Beyond the Rituals of Ramadan
M. Bakri Musa
Involved as we are in the many rituals of Ramadan (beyond the integral daytime fasting), it is not surprising that we fail to appreciate much less live the true spirit of this holy month. This is especially so if we live in a predominantly Muslim country like Malaysia.
Muslims hold Ramadan in reverence because it was the month in which the first revelation of the Qur’an was given to Prophet Muhammad. It was a message for “all mankind, at all times, and till the end of time.” It was a message that would later change for the better not only the Arabs but also the world.
Ramadan thus should be a time for us to re-commit to the central message of the Holy Book. As Eboo Patel so eloquently wrote in the inaugural Ramadan series of the HuffingtonPost.com, “Ramadan is about remembrance and return – remembrance of the origins of Islam, and return to its essence.”
The Qur’an, was revealed “as a guidance for mankind [in] distinguishing between right and wrong,” (Surah Al Baqara 2:185), with its recurring theme of “commanding good and forbidding evil.”
“Be a community that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong; those who do this are the successful ones,” commands Surah Al Baqara (2:177).
Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West, the Surah continues. “The truly good are those who believe in God, and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; give away some of their wealth to the needy; liberate those in bondage; keep up their prayers and alms; fulfill their pledges; and remain steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.”
The Ugly Reality
Alas, the reality in so many Muslim countries today is so far detached from those lofty Quranic messages.
Peruse the headlines during this Ramadan, filled with deadly wars, civil unrests, and suicide bombings. While Malaysia is fortunately spared such horrific tragedies, nonetheless the lead items grabbing the headlines in the mainstream as well as the alternate media tell of an ugly reality not much different from those seen in other Muslim countries. If there were indeed differences, they would be merely in degree, not kind.
Consider our current diplomatic squabble with Indonesia over God knows what this time. The Indonesians, we are repeatedly reminded, are our kin and kind; we share the same faith, culture, and language. We even affectionately and respectfully refer to them as “Abang!” (older brother).
Yet there was precious little brotherly love or generosity in the spirit of Ramadan displayed in the recent demonstrations at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta, what with human excrements thrown into the fray! Perhaps that was the best the Indonesians could hurl at us!
Back at home, there are the two ugly, loud-mouthed and self-professed champions of bangsa, agama dan negara (race, religion and nation) – Khairy Jamaluddin and Ali Ibrahim – going after each other in the hideous tradition of our Malay kurang ajar.
Don’t those two, and countless others, pause to reflect just a wee bit on the meaning of Ramadan as they go through their hunger pains during the day, or when they partake in their generously-sponsored iftars? What could they be thinking of as they then perform their prayers?
Consumed with the rituals of Ramadan, they remain blissfully unaware of if not downright contemptuous of its essence.
I would have expected them to be guests at each other’s iftars, in the spirit of Ramadan. If they cannot do that, then at least have the decency to be civil with each other during this blessed month.
If these Muslim leaders are downright crude and rude with each other, imagine their attitude towards non-Muslims! I pity the poor freshman MP from Serdang, Teo Nie Ching. She had in the best tradition of Ramadan come to a surau in her constituency to share in the iftar and to present a modest donation from the state. She had rightly assumed that to be her role as their representative to Parliament.
She must have been blown away by the storm of controversy that subsequently erupted. I am not at all surprised that characters like Khairy Jamaluddin and Ibrahim Ali would seize the opportunity of Neo’s visit to the surau to expose their hideously ugly chauvinism by condemning her. That would be par for the course for any ambitious but untalented leaders everywhere.
I am however severely disappointed in the reaction of the Sultan of Selangor. According to the state religious council (MAIS – its Malay acronym), the sultan was “murka dan dukacita” (angry and disappointed).
The sultan should not be so quick to react; he should at least wait for the full facts. Ramadan after all calls for patience and restraint. He should also remember that he is not only the head of Islam by virtue of being a sultan, but he is also sultan to all Selangorians, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and that each should be treated no differently from the other. It is time to tell our sultans that we expect more from them if they wish to remain on the public payroll.
For her part, Teo was quick to put in her formal apology to the sultan. She should not have done so. She should have the courage to stand by her conviction that she had done nothing wrong. In this she can rely on the arguments put forth by Tok Guru Nik Aiz and Datuk Asri, the former Mufti of Perlis. As a Muslim, I would rely on these two luminaries on matters pertaining to Islam rather than from the likes of Khairy, Ibrahim Ali, or Datuk Sharizzat.
Things Can be Different If We Will It!
Things need not be this way; it is within us to change them.
Consider that on the first Friday of this Ramadan, President Obama continued a longstanding tradition of hosting a White House iftar with Muslim and non-Muslim guests. Mosques in the San Francisco Bay area, like many elsewhere, continue the tradition of “Open House” where we invite non-Muslim community members to join us for iftar. Yes, they sit and eat with us in the prayer area. We do not have the luxury of separate dining and praying areas!
In an earlier Ramadan PBS, the public television channel, chose the occasion to premier its highly-acclaimed series on Islam. This Ramadan, the HuffingtonPost.com, a highly influential Internet news and commentary portal, initiated its faith and religion feature by posting a series of articles on Islam. These are non-Muslim organizations and entities that sponsor these wonderful and highly informative initiatives. They deserve our praise. Better yet, their actions ought to be emulated in the Muslim world.
It would be wonderful if the first iftar were to be hosted by the King and all senior political and community leaders be invited. It would be a great tradition if similar events were to be replicated at the various state capitals! What a wonderful way to bring the community together!
There are many other ways to demonstrate our reverence for Ramadan and live its essence without having to resort to chauvinistic displays in a crude attempt to portray ourselves as “champions” or “defenders” of the faith.
It is said the first ten days of Ramadan are for mercy. What better way to show this then when making the announcement for fasting the next day, the King would also release the names of prisoners granted amnesty in the spirit of Ramadan. That would be a very tangible demonstration of the power of mercy of a Muslim state. I stand corrected, but I have yet to see this as a tradition with any Muslim country.
These are the traditions of Ramadan that we need to cultivate and demonstrate.