Why should minorities suffer in Ramazan?
The holy month of Ramazan is here once again in all its glory and our hypocrisy.
Yes, you read me right.
Come Ramazan and all of us put our pious cloaks on just like all the female anchors adorn dupattas on their heads in Ramazan, sidelining all the Bollywood numbers they shook their rears to, in their morning shows with na-mehram (men who do not have an Islamic legal relationship with the woman) guests. Haw.
The hypocrisy isn’t just evident on the television shows during the holy month; it is also further propagated by laws like Ehtram-e-Ramazan that makes eating, smoking, and drinking in public places illegal for Muslims before sunset in the reverence of Islam.
Public spaces include restaurants, canteens, bridges, lanes, and even the confines of your own house, according to a clause of the Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance. Only hospital canteens – because they feed patients – and primary school canteens are exempt from this law. Ehtram-e-Ramazan law has been operational since Zia’s regime, the regime also infamous for the enforcement of discriminatory blasphemy laws.
I find this law extremely hypocritical and prejudiced not only on a social level, but also on a religious level. While we preach parity and guarantee equal rights to the minorities in Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan, how could we deprive the minorities of Pakistan the right to eat in restaurants or at office canteens when it is not their religious duty to fast during Ramazan?
My driver, who is a Christian, recently told me that he hadn’t had lunch because all the restaurants were closed. Since he is always on the roads driving, especially during the daytime, it’s very difficult for him to be able to go home, eat and resume his work. As a consequence of the enforcement of the Ehtram-e-Ramazan law, not only my driver, but several other non-Muslim and even Muslim (who chose not to fast because of health or other reasons) labourers have to face the difficulty of finding a place to eat at during this month.
Similarly, non-Muslim students and teachers in secondary schools, colleges and universities also suffer since these institutions’ canteens remain closed in reverence of Ramazan.
Kainat*, a Christian student, at a well-reputed school comments on the Ehtram-e-Ramazan law saying,
I respect the fact that Muslims fast, but it’s slightly ridiculous to shut the school canteen down altogether without making arrangements for non-Muslim students.
Even though non-Muslims are exempt from this law, there have been incidents when they have paid a price for eating in public. In August 2009, two Christians, Gull Masih and Ashir Sohail, were arrested for snacking at Bismillah Hotel on their way to Lahore by bus. Despite having acknowledged their faith as non-Muslims, the police took them to Silanwali police station and registered a case, nonetheless, for desecrating Ramazan.
Besides the law being discriminatory towards the minorities, it also doesn’t acknowledge a large percentage of Pakistani women who menstruate during Ramazan and are unable to fast.
Why should they not be allowed to purchase food during the day or eat in offices or other public spaces?
Seems to me that the Ehtram-e-Ramazan law is based on a general assumption and cultural understanding that all Muslims must fast and not eat in front of a rozaydaar (a person who is observing a fast) because that accounts for a sin.
In my opinion, these generalisations are gross, overdone, and actually against the true essence of Ramazan, which is of tolerance, modesty, and self-surveillance. Creating a fuss over someone eating in front of you while you fast is absolutely ludicrous. Not only does this attitude speak volumes of your conservative approach to0wards Islam, but it also means that you are digressing from the true meaning of fasting and aren’t practicing self-control or tolerance.
If your fast and faith are so fragile that you can’t stand a person eating in front you, I suggest that instead of giving those around you a hard time for your Ramazan incompetence, don’t fast.
Having said that, I do believe it is an extremely thoughtful and respectful gesture to avoid eating in front of people who are fasting, but that I think is a personal choice and must not be preached.
Nowhere in the Holy Quran or Hadith, does it say that the state is responsible for making sure that all its citizens fast and, that nobody be permitted to eat in front of those who are fasting.
It is about time we change our bigoted approach towards Islam and respect the fact that religion is personal and cannot be shoved down anyone else’s throat by the implications of such laws. In fact, such gruelling religious policing, neither makes the society prosper nor does it produce halal branded, good Muslims. It does however oppress the society and discourages the importance Islam puts on intent and the religious and spiritual consequence of one’s deeds.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.