Pakistanis open their wallets in Ramazan, but do they open their hearts?
Ramazan – the month of giving. As one of the world’s most charitable nations, and with the desire to earn an even higher reward than other months, Pakistanis open their hearts and wallets in Ramazan.
The same holds true for Muslims all over the world. This is heart-warming and wonderful, but with just one exception. Somehow, somewhere, we have made this “giving” a justification for extravagance, excessive spending, and consequent showing off. The common understanding is that if I am giving my prescribed percentage of Zakat, and also a bit of additional charity, it justifies any amount of money that I squander.
This, then, is a deeply flawed and worrisome understanding of the concept of charity. Charity, primarily, is meant to keep the flow of money going in society instead of allowing it to stagnate in a few hands and a few bank accounts. Instead, the economic divide is getting wider. Despite the affluent giving so much charity, the poor are literally dying of poverty. Clearly, we are missing a key part of this whole equation.
It is then no wonder that in Pakistan, the 18 million richest people’s total consumption is 1.5 times more than the poorest 72 million people. Studies show that among the four key signs of perpetuating poverty, the first is that the poor remain poor and the rich remain rich. There is no level playing field for everyone, despite our charities, and our overspending has something to do with it.
Imagine this. I get my domestic helper a decent dress for Eid worth Rs1,500 or more. And that, in my head, makes it okay for me to spend on up to three dresses for Eid, shoes and accessories amounting to Rs20,000 – more than 10 times of what I gave. In summers, even the middle class Pakistani woman will end up spending thousands on an average of six summer wear ensembles. Upper scale lawn dresses are known to cost even up to Rs7,000 or more each. But what she will give away as her summer charity is not the same quantity or quality.
While from among the upper-middle class, or those whom we can crudely call the rich, people with tender hearts give generously to the less privileged. Yet many of them will feel no guilt in spending even a thousand dollars on a handbag as a feel-good factor. Our weddings cost millions, resembling lavish fairy tales. Maintaining ourselves and our homes costs us exorbitantly. From our prayer beads to our cell phones, everything is opulent or “classy”. There is a resulting disconnect between people from different economic strata in Pakistan.
In Ramazan, instead of being reminded by the hunger pangs that a hungry child in Tharparkar goes through, we numb the few spiritual lessons we get with “all you can eat” deals. Sales lure us into buying separate designer clothes for taraweeh prayers, others for Eid prayers, and yet others for the family Eid dinner. The month, instead of being an intended exercise in self-control, becomes a festival of overabundance. What is left of the piety that we may have gained through worship is blown away within the three days of Eid. And throughout it all, we are telling ourselves that it is okay because we give so much charity.
To keep consumption of anything under check and balance is part of the ethics in any religion. In Christianity, the seven deadly sins are on the same page, gluttony being one of them, which is the over-consumption or obsession with food, and we see a lot of that in Ramazan, including related sins of greed, sloth, pride and envy.
Islam has not stopped us from eating or dressing well. It has not given us any prescribed limit beyond which we cannot spend. It has, however, given us a framework and examples from the lives of the Prophet (PBUH), his family and his companions as role models. Among them, there were men and women who were very poor. Others were extremely rich, and were known for the profuse amounts of charity they gave. What made them different from us, however, was that they exercised a degree of self-restrain when it came to spending. While they may have led comfortable lives, they were careful not to make evident the economic gulf between themselves and the less privileged. And to build those bridges, they did two things – they spent lesser on themselves than they could afford to, and they gave charity more than they needed to. In so doing, step by step, the gap lessened.
One may counter this idea by debating why we should be made to feel guilty if Allah (SWT) has given us more. That part is justified, and true, and if you look after your community and people around you, you may have done a part of your share. But looking at the bigger picture, let us exercise a little sensitivity when flaunting wealth. Ostentation and overspending will affect others – both those who are on the lower tiers of the social pyramid, and also contemporaries who are silently competing. The rat race has and will continue to prove that prophetic tradition correct in which the Prophet (PBUH) expressed his fear that the biggest trial for his followers would be wealth. Even those strictly adhering to tenets of religion fall into this trap – they see use of intoxicants and promiscuous lifestyles as serious sins, but see over-spending, over-eating and flaunting of wealth as permissible.
In Pakistan, this causes deeper problems. Poverty, insecurity, economic frustration and jealousy are resulting in an angry and violent collective temperament. When they cannot get it by just means, they steal it, loot it and even resort to crime and violence. While this is not acceptable, this is a bitter reality. And somewhere, we are part of this equation and are indirectly responsible for it.
Considering that Ramazan is a good time for introspection, it might be good to try and aim for moderation in spending so that we may control the glaring economic disparity in our society.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.