Commercialisation of Ramadan is dis-heartening and frightening

2017-06-06 07:22

Sawm or fasting in the Islamic tradition is compulsory on every sane and healthy Muslim who has attained puberty. A fasting person has to abstain from food, drink and intimacy from dawn till dusk. However, it is far more than mere refraining from these essentials of daily living.

Fasting in Islam is a method of enhancing self-discipline and piety and not a month of just fulfilling rituals and having lavish self-indulgent, breaking-fast meals. Besides fasting, it is also a month to reinforce and strengthen good values, morals, behaviours, habits and to share with the less fortunate. Ramadan should be a month of seclusion, solitude, self-reflection and introspection and should be used to change our lives for the better. The Quran considers a life based on piety and prayer, increased generosity and compassion and self– restraint to be the apex of human growth.

Ramadan is a one-month spiritual training programme from which we ought to emerge as better human beings than we were before and continue to improve our lives as we experience every new Ramadan till we leave this transient life.

Unfortunately, recently the spirit of Ramadan has taken a different turn or dimension in many parts of the world including South Africa, where the financial potential of the blessed month has caught the attention of the business community.

Although the commercialisation of Ramadan is most noticeable in Muslim countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where for many Ramadan has become a month of huge family parties, increased mall shopping and night life, I notice in South Africa Ramadan is also evolving. Perhaps this is what Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) implied by saying: “Many a fasting person gains nothing from his fasting but thirst, and many a person who stands (in prayer) gets nothing from his standing but wakefulness.” (Ibn Maajah).

This regression of the value of the month of Ramadan in South Africa cannot be compared to the festivities and spectaculars that are seen in the Middle East where commercialism seems to have strip the month of its spirituality. Though to a lesser degree, the blessed Month of consciousness, self-discipline, simplicity and spiritual rejuvenation has also been affected by commercialism and festivities in the Muslim-South African community.

Businesses, especially restaurants have caught on to the potential profit to be made out of the fasting Muslims who become electrified after sunset. Some restaurants are even opening during the early part of the morning to provide meals to start the fast. Yet, we are taught by our scholars that the time before dawn and at the time of breaking the fast are very valuable times for supplication and prayers. Activities like large feasts in restaurants, braai parties, and sporting activities at night are alien to Ramadan and are inconsistent with the very essence of Ramadan.

Even the blessed cities of Makkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia are not saved from the beast of commercialisation. The development of five-star international hotels has substantially increased the cost of Umrah (minor pilgrimage). Like Hajj, pilgrimage during Ramadan is becoming unaffordable to the less privileged thereby depriving them of the great reward of performing pilgrimage during Ramadan. To quote Prophet Muhammed (PBUH): “When the month of Ramadan arrives, go for Umrah, because Umrah in Ramadan is like accompanying me on Hajj.” (al-Bukhari).

Although some may perceive it a lesser of the two evils, to me, the commercialisation of Ramadan and by extension religion, is dis-heartening and frightening. I fear that due to the onslaught of materialism, consumerism and commercialism, we may just be slowly eradicating the true essence of Ramadan and religion as a whole.

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