Ramadan – A month of reflection and restraint

Published : 12 Apr 2022 08:47 PM

Fasting is obligatory for every adult Muslim during the month of Ramadan every year, unless, one is physically indisposed or suffering from some other drawback. Each day, the fast begins at dawn and ends at sunset. During this time Muslims are asked to remember those who are less fortunate than themselves as well as bringing them closer to God. Non obligatory fasts are two days a week as well as the middle of the month, as recommended by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Fasting, it is expected, shouqld assist in strengthening control of our impulses and help develop good behavior. During this sacred month of Ramadan, believers can strive to purify their body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This effort towards purification of the two dimensions is expected to harmonize the inner and outer spheres of every individual. 

Fasting during this month has not only spiritual connotations but also Sufistic elements. Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Fasting, it is expected, should assist in strengthening control of our impulses and help develop good behavior. 

In most parts of the world, COVID has receded. The number of infections has 

decreased drastically, and deaths are fewer. For that, we have to thank 

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During this sacred month of Ramadan, believers can strive to purify their body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This purification of body and soul will harmonize the inner and outer spheres of every individual.

However there is also the denotation matrix within the framework of fasting. It needs to be remembered that Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Overindulgence in food is discouraged and eating only enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims believe they should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty.

Although fasting during Ramadan is fard (obligatory), exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances. Some of these conditions are applicable in the case of: (a) prepubescent children; (b) one suffering from unconditional vomiting; (c) serious illness; (d) if one is traveling; (e) an ill person or old person who is not physically able to fast; and (f) a mentally ill person.

Our Hadith however also specifies that those who will not be able to fast can donate a meal (or an equivalent amount of money) to the poor or needy for each day of missed fasting. In the case of women, for each day of fasting missed during Ramadan, they should donate the amount of a normal person's diet to the poor or needy. These stipulations will however apply only if the concerned person is financially capable.

Unfortunately, we have noticed another dimension this year like past years. Traders are again exploiting this month by misusing different opportunities that emerge during the unique nature of Ramadan. They have no qualms in their greedy pursuit of profit. They tend to overlook the principle that all foods including specific Iftar items should not only be served in a hygienic manner in compliance with government health rules but also be displayed in a healthy way. They do not hesitate to resort to underhand methods where they exploit consumer expectation for an extra bit of profit. Values related to principles are compromised and the ordinary consumer fleeced for whatever can be collected through inordinate pricing and the selling of adulterated produce. 

To this dynamics has been added another unfortunate aspect - adulteration, the use of preservatives, fabric dyes, chemicals, formalin and carbide. In the recent past mobile food inspection teams appear to have identified some factories where unscrupulous businessmen are producing adulterated sub-standard vermicelli in unhygienic conditions and then flooding the city markets as well as rural haats and bazaars with this dangerous product. There have also been reports of such vermicelli being dried under the open sky in unclean places and later packed in colorful packets to draw the attraction of consumers in the rural areas. 

There have also been reports of importers forming syndicates to adulterate milk powder and then selling that later on to retailers who then pass it on to low quality bakeries, restaurants and hotels.

 Dishonest traders also appear to have no compunction in mal-treating seasonal fruits to improve their appearance for the consumer. This is done without any respect for public health and the provisions as set forth in the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009, Food Safety Act, 2013 and the Formalin Control Act, 2015. This is happening partially because there is very little organized monitoring of cheap food producers and food manufacturers in the country. 

The relevant government authorities have claimed that they have already initiated efforts towards more effective surveillance of the situation and through the use of mobile courts have been imposing fines on those found guilty of adulteration. It is understood that the process has started whereby those enterprises involved with adulteration will lose their ability to manufacture the product.

One can only conclude that this is encouraging but this is really only touching the tip of the iceberg. They need to operate additional mobile courts to ensure that there is greater implementation of rules and regulations not only throughout Ramadan but also afterwards. This will require careful record keeping and documentation of inspection already carried out. It will require coordination among the different agencies. 

Prices of almost each and every Iftar item have gone up by 30 to 35 percent this year, putting the low-income group of people in a state of shock. The last week has already seen an inordinate rise in price of essential, basic ingredients associated with the preparation of different kinds of items for Iftar. These include sugar, edible oil (required for frying different delicacies), aubergine, onion, garlic, potato, spices, green chili, vegetables, chickpea and green papaya. Cost of these items has climbed through the roof.

Surveys carried out by the print and electronic media in Shahjahanpur, Malibagh, Shantinagar, Karwan Bazar and ShyamBazar have indicated that the price of aubergine has gone up by nearly 80 per cent over the last few days. Prices of gram, garlic, onion, cucumber, lemon and sugar have also taken a high-jump. 

There has also been a noticeable rise in the prices of eggs, fish, chicken, mutton and beef - all essential sources of protein. This time, not only the prices of halim, but also piyaju, chhola, jilapi, kebab and other meat dishes have gone up. Puffed rice (muri) has also marked a sharp rise this year. A kg of it was sold for Tk 100 to TK 120 this week. Last year the price was Tk 80.

Mutton is now selling at around Taka 900 per kg, and beef at over Taka 700 per kg. The butchers have, of course, had no hesitation in blaming the rise in the cost of beef to lower supply of cows from across the border. Broiler chicken is selling at around Taka 190 per kg. Non-broiler local chicken is retailing at around Taka 350 per kg. The prices of fish per kg, other than Tilapia, Pangash and Koi, have climbed over Taka 350. Ruhi and Katla are selling between Taka 350 and Taka 400 per kg. 

During this month of Ramadan, in all likelihood, in view of the on-going pandemic, we might be asked to continue to fast and remain at home practicing social distancing. That will mean having the drawback of not being able to participate in Taraweeh prayers in a congregation in a mosque in some pandemic affected areas. However, the relevant authorities could decide to overcome such a disability by arranging Tarabih prayers to be uniformly telecast and/or broadcast from one common media source, which could possibly be decided upon by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Information. In such a situation, citizens interested in participating in this prayer could do so from their residence – maintaining social distancing. This can then help our population throughout Bangladesh.

One has to remember that there is a generic symbolic aspect- and that was reflected in the famous line of Kazi Nazrul Islam- “Ramzaner oi rojar sheshey elo khushir Eid”. Let us all try and work together. Every smile that emerges because of our efforts will help us to move forward and overcome challenges within every tier of our social framework. It will also re-affirm the nuance as enunciated in Surah 107 (Al- Maun) – true worship requires faith and also love for the needy

At this point one also needs to draw attention to the end of Ramadan and the arrival of Eid-ul-Fitr. For Muslims, this is a joyous festival that has both spiritual and social connotations. It arrives in the wake of this holy month and marks the end of fasting for Muslims seeking purification and salvation.

The crescent Moon that heralds the end of this special month also brings with it spontaneous delight for each family. However, this time round, in a COVID-19 affected country, slowly overcoming the pandemic, efforts need to be undertaken so that the happiness is shared throughout the community. All of us, who can, either through individual or institutional means, should try to bring joy and fellowship for the young and old living with and around us. Our efforts have been successful and will be determined when we see laughter instead of tears in the faces of children and their parents and also among the elderly on that special day.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance