me about his fast of Yum Kippur. Unlike the Islamic fasts, all Jewish fasts are a one day affair but the day is longer. It starts twenty minutes before sundown on the previous night. At the end of the fast, he said, “I went to a restaurant and ate like a pig.” With the maghrib salat and the taraweeh, the Ramazan fast does not permit that. Neither does the spirit of Ramazan permit indulgence. Yet today one can see fancy restaurants in the Muslim world offering high priced iftar dinner specials that invite you to do just that.
One could substitute Dubai or Jeddah or Kuala Lumpur or any other Muslim city for Karachi; the message will remain the same. Instead of turning your attention to Allah, turn it to the exquisite setting and culinary delights. Indulge. Turn the breaking of the fast into a status symbol. Exquisite (i.e. esoteric), extravagant, lavish. This is how the agents of rampant consumerism counter Ramazan’s message of simplicity, sacrifice, and self discipline. All while advertising their special regard for the holy month.
To be sure, the fraction of Muslims going to these fancy restaurants is small, although it is increasing. But their influence on the society goes beyond these numbers. For they set the norms and expectations for the larger society. Lavish iftar parties for which people drive long distances and miss their prayers are an indication of these influences. The same observations can be made about Qiyam-ul-Lail. Ramazan nights, especially during the last third of the month, are meant to be spent in personal acts of worship, in salat, zhikr, duas, reading the Qur’an and seeking forgiveness. Instead these are spent in talks, socialisation, and visiting bazaars.
The most solemn and demanding act of worship for Ramazan is the I’tikaaf, when a person secludes himself from the world around in a corner of the mosque to devote himself totally to remembering Allah and strengthening his personal relationship with Him. The act could provide spiritual rebirth and carries tremendous rewards. Yet today one can see laptops, cell phones, iPads, and other modern widgets routinely forming a part of the equipment of itikaf. It is an open question how can anyone realize the goals of itikaf with activities like watching videos, Internet surfing, texting, and chatting. One famous hadith states that there are those who get nothing from their fasts but hunger and thirst and nothing from their qiyam-ul-lail but sleep deprivation.
While telling us about the great blessings of Ramazan, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), also warned about the possibility that it could cement our loss and wretchedness if we are not serious about taking advantage from its blessings. In one famous hadith He said that there are those who get nothing from their fasts but hunger and thirst and nothing from their qiyam-ul-lail but sleep deprivation. In another hadith he said ameen as angel Jibrael cursed the person who finds Ramazan in a state of health and yet does not use it to win freedom from the Fire through acts of devotion and worship. There can be no sterner warnings than these. We have been forewarned to be forearmed. If we pay attention to them and become serious about Ramazan, then it would be a month of tremendous blessings.
This requires fasting with our whole body and soul. Our eyes, ears, tongues, and hearts should be totally committed to the fast by not seeing, hearing, or speaking haram things or thinking haram ideas. Honesty, truthfulness and Allah consciousness or taqwa should be our guiding values. We should avoid all frivolities, including the ones that are committed in the name of religion.
Only then we will realize the sweetness in the acts of worship like prayers and recitation and utter foolishness of exchanging them for entertainment. This will turn Ramazan into a month of spiritual renewal that would recharge our batteries of iman and taqwa and prepare us to face the world and its temptations with moral uprightness for another year.
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