By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
June 21, 2015
Northern hemisphere friends and relatives, particularly those living in countries well above the tropic of Cancer, did not quite relish the good wishes that were given for the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan- the month of fasting!
They have not done so for past few years for the simple reason that the fasting month falls in the summer season when the days there are long. This year they are fasting as long as nineteen and more hours.
In some parts of the world, the days are not only long but also unusually hot, thanks to “climate change”.
No amount of consolation eased their pain when told that, that Ramada, according to Arabic dictionary means “intense heat”. So the month of fasting was named Ramadhan which perhaps fell in summer when the months of the year were named in Arabic.
Further consolations had no effect either, even when reminded that the battle of Badar fought in the first Hijri year, was in the month of Ramadhan, historically a very hot summer month, that was when the Messenger Muhammad and his supporters routed the numerically large Makkan army which had attacked Madinah where he had taken refuge.
While sympathising with the people in the north, it is realised that the Muslims in the southern hemisphere, for quite few years now are enjoying cool short days of fasting, in some places as short as ten hours and less.
In all things to be equitable, it must be asked if this is fair and just, or is the inequity due to the interpretation from the times when knowledge of planetary orbits was limited.
Admittedly in few years’ time the situation will be reversed. However the ordinance in the Quran for fasting and its given conditions, such as fasting from pre-dawn to after Sunset raises further questions in terms of its application in the far north and far south of the glob and also the physical efficacy of fasting and its religiosity, that is, the excessive spirituality attached to it.
We ask these questions on the basis that the Quran puts up a challenge of sorts to human beings on the premise that mankind is gifted and endowed by the Creator with intelligence. Tis also then rebuked for not using the given gift:
25-73; Those who when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord do not droop at them as if they were deaf and blind. That is the challenge!
Such people are classified lower than cattle, for the humans have hearts, eyes and ears which they do not use. That is the rebuke:
7-179; … They are like cattle, nay even worse… And many more such verses on the subject.
Apart from fasting, that is refraining from any intake of nutrition, in this case for as long as two thirds of the day of twenty four hours; the fact that one is also deprived of sleep through the night, particularly in the Western countries where one is engaged in employment, it must be considered as un-natural and as an “imposed difficulty”.
This situation must inevitably affect ones capacity to work, for employed or self-employed person.
An interesting situation comes to mind where a Muslim employee in colonial British post Office was caught sleeping during lunch time, head on the counter. The supervising officer, who justifiably shook him and woke him, was taken aback; when to his shock and horror the employee remonstrated self-righteously saying “… I am fasting… don’t you know Sir… this is the month of Ramadhan”?
It seems the officer, was expected to have sympathised with the employee’s hardship of fasting, in the light of the following verse, referring to the very subject of fasting during Ramadhan.
2-185, God desires every ease for you; He does not wish to put you in hardships…if the officer only knew, he would have let the employee sleep!
But in all fairness, it is the officer we should sympathise with, if we only knew. Because the Book in many verses emphasis that, for example:
10-67, It is He who has made Night for you to rest in and the Day with light to make things visible for you. Indeed in this are signs for those who heed His message.
So that we can work efficiently and in safety and to fulfil our obligations to the employer as well to ourselves too—part of one’s obligations and character.
Now that some students, who are on holidays in the North, say that they will stay up at night and do all that they did in the days before, but now in Ramadhan just sleep the whole day long.
Such is the spirituality par excellence! But can they be blamed?
The rest of the world will be actively busy while most of the Muslim world would be sleeping in the spirituality of Ramadhan case of the ignorant fell in prostration when it was time to stand up!
يہ ناداں گر گۓ سجدے ميں جب وقتِ قيام ٓايا
The strict fasting rituals, in long summer days and short nights also brings into question the requirement of nutrition and rest period required for the healthy body, for working adults and especially for growing children and most importantly of course for expectant and nursing mothers.
Children as young as eight are made to fast by their overtly religious parents, who then gloat in the glory of their child having completed the fasts for the month. This, in expectation that the child having done so, has earned for the parents holy reward too. A vicariously acquired Thawaab- holy reward -at the expense of the child’s health and its metal development.
It does not require a medical degree for parent to realise that a growing and active body needs nutrition, necessary to develop strong and healthy growth. This is a natural necessity for a child whether the fast is of ten or twenty hours long.
It is no secret that a hungry child falls back in its school work as well.
In the context of Quran and its verses given above, is it not fair to say that the traditional interpretation of the commands are based on religious “transgression” and not on the message of the Book meant for development of character and hardiness of the Believer to withstand the normal hardships that a person encounters in their adult life.
Religious interpretations, made without intelligent reflections, lead to transgressions, excesses and verge on fanaticism that results in harmful outcomes and confusion:
4-171, Oh people of the Book, commit no excesses in your given Code-the Deen, nor say of God except the truth.
Julian, Gregorian, solar and lunar calendars, the astronomical new moon, the definition of the first crescent, its sighting, whether with the use of telescope to keep up with modernity or not is enough for any sane person to throw up arms in despair at the mess.
Suffering the chagrin of the employer as to ‘how many moons you have’, it is common experience for Muslims when asking leave for Eid on different days; depending upon their different priests ‘and factional announcement for it.
Each priest of the mosque claims that his decision to celebrate Eid on that particular day is “based on Quran and Hadis”. Yet, never producing reference from Quran.
In addition to fasting ordained in Quran, many other additional rituals during Ramadhan have been manufactured for spiritual fulfilment, as if to keep the Believers fully occupied in worship and monastic retreat; says Iblees in Iqbal’s poem:
مست رکھو ذِکرِ و فکِرِ صبحا گاہی ميں اِسے۔۔۔۔۔ پختہ تر کردو مزاجِ خانقاہی مين اسے۔۔۔ارمغانِ حجاز
So, what is required to be done to break this nexus of long and short days and nights during the month of fasting that so disrupt normal life and prevent for Muslims meaningful interaction with fellow human beings?
As required by Quran, how would a “contemplating “Believer, residing above the Arctic and Antarctic circles interpret the ordinance of Fasting,?
When asked, a religious-learned person; who for a change knew of the phenomena of continuous days and nights there, replied – “in that case God says use your brain …and fast an average of twelve hours a day”!
Does this not apply to a nineteen or twenty hour day fasting too? And if not why not?
Did not Almighty God know that one day His “obedient servants” would be residing beyond tropics of the globe, and even in space?
The Christians held their first conference in Nicaea (now Iznik ) Turkey, in 325CE to solves their weightier religious problems. The Muslim should take a leaf from that and hold a similar conference there and thrash out simple ritualistic problems facing the nation.
Though such a conference would be thousand years late, but among other issues, the Brotherhood of Muslim Nation (49-10),if it has any value at all; a practical solution might be found to fix the problems.
Global dates for a start and finish of Ramadhan and the two major festivals of Eid for the sake of unity will be an excellent beginning.
Some progressive Muslim countries already have fixed lunar calendar. If all countries were to follow the one calendar, that would be better late than never!
Quranic ordinances for Believers are based on “wisdom and knowledge”. The Spirituality that comes from progress and development of humanity as a whole is the reward, the Thawaab.
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is a (Retd.) Engineer