The month certainly demands respect, however, our concept of ‘Ehtram-e-Ramazan’ is rather convoluted and requires much rethinking. Each year, the month of blessings triggers an endless stream of diktats suppressing or restraining people with differing beliefs. This year was no exception.
According to media reports, tribal leaders in Serai Naurang area of Lakki Marwat, Kyber Pakhtunkhwa demanded the local law enforcing authorities to impose a ban on women shopping without a male relative during Ramazan. The demand, which fortunately remained unmet, was proposed by the tribal leaders to safeguard the ‘sanctity’ of Ramazan.
The question is how can a woman, who is not chaperoned by a man, disrespect Ramazan? Can something as petty as shopping alone disrepute one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar?
The most blatant disrespect shown to the month of Ramazan occurred in Khanewal where a woman was stoned to death because she refused to reciprocate the sexual advances of a local landlord. The spirit of Ramazan was yet again marred when a WHO officer, whose job was to save our future generations from living as polio victims, was brutally shot dead in Karachi. The ideology of the month is demeaned every year when surging food prices make essential food items unaffordable for many people. The sanctity of the month is desecrated every day when countless mutilated bodies are found all over the country. Unfortunately, such incidents are not considered noticeable in the light of ideologies that pseudo-religious clerics preach and teach.
The fact that each one of us become an authority on religion during Ramazan and hold every supposed violator accountable for his acts is just absurd. During Ramazan people are segmented into two groups — the ones who fast and others who cannot or won’t fast — latter naturally being flagged as heretics and non-believers worthy of the highest punishment in the world and afterlife.
The Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance of 1981 works as fuel to the fire as it empowers all such individuals to reprimand the ‘non-believers’. The ordinance clearly states that the people who are found eating, drinking or smoking in public places will be penalised according to the aforementioned law. The cafeterias of colleges and universities, hotels, restaurants and other recreational outlets such as cinemas are remaine closed during the duration of the fast. The violation of the law can result in up to three months in prison and a fine.
Every year, a fairly large number of people, who do not follow the instructions mentioned in the law, are arrested. The law is supposedly only for Muslims and exclude all non-Muslims; however, in 2009 two Christian men were arrested from the city of Silanwali for eating in public.
It is not only the law enforcement agencies that become devout believers during Ramazan. The moral police elements present amongst us in our society take their own initiatives and persecute people regardless of their age, gender and health. Religious lectures, instilling God’s fear by showing hypothetical visions of his wrath and at times verbal abuse haunt people who do not observe fast.
And all this is done in the effort to defend the true honour of Ramazan but the question is, can we actually gain respect through compulsion and harsh laws?
By imposing such policies we only suppress the people. Many non-Muslims, who I must reiterate, cannot be penalised under the 1981’s ordinance feel threatened and insecure whilst ordering or eating in even closed chambers. In a country where even the pettiest of issues can be classified as a blasphemous offence, their fear is certainly not based on unfounded grounds.
Still many people believe that the law is not harsh and should be strictly followed by everyone because all religions demand respect. Non-Muslims and Muslims, both, must respect Ramazan, not because it’s a special month for Muslims but because it results in better communal and religious relations.
True. No denying that, however, if one has to go by this policy then we should all impose a ban on public eating during lent and other revered days observed by Hindus. If that cannot be practised then the statement proves nothing but our double standards and hypocrisy.
Another school of thought is that seeing people eat entices those observing fast and make them crave food more, thus the act weakens their strength to fast. The question is what kind of respect are we talking about when we cannot even bear to look at anything palatable without drooling over it?
It is important to realise that Ramazan is the month of blessings and by clamping curfews on people and their lifestyles we only manage to demean its significance. It is a month to be celebrated and rekindle lost communal ties. It is indeed a month to spread the message of peace and love through affable intentions and deeds.
Let this Ramazan help us in breaking free from the clutches of intolerance and hypocrisy. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes and embrace the true message of this month which only lies in tolerance and coexistence.