20 July 2013

It is also the time to show the strength of our faith, our spirit and our discipline.

IT is the first week of Ramadan and as always the body is taking time to adjust. I feel lethargic and sleepy and it takes enormous will to work up the energy to go to work.
But bills don’t stop needing to be paid, letters answered or columns written during this one month of fasting.
I just have to wait a few days before I get used to the daytime deprivation of food and water and will feel normal again.
I like Ramadan because it gives me a sense of a break from the usual routines. Just because there isn’t a break in the middle of the day for lunch makes me rework my daily schedule so that I can get home early enough to rest before the breaking of the fast.
But I expect there to be days when I work right up till buka puasa and won’t even notice it.
Most of all, I’m hoping for some benefits from not eating after a year of mostly undisciplined indulgence in all the wrong types of food.
For me, Ramadan is a time of restraint, reflection and respect. By that, I mean not just refraining from food and drink but from the worst sides of ourselves.
At other times we may be bad-tempered, inconsiderate, gossipy and unthinking but during Ramadan we are supposed to put those sides of us on hold, at least in theory.
I read about how a woman was beaten by her husband because she didn’t wake him up early enough for sahur. It really makes you wonder why the spirit of Ramadan, on its very first morning, was so lacking that a man could be driven to violence in this way.
No doubt there will be some who blame the wife for being “derelict” in her duty to wake her husband but I have to ask: could he not have woken himself, and even if she woke him late, was violence the proper response to this?
Ramadan gives us time to reflect on many things. I like waking up for sahur because the early hours of the morning, amidst the cool and the solitude, gives me time to think about many things.
Sometimes it’s just practical things, like making lists on what I have to do for Raya. Other times, it’s about what it means to honour the spirit of Ramadan.
I try and think of good things I want to be and do and not about things that make me angry or sad. I make a promise to myself to deal with difficult things with greater equanimity.
If people gave themselves time to reflect more during this month, then perhaps they would not do things hastily without thinking of the possible consequences.
If you set out to do something obviously insulting, would you not expect some reaction to it? Did you think about how you will deal with this reaction?
On the other hand, faced with such blatant attempts at publicity, do we succumb to our basest instincts and provide the reaction that would generate the desired attention? Restraint and reflection should really be practised on all sides, but especially by the ones fasting.
Which leads me to respect another part of the spirit of Ramadan.
Yes, in this country, people need to respect that it is Ramadan and that most people are fasting. But on the other hand, those who are fasting are also obliged to respect others who may not be fasting.
We are, compared with many Muslim countries, already one of the most tolerant in that we don’t shut down totally just because many of us are fasting.
In other countries, they simply turn their daily schedules upside-down. Whatever you do in the daytime, such as eat and work, happens at night instead. In actual fact, precious little work gets done and the whole month becomes festive.
But the practical side of us knows that the world is not going to stop just because some of us are fasting.
We still need to work during regular hours because that’s when the rest of the world is working.
Indeed I’m grateful for this because sleeping all day just makes me grumpy and lethargic.
But fasting doesn’t mean we have an excuse to do shoddy work. That means we have no respect for our work and those who employ us. Nor does it give us the licence to demand respect from others.
To say that others have to be extra-respectful or sensitive to us because we are fasting is demeaning and disempowering. It is a bit like being disabled and asking for more crutches to shore up our weaknesses.
Ramadan is after all the time to show the strength of our faith, our spirit and our discipline.