Each year, Islam offers its followers 30 days of glorious opportunity to experience the grace of the Almighty, a space to fight greed and gluttony.
Ramadan in Malaysia, like elsewhere in the world, draws attention, often for good reasons, but sometimes for the wrong reasons too.
As Muslims partake in fasting from dawn to dusk, a sense of serenity descends.
In Malaysia, work slows down. It has to. When you deny your body a regular intake of solids and fluids for a good 12 hours, the physical body will slow down. Heartbeats are slower. There is no fluid replenishment. Oxygen levels may drop to reasonably safe but lower levels.
As Muslims now find the space and time to congregate for 30 nights after the breaking of fast, a sense of peace permeates the neighbourhood. Even people of other faiths regard this period of fasting with respect, and some even try to emulate their Muslim friends by fasting as well.
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Yes, Ramadan is a period of grace and glory. Eleven months of being in the race for worldly matters leaves in its wake a month of respite, an opportunity to recalibrate body, mind and soul. This break reminds all people – Muslims and those of other faiths – living together that creation is not all about worldly matters alone.
Malaysians are fortunate to witness this miracle that Islam offers to believers. Not only is the spirit, soul and mind recalibrated, even our physical bodies can be repaired in this holy month of fasting, prayers, good deeds and kind words. Obesity can be battled, while cleansing of internal organs takes place. We become healthier and fitter. Guarding what we speak and what we do is accentuated for 30 days.
So, it is not wrong to say that the holy month of Ramadan is a period to allow grace and glory to battle and conquer greed and gluttony. This period allows the grace of the Almighty to make this place a greater nation, free of corruption in all its many forms. This is not idealism. That is what Islam promises.
However, it is hard to decipher why food becomes a great carnival of sorts all across the country each evening during Ramadan. Is it not true that trading at ‘buka puasa’ stalls is also lucrative? Good rentals. Good sales.
An unstoppable stream of Muslims and others alike jam up the uncountable rows of stalls each evening. Do we also end up buying more than what we actually need? Are we making up for all the deprivation suffered over 12 hours each day?
Likewise, does our political climate grow in grace? Is there less crime? Do we cheat less? Do we remain humbler? Or must we parade our generosity in this month of Ramadan? How shall we profit from the thrift, the sacrifices and the modesty that clothe us in the month of Ramadan?
These are questions not only Muslims must ask but even people of other faiths can reflect on. Therein lies the greatness of a multi-religious society like Malaysia.
Can we make this year’s Ramadan an unparalled journey where the grace and glory of Islam triumphs over our 11 months of greed and gluttony?
Overcoming a climate of dead values
What makes this season of fasting, prayers and good deeds even more significant is the prevailing ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.
As Muslims hope to reap the heavenly rewards and earthly benefits that Ramadan brings, all Malaysians should also seize this God-given opportunity to demand a cleansing of our rotten political and corporate values.
One symptom that is a barometer of the actual state of values in the country is the way we treat, abuse and punish foreign migrant workers in this land.
The reports of how foreign workers are recruited, made to slog in the construction and plantation sectors, sometimes cheated of their rightful wages, reported to authorities, arrested, often detained without due recourse to justice and deported with impunity reflect the despicable state of our national values.
Will we have the courage to once and for all stop this exploitation of our fellow human beings? Will we have the grace of compassion in our hearts this Ramadan to stand up and say enough is enough and plug the loopholes in the law?
Now that there is no Parliament to depend on, the prime minister can pass laws at lightning speed to clean up the decades of deceit, plunder and moral decadence surrounding the exploitation of migrant workers. Will he?
Will the holy month of Ramadan, piously observed by Muslims and respected by the God-fearing of other faiths, reward us with the restoration of noble values?
Will we end the season of fasting, prayer and good deeds with a celebrated rescue plan and will that bring peace and prosperity for our fellow human beings who arrived here in search of a livelihood?
Let’s hear from the leaders of the various faiths. Will they too come together in full force during this holy month and demand cleansing? Will they lend their voices to the battle cry of caring NGOs like Tenaganita, which have fought for decades with little success owing to the deep-seated greed, avarice and addiction to power in the country?
Or shall we resign under the cover of doing the usual rounds of buka puasa shared among the religious leaders and giving goodie bags and duit raya to orphans by political leaders while the tsunami of exploitation plagues millions of foreign workers?
All the giving of alms to the needy would be hypocritical if the fundamental way we abuse the millions of foreign workers remains deeply entrenched among employers, agents, the government and all those having a finger dipped in the sordid exploitation of migrant workers.