TOLERANCE IN RAMADAN
As the holy month of Ramadan edges closer, the challenges for citizens, especially minorities, in Muslim countries intensify. In countries like Pakistan, people who do not follow Islam have to be very careful as far as eating or drinking in public is concerned. Not only can they be subjected to physical violence, imprisonment and fines are very likely as well. People in Pakistan are very aggressive (dismissed as passionate) when it comes to religious values. They will go to extremes to enforce their views.
The “Respect for Ramadan” law was first brought in by military dictator General Zia back in 1981. His main ideology was Islamization. The basic purpose of the law was to stop anyone, regardless of their religion, from eating or drinking in public spaces. Since he was a dictator, no one could take a stance against him in this matter, even though it’s less than ideal for Non-Muslims.
It’s been more than 30 years since the law was introduced and it remains in practice today. In-fact, the law has been amended to include a $250 fine and three-month imprisonment for any person or restaurant that provide food before sunset. During fasting hours, which span from roughly 0400 hours to 1900 hours, every restaurant is to be closed. The police have the authority to arrest anyone who is eating or drinking in public in that time. Cinemas must also be closed, and if found open, would receive a fine of $5000.
Now, this law not only affects the Non-Muslims, but also the people with serious illnesses. In 2009, two Christian brothers were arrested under this law. Shams Shamaun, who is an activist, says: “the law discriminates against religious minorities and they should be treated more carefully during Ramadan so that they do not feel left out.” People who are suffering from illness are also subjected to this law even if they are Muslim. It is rather laughable to have a law that publicly forces people to follow a mandate of a religion they do not follow, to please the majority that do.
A very important figure to consider is that the generally underestimated population of females in Pakistan is actually 48.76%, almost half of the entire populace. This puts things in perspective regarding all of the women, who are unable to fast for one of the weeks of Ramadan, yet suffer due to the harsh and ignorant Ramadan law. Women struggle, as it is, during their monthly cycles because of the hormonal imbalances and the excruciating menstrual pain, along with bearing the brunt in various domains of the predominantly sexist society. The female sex is vigorously trained to be patient and forbearing in life, no matter the hurdles they face. This concept is laughably ironic, as the Pakistani community is principally intolerant and patriarchal, as a result of or resulting in, laws such as Respect for Ramadan.
Another set of innocent victims are the prepubescent children, who are reprimanded and silenced by parents, should they plead for an edible item whilst outdoors. These children are individuals who are not considered mature enough by Islam to fast, yet are expected to fast alongside other adults as long as they are in a public setting.
There is still another group of people in Pakistan that does not fast, and it comprises of the Muslims who choose not to fast, simply because they do not want to. Unsurprisingly, if these certain individuals are discovered, they find themselves on the receiving end of long lectures on religion, and are shamed for their weak faith.
Now that it is unmistakably evident of the dynamics during Ramadan involving the Khojay Dars (a common term used for anyone who is not fasting), it is essential to dissect the concept of the Holy month. The crux of Ramadan lies in the virtues of tolerance and understanding, for Muslims to step into the shoes of other people and experience their struggles with unwavering resilience. With laws regarding Ramadan, like the one in Pakistan and most Middle Eastern countries, the aim of this month is blatantly overlooked. A sense of respect for Muslims observing the fast, would arise from their own soft and compassionate demeanors. Laws implemented to disseminate an important virtue fail at their purpose, and become mere tools of enforcement.
Conclusively, this article aims to spread awareness regarding a pressing, yet avoided matter that clearly affects most, if not all, of the Pakistani community.
Contributed By: Izza Afaq and Ihtesham Ali