Has Pakistan forgotten what Ramazan means?

Published: July 5, 2014

When the iftar is arranged at the mosque, we are served with a date, fruits, Moroccan soup and a bottle of water. The lesser we eat, the better it is.

When the iftar is arranged at the mosque, we are served with a date, fruits, Moroccan soup and a bottle of water. The lesser we eat, the better it is. When the iftar is arranged at the mosque, we are served with a date, fruits, Moroccan soup and a bottle of water. The lesser we eat, the better it is. PHOTO: REUTERS

The most awaited Islamic month, Ramazan, is here. Muslims around the globe observe this month in their own, unique way. In Pakistan, people are usually busy buying groceries, making regular trips to the tailors to get their Eid outfits stitched, setting up their houses, planning iftar parties and praying – all in that order.

Ramazan in the United States is celebrated differently, however. Muslims try to change their timings and cut down their work shifts so that they stay fresh for taraweeh prayers and late night qayaam. As an American Muslim, it is a great test to stay patient while fasting and dealing with non-Muslim customers and colleagues, especially when it comes to food and/or lunch breaks. But many non-Muslims know about the holy month and often wish me “Ramazan Mubarak” whenever I meet them, which is very overwhelming. This teaches us tolerance and inter-faith harmony. Ramazan in the United States has a charm around it that makes everyone happy.

However, this is not the case with Pakistan – not anymore at least. People here seem to have associated a negative feeling of fear with this month. They do not show much excitement about it. Instead, they are worried about the prices rocketing sky high. Some people start saving beforehand, just for Ramazan, because they know they will face difficulties later. It is sad that a month which should be dedicated to reciting the Holy Quran and staying up late for prayers is wasted away fretting over food and other expenses.

In the US, about two weeks before Ramazan, we start receiving pamphlets and flyers about ‘Ramazan deals’ from South Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores/restaurants in our mail. The deals are incredibly economical and cater for the general public. Many Pakistani as well as Indian stores cut down food prices, especially on commodities such as juices, drinks and besan (gram flour).

Most Pakistani, Indian and Middle Eastern neighbourhoods break the fast at their local mosques. Many mosques in Los Angeles would organise iftar and sehri for their communities. The mosque collects a sum of money prior to Ramazan for water, ice, paper plates, bread, dates and the likes. These congregational iftars and sehris create a sense of unity and connection between Muslims in a particular area.

But in Muslim countries like Pakistan, the situation is completely the opposite. It is sad to see that fellow Muslims increase food prices and create more hurdles for their own people during the month. From dates, fruits, yogurt, bread and wheat to clothes, shoes and other accessories, everything is priced higher than the regular price as soon as Ramazan starts. It is supposed to be a month of blessings but this just ruins its entire essence.

When iftar is arranged at the mosque, we are served with a date, fruits, Moroccan soup and a bottle of water. The lesser we eat, the better it is, because when we chow down huge amounts of food after 16 hours of fasting and thirst, the food slows down our metabolism and makes us lazy. As a result, many do not feel like going to the mosque or praying taraweeh. But, in Pakistan, people attack their food as soon as the Maghrib call for prayer is made; there is no sense of restraint or moderation. This is not what Islam or Ramazan preaches.

In the US, popular Islamic organisations such as the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), and the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), visit different mosques and collect funds for the needy. They make the donation process very easy, all we have to do is write down our credit card number and the donation amount on a piece of paper and give it to them, the rest is in their hands. The process is very transparent and this increases our will to donate more, from whatever we’ve got.

But I am always left confused when I spend Ramazan in Pakistan. Here, the emphasis is more on extravagant foods and iftar dinners than on helping the poor. The key is to feed the poor as much as possible and not just fill your own tummies. But it is seldom followed in Pakistan. What’s the use of this month then, if we are not even helping the underprivileged? The money that we spend on our parties can be used to feed a poor family.

In the US, late night prayers (qayaam) are organised for men and women at the mosque. Starting from the first Ramazan, people spend their nights at the mosque praying and reciting the Holy Quran. It is such a good way to make your connection better with the Lord. However, I have not seen the same trend in Pakistan as such.

The idea is that, no matter where we are, it is our duty to help the needy and make the most out of this sacred month. No matter where or how we celebrate it, we need to make sure that we pray and give away as much as we can, keeping the suffering of others in our minds and be tolerant with everyone around us. Why have we forgotten what Ramazan means?


Syeda Uzmaa Farhan

Uzmaa Farhan

She has a Associates degree in Administration of Justice from Cerritos College, California and currently an undergraduate student at California State University, Los Angeles. Her interests include reading and writing investigative stories.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Adpran

    “But in Muslim countries like Pakistan, the situation is completely the opposite”

    Indeed. I live in Indonesia, but situation of Ramazan that you have written about Pakistan is similar as situation in Indonesia. I guess, in other Muslim countries too.Recommend

  • A. Khan

    Iftaar parties are a very South Asian event. There are no such parties in other countries unless of course, they are thrown by Pakistanis emigres. I too feel that it is a waste of money that would be better spent feeding the poor.

    And I agree that the spirit of Ramadhan is totally missing in Pakistan what with price gouging by shop keepers and lack of patience and short temper displayed by many fasting people.Recommend

  • ahad

    A blog comparing the lives of people living in a developing country against those in a developed country.

    An idealistic (which is not a bad thing btw), naive post neglecting myriad contexts, i.e. structures of economy, politics, insecurity.

    Great sentiment but only if life was as easy as following dictates. Unfortunately it is not.Recommend

  • USA_uber

    “Ramazan in the United States has a charm around it that makes everyone happy”

    Really? What is that charm? Are people more happy than they are during Christmas?Recommend

  • s

    whilst in general i agree with the author, but half way through the article i realised, the author does not comprehend the difficulties of living in Pakistan. And yes how can people not be worries about prices sky rocketing, when they are already living on the edge? there are no flyers here for deals unfortunately.

    And I do think mosques are very full here too with Iftar, a lot of charity work is done as well.

    only thing i will say is life can be very very difficult , don’t judge people, Allah is the only judge.

    not to say, Ramadan in Pakistan is perfect (far from it) but lets not judge people’s circumstances.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    But chaand raat is still the best in Pakistan. The azaan is sounded for Maghrib prayer and you know the whole neighbourhood is breaking their fast. You don’t get that anywhere else.Recommend

  • Grace

    The charm comes from making a spectacle of yourself in front of the majority of North Americans who don’t fast. People don’t do it for themselves spiritually but to show off to others. You pretend to be so pious and use that as an excuse to work less, be late and be less focused. As a social worker I see that more Muslims come to the social services office during Ramadan to take the month off and not go to mandatory classes or job retraining. You can see how large numbers of Muslims who are unemployed in Europe and North America find this month a convenient excuse to not even do the minimum required by social services to keep getting their free government money or khayrat.The very fact that Muslims have to go to non Muslim countries to ” discover the charm” of Ramadan tells you something is wrong.Recommend

  • Art

    What are you doing in a country where prostitution, gambling, interest, liquor, same sex marriages, pork meat and freedom to insult religion is protected by law. Another expatriate expert Muslim trying to teach and preach us from abroad, why not come back and face the music here, isnt it part of Islam to live among Muslims?Recommend

  • ‘Merica

    Oh no – not another blog telling us how things are like “over there”… I live in the US and frankly ramzaan here is a bit depressing – it can never be like what it was and what it is in our homelandRecommend

  • Hunza wala

    One confusing ridiculous comment from an Indian troll.
    The subject is Ramazan..Recommend

  • Humza

    Sad that Muslims can’t find Ramazan in a Muslim country but need to go to a secular western nation. I have heard the similar sentiments from my Arab, African and Malaysian friends. Seems like all Muslim nations have forgot what Ramazan means.Recommend

  • Maria

    don’t forget drama on tv channelsRecommend

  • unbelievable

    Nice blog .. suspect all those compliments to the USA won’t go over very well with some in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Mehdi


    You talk about diversity. Kudos to you. There are Shia Muslims in USA, who don’t do tarawee prayer during the month of Ramadan. Just FYI.

    In many underdeveloped Muslim world, during Ramadan most commodity prices almost double up especially the food prices.

    In western country like USA, sales are very common during festivity season.This is because even the corporate America wants everybody to enjoy and partake in the holiday season. Americans are also extremely charitable during the holiday.

    Ramadan is a month where an individual Muslim cleans his spiritual soul, so that he can be a better human being by doing so he serves his/her God in the best possible manner.Recommend

  • Reaper

    Stop imposing your view of the world on other people. Self-righteousness is a disgusting traitRecommend

  • stevenson

    Ask any Arab who’ll tell you about irritable people and gauging prices of innocent shoppers! That’s why we all need to go to a non Muslim country to practice Islam.Recommend

  • tangerine

    Uzma as u live in usa I think you haven’t seen ramadan in Pakistan . People from all walk of life generously give serves food for needy at iftar & sehar. Even on road at iftar time you haven’t seen people’s jazba for doing good deed . Writing blog in your pass time is good but better research before writing anything .Recommend

  • Salma

    Food suppliers increase prices of food in Ramadhan the same way toy prices are increased before Christmas in America. It is a simple case of supply and demand. I am sorry I don’t know which Pakistan you live in but usually neighbors send each other iftar. A lot of people I know donate money to masjids to provide iftar for the poor. There is also the whole custom of giving month supply of groceries to the poor. Offices r closed early so you can rest and go for taraweeh and women and men both go.Recommend

  • ISmail

    This article is presenting a total and bad image of Pakistan. We here take full care of our neighbors and poor.I can gave you 1000 reasons how Pakistan is one of the best.If people shows interests in buy clothes whats wrong in it ?Recommend

  • Moiz

    Okay. Good point there, very sensible one. I hate when all I hear everyday from people is how much food they are going to take in that iftari coming up and how much they ate in last night’s suhoor. Funny. Funny, why? Funny in a sense that the month which is there to tell and makes us realize the daily life of a poor, starving person is spend on eating wholesome meals and doing expensive shopping. No hard feelings and judgments, tho.

    I, myself, eat a good deal in iftaar but that’s just only sometimes. Sure we somehow somewhat forgot the true meaning of this month somewhere between sleeping all day and listening to “halal” or “non-explicit” music to kill the time before iftaar and sehri. But hey we all are at fault in a way or another, aren’t we? and there’s always a room to improve. That’s what Islam is. To improve oneself better and better every day.
    I think it’s about time we realize the importance of this blessed month.Recommend

  • Parvez

    A wise person said that if you wish to see Islam in practice, then go observe the west………..and if you wish to see hypocrisy in religion, then go observe the east.Recommend

  • RK

    Mashallah comment – well said! I’m not fr Pakistan but think what u hv just said applies to most countries with Muslim communities!Recommend

  • Critical thinker…!!!

    A very childish Blog…u r comparing two economies…and the starting line.Pathetic ..Pakistan they visit tailors and USA they visit mosque…..I spend my last ramazan in Pakistan 5 years ago but im sure the picture you have sketched is completely wrong…

    The only point is that the prices are hiking…..the rest was a useless blog..Sorry …Recommend

  • asad

    well there is a reason for terrorism in pakistan and peaceful life in america.Recommend

  • asad

    developed no developed makes no difference, a poor is not always a liar and a rich is not always square shooter. i read about somalian people in “gentleman subhanAllah” do read that book.Recommend

  • asad

    yes this is one side of the picture….Recommend

  • syeda uzmaa farhan

    To tell you the truth, no matter how bad it is over there, we still have complete freedom of practicing our religion, secondly, sadly Iam in Pakistan and i am gobsmakced to see such a low spirit, it is a privilege spending Ramzan in the US.
    Living among Muslims have nothing to do with my blog.Recommend

  • syeda uzmaa Farhan

    I honestly did my research and have observed ramzan in pakistan, the jazba you are talking about is only shown my major charity associations lets be honest, but the spirit is lost my friend. I did not say it is totally bad, but most of it is sadly true. Recommend

  • sterry

    I know it sounds so hypocritical to wax poetically about how Ramadan is practiced so well in a secular country whereas it is lost in Muslim countries. I know that Ramadan in Egypt means sleeping all day and staying awake to do things all night. The way of life there slows to a snail’s pace and people are unlikely to help you but just raise prices and take advantage of each other. My Ramadan spent there was worse than in Pakistan.Recommend