Here’s the thing about Ramadan: it is a month of ominous perspectives and social commentaries. Observations that would otherwise pass as conventional cynical reminders of the day-to-day experiences in a Muslim nation, are reduced to cliches. Let me simplify.
One. Ramadan is a time when coffee-starved, nicotine-detoxing employees render services delivered unbearable and the workplace unlivable.
Two. Ramadan is a time where otherwise-sinful hypocrites conduct their temporary pilgrimage towards redemption, to the glee of other self-righteous hypocrites who love to point out their hypocrisy.
Three. Ramadan is a time when permanently furrowed brows are tell-tale signs of fasting.
Four. Ramadan is a time that celebrates the religion of consumerism, with malls and grocery stores transformed into the new hedonist meccas for a different type of worship.
Five. Ramadan is a time when conservatives will dance their dances and liberals will sing their songs in a multitude of scenarios and contexts that never cease to boggle the mind.
Have I missed anything?
In any case, I admit, to an extent, I agree with much of the aforementioned rhetoric that plagues the traditional Ramadan conversation, which unfolds in various circles with every passing year. But what bores me is the underlying beliefs that dominates all of these perspectives and render them automated cliches. The belief that Ramadan is a month where hypocrisy is apparent, the belief that Ramadan is becoming increasingly consumerist, the belief that freedom of religion is somehow at stake, the belief that…
The basic premise I tend to find refuge in is that Islam provides its members a choice. For most of the aforementioned perspectives are based on choices made and those choices are almost always individualistic in nature. Some choose to be consumerist during this month. Some choose to be hypocrites. Some choose to exemplify a more conventional form of the angry, fasting employee. Some choose to spend the month smoking argeelah, playing cards and watching soaps.
Yet, others choose to be spiritual. Some choose to use this month for self-reflection. Some consume less. Some are charitable. Some are well-mannered. Some are drawn closer to their families. Some reconcile. Some choose to practice. Some go searching for God. Some find Him. Some don’t.
I won’t enter a statistical debate as to which group is greater in numbers, but my point is there is a tendency to view this month with a tunnel vision that provides an increasingly cynical perspective, and in the process the ‘good’ is often ignored completely. It is perhaps part of human nature to consistently only point out the negatives, and I suppose that serves its own purpose. But really, it gets boring. Pointing out the same old contradictions is at its best, a mundane exercise.
Moreover, these redundant societal complaints seem to be typically issued by passive observers. People who are more content on pointing out contradictions for no real reason other than to point them out. In my mind, this self-reflective month only further demonstrates the extent to which one needs to focus on their own choices; the examples they themselves set. Why are we so concerned with what others are doing? Why are we more keen on being what Rumi would call, spiritual window shoppers? Why do we avoid being part of the exchange?
Yes, I do see a lot of people wasting their time away playing cards during a month that is designed solely for religious dedication, but I also see mosques full at taraweeh. In other words, I see choices being made. Some good, others not so much, but it all depends on where you stand. To each his own. That’s the common denominator. And if anything else, that contrast is required.
Cultural elements did not suddenly mix with the religious aspects of Ramadan; they’ve always been there. They shouldn’t surprise us, even if they are finding new ways to manifest themselves. The basics remain true. The basics remain simple.
The rest is just stardust.