YES, it is that time of year again. The month of Ramadan has come. This is the month where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day for 29 or 30 days.
It is a month of reflection for many while for others it is a month of worship. However, for many, it is just a month where one is not allowed to eat or drink.
This, of course, becomes the overriding discussion among many in the month preceding Ramadan.
“Oh, I cannot eat next month,” some say. “I need my morning coffee,” others lament. And so, a lot of activity around this month centres on these themes.
From your Bazaar Ramadan to the majlis berbuka puasa (breaking of fast functions), food is in abundance everywhere.
Now, consider another scenario. Imagine living in Somalia. You are living among people who are dying of hunger.
A mother is unable to feed her dying child. A father is unable to provide for his family.
A child is crying for some grub but his tears flow to no avail. A person is unable to eat to fulfil his hunger pangs that gnaw at his stomach with such intensity that it is unimaginable.
The very basic need for a human soul is unfulfilled. There’s no access to water to quench a dry throat.
BBC shows a mother shouting: “Where are the rich people? Do they not see what we are going through? Where are the Muslims?”
Let us look now at the real meaning of Ramadan. It is derived from an Arabic root word denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations.
Much like what is happening in Somalia now. Somalia is literally experiencing ramad.
What does heat do? Heat cleans what is unclean. Heat scours the muck off a surface. Heat removes foul odour from the air. Heat welds two pieces of iron together, showing it softens even the hardest of substances.
However, heat, when it is intense, also destroys life.
Now let us look at what people of a region do in a heat wave. The wise thing to do is to conserve. They should practise restraint; restrain from overindulgence. Restrain from enjoying the present and conserving for the future.
Thus, to fast is to practise self-restraint. It is not merely a ritual. It is a way of living.
Islam is a way of life. For us to practise restraint, we first need to think: Why am I doing this? Why do we go on a diet?
Biological logic tells us to indulge; eat as much as possible so that the body can store in case of a shortage.
But this is not the case for many any more for food is in abundance.
Who should go on a diet? Normally, it is people who indulge. It would be imbecilic for us to tell the Somalians to go on a diet. Diet is not for them.
However, it is for people who have everything in abundance. This is because the world is created in a balance. It is our duty to fulfil this balance. If we live an unbalanced life, we live an unhappy life.
Restraint is about keeping our body in balance in an area where there is an imbalance.
And thus restraint comes in many forms. We restrain from overeating at buffet tables. We restrain from getting angry and/or losing our temper in a heated argument.
We also try to keep our cool on a hot day since it is a known fact that tempers flare on hot days as opposed to cooler ones. And so the list goes on.
So fasting is about keeping our body in balance. It is also about keeping the world in balance.
Thus, if you are at a buffet table, maybe instead of eating for yourself, you should pass it on to someone or move it to an area where that balance is not present at the moment. That is better for us.
It cleans our body of all poisonous toxins. It cleans our mind of dirty selfish thoughts. It cleans our soul of the scum of the ego.
It cleans our spirit from the dirt of superciliousness.
This is what intense heat does — it cleans. And thus fasting is not about feasting. Fasting is restraint.
Restrain to restore the balance when there is an imbalance.
Fasting is about feeling the pain of others. Thus, it is the step that precedes charity.
The writer is a consultant on environmental and economic issues. More information available at http://www.fastingnotfeasting.org