The holy month of Ramadan is well into its first week. It will continue for the next three weeks and Muslims around the globe will engage in acts to seek mercy, forgiveness and redemption from eternal damnation.
But in the days and weeks leading to this month, there were a number of activities that were tragic to witness, especially in the occupied territories of Palestine as peaceful protesters were picked off by Israeli snipers and killed. There were also further reports of brutalities in Kashmir, Myanmar, Syria and elsewhere.
It was during Ramadan that the Holy Qur’an — the holy book of Islam — was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Self-purification through fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a month of introspection, a month of mercy, patience and self-discipline. This is when one’s actions should intensify with generosity toward others, especially the less fortunate. One should spend their moments in prayers for the oppressed and the subjugated regardless of where they may be. And it is especially a time to refrain from any acts of violence, unkindness, dishonesty or ill will.
Instead, what has been evident are the heavily advertised television serials of all kinds on TV or in magazines and newspapers, bound to ensnare viewers and keep them up all night and away from their activities of faith. Commercialism and advertising revenues seem to have taken hold of corporate sponsors, often in contradiction to the spirituality of this month.
Ironically, a month dedicated to fasting seems anything but when confronted with the various advertised specialties on offer at different eateries. The purpose of fasting is to remind Muslims as they go about hungry and thirsty about the sufferings of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers. But if a Martian were to suddenly land here, he would not be faulted for assuming that this was a month of excess and gluttony.
Even food stores are progressively steering the public into this frenzy. A visit to your neighborhood supermarket will reveal rows and rows of groceries offered at special prices, tempting visitors to fill up their carts. And you would be disappointed to note what is offered in their attractive displays. Most of it is junk, loaded with sugars and fats that would undoubtedly put you in a comatose state after breaking your fast. But fear not, as customers are walking out with carts full of stuff that most likely will be half consumed and then thrown away. One social scientist went so far as to suggest that the food wasted and thrown away during this holy month equals the total amount thrown away in the other 11 months of the year!
Individually, we can also be faulted as some of us are busily preparing our Ramadan party plans for iftar or suhoor. While the efforts to bring ourselves closer to one another are admirable and an integral part of drawing family units together, such togetherness is often overshadowed by the seduction of what glitters on the breakfast or suhoor menu.
Commercialism by itself is not a crime. But when it begins to eclipse the true meaning of this holy month, then we should sit up and take notice, for Ramadan is only one month in the year.
Let us instead focus during this holy month on doing what is right and required. Let us pray for the mercy of the fallen everywhere. Let us do well by the less fortunate. And above all, let us correct our misguided ways of the past, for this may be the last chance for some of us.