Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Before the advent of Ramadan every year, we read various reports doing the rounds in the media showing the number of hours that Muslims around the world would observe fasting in 24 hours. Muslims are spread all across the world but the majority is concentrated in the region just above the equator. The length or duration of a fasting day in Ramadan changes every year but for most of the Muslims, living in the above-mentioned region, usually don’t have to fast for long hours. However, those living near the polar circle or to be more precise in countries like Sweden, Norway or Canada, the duration of a fasting day is usually long. In the next 30 years, Ramadan will fall during summer and winter in the northern hemisphere and the fasting hours will greatly vary in the northern latitudes. During such days, Muslims in countries like Sweden will have to brave long hours of fasting. As a matter of fact, they will have very little gap between their Iftar meal and suhoor, which means that Muslims living in higher latitudes would be fasting for as long as 23 hours and would have to rely on only one meal during the entire day for the entire month of Ramadan. During this blessed month, Muslims are supposed to fast, which is the fourth pillar of Islam. Fasting is a way of worshipping Allah and not a test of human endurance. Contrary to popular belief, Islam is a very flexible religion. That is why we have the institution of Ijtihad, an Arabic term meaning “independent reasoning.” Of course, authentic Muslim scholars do it. I was wondering if there were a fatwa or edict regarding fasting in regions or countries close to the polar circles. Islam is a religion, which is not confined to any geographical area or time. Its teachings encompass time and space and that is why Allah has declared Qur’an as His final words. Thanks to the institution of Ijtihad, Muslim scholars have always been able to come up with Islamic solutions to new problems or issues that emerge with the changing times. Now let us talk about this holy month and what it has in store for us. What is the basic purpose of this month? Are we able to take advantage of this month to the fullest by understanding the basic philosophy behind fasting? Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and water during the day. It is a training program for Muslims to help them prepare for the remaining year. It is a program for Muslims to inculcate in them basic Islamic qualities like patience in daily matters, tolerance toward others and kindness. Ramadan also helps us in maintaining our health. We can develop healthy dietary habits and continue with them beyond Ramadan as well. This month teaches us how to eat properly and how to use our time wisely. Unfortunately, we do the exact opposite. We waste huge amounts of food and time preparing just two meals: Iftar and suhoor. We prepare lots of it and we waste most of it. Above all, we waste lots of water doing the dishes. Perhaps this is the only month of the year during which we waste food without thinking twice, which indicates that we don’t understand the concept of this month and the idea behind fasting. We don’t just waste food at home, this wastage could also be witnessed at communal Iftars like at mosques or at Iftar dinners or parties. An Indian expatriate wrote to me the other day about Iftars arranged at big mosques. According to him, most of the food goes to the garbage bins. It is true that the good will and good intention is there but common sense should prevail. There are many things that we can learn from Ramadan but apparently we don’t. One of the most important lessons that we can learn from Ramadan is respecting our fellow humans and the sanctity of their lives. During this year’s Ramadan, the Muslim world has been jolted by violent incidents. The killings in Kuwait, France and Tunisia are condemnable and deplorable actions. Unfortunately, all these killings are taking place in the name of Islam during the holy month. There is no letup in the violence across the region, which happens to be Muslim. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Learning Nothing From Ramadan reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.