Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan: Commercial vs. spiritual aspects

From: Saudi Gazette

By Habib Shaikh

JEDDAH – Ramadan is literally the month of light. It was during this month that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) more than fourteen hundred years ago.Abu Umamah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saying, “Read the Qur’an, for it will come as an intercessor for its reciters on the Day of Resurrection.” - (Muslim).This hadith shows the excellence of reciting the Qur’an and acting upon its injunctions. Intercession (in this hadith) means that the Qur’an will be endowed with the power of speech by Allah and it will request Allah to forgive the sins of its reciters who acted upon its teachings. Allah will accept the request of the Qur’an, as signified in other Ahadith.There are many Ahadith on the topic.Besides the five daily prayers, Muslims also have to offer Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan, which follow immediately after the Isha (night) prayer and last a long time, as the full Qur’an is recited in these prayers during the month.Besides fasting, and reading the Qur’an, Muslims must engage themselves in charity during Ramadan. Before the end of the month, they have to give out Zakat (the poor due).

However, these days a trend of commercialization has begun to creep into Ramadan, and a lot of people that Saudi Gazette talked to said that they can see and feel the commercialization of the holy month.“There is no doubt that Ramadan is being commercialized,” said Prof. Dr. Abdullah Hady Al-Kahtany, professor of linguistics at King Khaled University in Abha, and director of the Islamic Education Center.“It is unique month, and we do not receive it in the sense it is meant to be received and observed. We ignore or squander the bounties of the holy month, which we may not see the next year,” he said. According to Al-Kahtany, instead of concentrating on worship and devotion to Allah, for whose pleasure the month is meant, “We invent new foods and dishes, following the outer purpose and neglecting the inner purpose of purifying our heart and soul”. He said sales abound, which is a sign of putting stress on the materialistic aspect, and ignoring or giving less importance to the spiritual aspect. People stay awake till the early hours of the morning and then sleep almost all of the next day. “This is not only harmful for health, but also defeats the very purpose of Ramadan, and, therefore, some people do not really benefit from it,” he said.Since people stay awake at night, the television channels broadcast programs, most of which are just time-fillers. But these programs help the viewers to stay awake.

The channels vie for the advertising riyal and thus add to the commercialization process. There is little physical activity, either during the day or during the night, which contributes to laziness and obesity, which is a major problem in the Kingdom.Commenting on the behavior of Saudi males throughout the year, not just in Ramadan, Dr. Abdullah Musaiqir, head of the Arab Center for Nutrition, said that they (Saudi males) do not get enough physical exercise, eat too much junk food and spend a lot of time in front of the television. Quoting a Saudi study, Musaiqir, said that over 53 percent of Saudi males live a “lethargic lifestyle” with only 20 percent following what could be called a healthy lifestyle.He said watching television encourages further unhealthy eating practices as the activity is popularly accompanied by the consumption of snack foods.

Musaiqir said the first steps toward promoting a healthier lifestyle should come with awareness programs, and added that schools should exert more efforts to support and encourage sporting activities both inside and outside the confines of their campuses. Stressing the health benefit aspect of the holy month, Abdul Hamid, a one-time chain smoker, said it was only because of Ramadan that he was able to give up his years-long habit of smoking, and related his experience so that others, who want to give up the habit, could seize the opportunity offered by Ramadan. Hamid said that one who fasts abstains from food and drink for the better part of the day. “At first I used to smoke soon after Iftar, breaking the fast,” he said, and added that he told himself that if he could go without smoking for the whole day, then there was no need for him to smoke after Iftar. At first, he found it difficult and had a strong urge to smoke after Iftar as usual. “I told myself that when God gives me the strength and sense to go without food and drink, He will surely give me the strength and willpower to go without such a small and harmful thing as a cigarette as well.

All I had to do was consider the time after Iftar and Isha and Taraweeh prayers as an extension of the fast. Alhamdulillah, it worked,” Hamid said, and added, “So much so that now I find the very smell of cigarette smoke nauseating.”Samar Fatany, a radio journalist and a social activist, said one should reflect on the purpose and meaning and true essence of Ramadan. “People tend to forget that Ramadan is a reminder for us to be considerate and helpful to the people in need.

It is a time for connection with Allah, reaching out to the inner soul,” she said.She said that changing working hours during the month turns day into night and vice-versa, which is not good. “We do not follow the guidance and do not respect the essence of Ramadan. We overeat and oversleep, which defeats the very purpose of the holy month, which should not be commercialized,” she added. Khalid Mustafa, a publisher from India, who comes for Umrah very often, mostly during Ramadan, said this year he came before Ramadan, because the hotel charges are exorbitant during the holy month. He said that at one time he had to pay SR26,000 for the last 10 days of Ramadan. “This is commercialization. One can understand that demand is much more than supply during this period, but, as I understand, Islam advocates reasonable profit in any business, not unrestricted profit. And anyway, the principle of supply and demand is a western concept, which is based purely on profit and more profit, without any social consideration,” he added. According to Hafez Koya, a long-time resident of Jeddah, changing the schedule and shortening working hours means economic loss. “As it is, I found that people come later than the stipulated time, which already is at least two hours more than the usual time. Then they go socializing.

When this is over, it is almost time for Dhuhr (afternoon) prayer, and they go to prepare for the prayers. Hardly two hours after prayers, it is time to go home,” Koya said, and added, “Nothing attempted, nothing done. It is a sheer waste of time. It is the public at large that suffers, especially when this happens in the public sector. Bills cannot be paid, licenses are delayed and so forth.” Shahid Farooqi, a Pakistani student of anthropology and sociology, said that besides fasting and prayers, Ramadan is also about building social awareness.“Whatever you do during this month should be continued all year. Not fasting, but the feelings you get from fasting - that you should give to others and the discipline fasting brings you,” he said.According to Omid Safi, a Colgate University professor of religious studies, who specializes in Islamic studies, Islam is about one’s relationship with God and relationships with other people. Safi said that Ramadan is a time to share in solidarity with marginalized human beings all over the world, experiencing their loss, grief, and poverty as our own. It is time to reach out to all those who have been left behind, whether they be the millions of Afghani refugees, or those who have lost loved ones in acts of terrorism in Palestine, Israel, Russia, the United States, Iraq, and many other countries around the world.“It is both a very pious and joyous month for Muslims.

There is a strong linking of social justice and spiritual purification in Ramadan. Muslims are encouraged to fast not only from food, but also from anger, hate, and lying. One experiences the hunger and anguish of those who ordinarily would not have three meals every day. Furthermore, Muslims seek to ameliorate the suffering of others by taking the meals that one is skipping, and sharing them with those in need,” explained Safi. – SG

Blogger comment:
Ramadan is a great month it should have the balance between spirituality and material. In the day time of Ramadan fasting, prayers and reading the Quran. After the sun down enjoying the Iftar and then the taraweeh and hours in between and after some of entertainment. You end up by about 1/2 time to God and 1/2 to your material life not bad.

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