Chances are, you are reading this while making mental lists of your last minute chores, vainly attempting to assess which roads will not be deadlocked and which stores will not be buzzing with equally frantic last minute shoppers, while trying to cook, clean, pack, organise, categorise, and so much more all at the same time. It’s that time of the year again - the last week of Ramadan when the countdown to Eid officially begins and you are overcome with feelings of anticipation and apprehension alike. But once you get past the last minute panic that is as integral to the last week of Ramadan as haleem is to iftar, now would be the best time to ask yourself, what did this Ramadan mean for you?
Month of prayer and reflection
These last few days of Ramadan are extra special to many of us - the last few days of prayer and fasting. For many, this month of relative quiet and reflection can have an overall positive psychological effect. Almost all believers will tell you of the inner peace that comes through prayer, and this can give you renewed resolve to do better at whatever you aspire to, at work and in your private lives, or just leave you with a calmness of spirit that can help you through the rest of the year.
Even if you have not been able to regularly pray or fast, there is no denying that the month of Ramadan does make people consider questions of spirituality. I am sure by now you may have come across people who are not as faithful about practicing their religion the rest of the year as they are in Ramadan. Don’t mock them if you practice your faith all year round, because a month of introspection and constraint can mean many things to many of us.
In others' shoes
For many of us, the prolonged period of fasting has primarily made us think more about those less fortunate than us. Going without food and water all day is bound to give most people a new perspective on their lives. No matter how fleeting the thought - when you’re typing away at work, grocery shopping in the heat or taking a rickshaw to university - when that parched sensation tickles your throat and your stomach groans, you are bound to think of those who feel like this but continue to do backbreaking work everyday. This looking outward to put yourself in other people’s shoes, while at the same time looking inward to limit your excesses and scrutinise your contribution to society, is to me the most significant part of Ramadan.
So it makes all the sense in the world that this is also the month for giving zakaath. But while this time makes you more aware of the suffering in the world, it is also important to make yourself more aware of how you can alleviate it. Research is crucial, and a lot is lost if your contribution is charity for the sake of religious duty. Make sure how you can contribute to a cause that you believe in, which can range from feeding the poor in your locality or giving to an underprivileged family so they can invest in a source of income, or give education to the future generations. If you do not have the means to alleviate others’ suffering, use this month of introspection to think deeply of how you contribute to the system that creates it.
Toning down the excesses
However for many of us, Ramadan can easily spiral into a month of upset schedules and feasting at meal times, while the swelling of our potbellies becomes proportional to the rate at which holes are burnt in our pockets. Of course, there is nothing wrong with socialising in Ramadan, a meal with family and friends is a positive and uplifting thing in all cultures. But there is no denying that Ramadan, and the Eid shopping frenzy it involves, has led to a degree of commercialisation that can blight the spirituality of Ramadan.
If looking back, you feel guilty of these excesses, use this as a lesson for the coming months. Ramadan may be over, but there is still no reason why you and your family shouldn’t have healthy, home-cooked meals instead of buffets stuffed with oily dishes. Next time you shop for your loved ones, remember that it is the thought that counts, and not the extravagance your gift displays. And Ramadan doesn’t need to be the only time you are nice to the hired help, drivers, security guards, office help, rubbish collectors, and all the people who make your life so much easier with their silent service in the background.
While the holy month is over, we can continue to learn the lessons of constraint, introspection and kindness. And most importantly, let us remember that lessons of Ramadan should not only influence our behaviour towards our Muslim brethren, but to all the people of the world, regardless of their faith.