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The holy Ramadan of 1441AH has just started. I pray that Allah Protects all of us from the current threat of COVID19, and Allah Gives us ‘taufeeq’ to fast in its true spirit, clean our souls from the dust of sins and wrongdoings, and make amends to become better persons. Aameen.
I shall not talk about the religious aspects of Ramadan; I am not qualified to do so. I would rather talk about the social aspects and would like to take you down memory lane to the old times.
Ramadan has been a special part of our social landscape for hundreds of years, I guess. It has always been a special time. Being a whole month, it started on a high, anticipatory note of spiritualism which kept rising till the end and culminated in the festivity of Eid ul Fitr.
In my earliest memories, which would be very early 1960s, Ramadan was Ramzan, as everyone called it then. Qira’at and Qari’s were not everywhere. Even the Imams of mosques recited Qura’an in ‘majhool’ way of recitation. Anyway, Ramzan used to come in winter in those days. And the winter was spread over 5 months and was really cold throughout.
In the early hours of cold nights, an hour and half or so before Sehri, a guy would walk by in the street. He would carry an empty tin which he would bang with a stick to make noise. He would also shout “Bhola Aa Gaya, Bhola Aa Gaya, Sutyan Nu Jaga Gaya’. It was public service to wake up people because not everyone had an alarm clock. After 10-15 minutes, a group of 5-6 young people would do the round. They would be reciting verses loudly and made sure people woke up. These two public alarm clocks were a permanent fixture in Ramzan. They would come no matter how harsh the weather might be. This service was free of charge. On the Eid Day, Bhola and the young group took a round of each house and sought to get something as reward. They would neither insist nor argue and would keep whatever they got.
The elders got up to prepare Sehri; we, the children, listened but kept us curled in the warm bed. We lingered on till we were told it now or never. We got up, had Sehri and would run back to warm beds. Permanent fixture of Sehri was Paratha; other things would keep changing. Our mother, may she rest in peace, would make Parathas and we would sit beside her and eat.
First fast by a child was a special occasion. It was celebrated by the whole family. The child would be treated as royal throughout the day and treated with a feast at Iftari. There may be some cash reward or gifts also, as the conditions allowed.
Iftari was an everyday celebration. In most homes, elaborate arrangements were done for Iftari, the best that they could do. Other than fruit, everything was home made. E-coli filled Samosas from bazaars came much later. The Iftar started with Khajoor (date) and some water which was followed by pakoras, chaat and some other things. Supper was some time after Maghrib prayer. We were more interested in Iftari rather than supper, as you would understand.
Taraweeh was a fixture of Ramzan nights. Men and children went to mosque for Isha prayer and taraweeh, while women prayed at home. Taraweeh was considered no less than a ‘farz’. In fact, we were told that the ‘rozas’ remained suspended between earth and sky if these were not supplemented with taraweeh. The roads were more or less empty during taraweeh time; only people with some urgent work were out of mosque.
Eid shopping was the topping during the last 10 days or so of Ramzan. Women led the effort and men towed behind. Children enjoyed.
Time passed and we grew as adults, became parents and the cycle was repeated. As happened with everything, simplicity was abandoned for complexity in the name of greater spirituality or whatever. Homemade delicacies were abandoned for huge Iftaris outside or Outside specialties at home. Paratha at Sehri was changed with Pizza and so on. As a rule, I never lament upon what was and is no more; it is just stating the facts.
Three things stand out vis-à-vis social aspect when I look back over the last sixty years. And this is so in spite of all the changes that have been there.
Extra Expenses – everyone spent beyond usual. The expense was done on extra foods every day at Sehri and Iftari. Iftari was almost always shared with some neighbors. Charity was at its peak. People were generally not rich, but they happily did charity and sharing during Ramzan. Eid shopping was also a sizeable expense, but it was done. Gifts for brothers and sisters and parents were also thrown in. and finally, the Eidi money that we received as children and paid forward as adults. How could they afford such extravagance during Ramzan? Knowing that they had limited means, why did they still do it? My parents said Allah gave special Barkat during Ramzan. That it was a special time for sharing and praying and charity; we should keep faith and should do it in the name of Allah. It must have been so. The opulence and affluence of Ramzan were not seen at any other time during the year.
Enhanced Spirituality – we felt pious and we felt motivated to do good. We tried consciously to avoid bad things. While fasting, we felt hungry in winter and thirsty in summer, but we felt good. There was a comfort all around despite physical hardship. There was an overall feeling of peace, inside and outside. If for any reason, a fast could not be kept, it caused great discomfort and anguish. Taraweeh sometimes felt tiring after a long day but it still felt nice. Yesterday, a friend shared a clip edited to include Dr. Israr Ahmed, Engr. Anwar, Maulana Ishaq, and Javed Ghamidi. They were all proving that Taraweeh is no prayer at all. They are all great scholars and must be right. Taraweeh may not be mandatory by religion, but it is a great exercise for enhancing spirituality. Corona issue notwithstanding, the image of Ramzan without taraweeh is not very motivating. Yes, we may suspend it in this time due to serious health threat, but it has to remain part of Ramzan landscape.
Spirit to Give – Man is not giving by nature. He is possessive in nature and desires to accumulate. Allah says “Say [to them], “If you possessed the depositories of the mercy of my Lord, then you would withhold out of fear of spending.” And ever has man been stingy.”[17:100].
Ramzan is an unusual time when even the stingy and miser get the courage to spend. Zakat has somehow been associated with Ramzan, partly thanks to Ziaul Haq. Lot of people pay zakat in this time. Everyone tries to give during this month. It may be due to expectation of greater reward or just feeling more generous but giving is at its highest during Ramzan. It is a great thing and a special gift of Ramzan.
So, Ramadan is here again with all its beauty and generosity and spirit. Let us keep safe but get the most benefit out of it.
Going into greatest details of religion may actually become a disservice by causing discord and disorientation. Let the worships and prayers remain simple and focused.