To eat or not to eat: If you support the ban on eating publically in Ramazan, your faith is weak

Published: June 3, 2018
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Pakistani volunteers arrange food for Muslim devotees at a mosque during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on July 27, 2012. PHOTO: GETTY

Ramazan is a one of the holiest months known to all Muslims. In fact, fasting in Ramazan stands as one of the five most important pillars of Islam; it is an essential act which makes up the religion. There are some very clear guidelines on how to act during this month in order for a person’s fast to be accepted and counted as successful.

It is believed that during the fast, one should abstain from all bad deeds. A person fasting should not indulge in arguments and disputes nor use obscene language; should not show bad temper, should be pleasant, patient and tolerant. The whole point of fasting in Ramazan is to practice patience and self-control, making oneself a better person in order to better connect with the Divine being.

However, every Ramazan, without fail, there is news of utterly heartbreaking incidents which go well beyond and legitimately against the basic principles of Ramazan and of Islam in general. Speaking of practicing patience, I would like to argue here that the amount of road rage I experience during Ramazan, especially close to iftar time, has to be the worst all year round – there is madness on the road with the consistent honking and everyone rushing to get home in time.

Recently, there have also been social and legislative moves that have left me questioning states’ tolerance on a larger level. Many Muslim majority countries, Pakistan included, have banned eating in public during Ramazan, with consequences of imprisonment and fine for those who do not comply with the law. In a country where there exist polarised versions of Islam, people in general take it on themselves to punish others accordingly to what they deem is right or wrong. This was evident last year in the case of Gokal Das, an elderly Hindu resident of Hayat Pitafi, who was having Biryani given to him in charity, when a police constable and his brother beat him up for eating in public in Ramazan. Does this brutal act not go against the fundamental ideals of Ramazan? How does a fasting person justify inflicting pain onto another as an act of righteousness?

What I find most unfair and problematic about such laws is that they put false compulsions, restricting people who cannot fast or do not want to fast for whatever reason, in direct and unnecessary danger. I am compelled to think about the poor labourers who work day in and day out under the scorching sun, especially during the deathly heat waves, without any sort of air conditioning; I am compelled to think about pregnant women, women who are menstruating, children, students, the elderly and the sick. Most importantly though, what about non-Muslims? Under what Islamic rule are they supposed to get punished for eating in public? What happened to the religious freedom constitutionally promised by the founder of this nation? And what exactly is so wrong with eating in public? For those people who are fasting and get offended so easily at the sight of someone else eating – is your faith so weak that you’re afraid watching someone practice such a basic act of eating will affect your fast negatively? When there is no compulsion enforced in your own religion, how can you force followers of other religions?

Many others like myself are asking the same questions. As a result of which, giving Tunisia’s example is of great importance. Last year in Tunisia, dozens of people were arrested for eating in public and what the state claimed to be “offending public decency”. A group of young Tunisians decided to fight back by running a social media campaign and friendly protests, demanding for restaurants to be open during the day so food is easily accessible. The protests are a call for freedom for people to do as they please so long as they are not hurting other people’s freedom.

I know I will face backlash for agreeing with the Tunisian protests but I have a counterargument for that: Muslims who make up a minority in other various countries cope with Ramazan just fine. They survive the entire day in workplaces, where most people do not fast and it is completely alright. Many Muslims work at restaurants and food courts at malls while they fast themselves but they know that serving food to others or watching other people eat will not automatically “ruin” their personal choice to fast.

Having said that, I do also believe that out of respect, friends and family of the fasting person can consult or ask whether it is alright to eat around them but there should not be any compulsion that altogether rules out another person’s freedom to eat at a location of their choice. Businesses in Muslim minority countries run on a regular basis in Ramazan and I don’t see them failing as a state, nor do I see Islam’s value being compromised there. In fact, in places like the UK, European Union (EU), Canada and the US, fasting hours are much longer than they are in the Middle East and South Asia, and life goes on just fine.

I’m a working professional in Lahore and there are many people at my workplace who choose not to fast and others that simply cannot. We respect each other’s decisions because ultimately it is a person’s personal choice. When I am not fasting, I make sure to ask my fasting colleagues whether they are okay with me eating around them, and guess what?

They. Don’t. Care.

In fact, many people don’t. If I am fasting and others are eating around me, I frankly do not care either because I know what purpose my fasts serve and seeing food around me does not encourage me to suddenly give in and eat mid-day and nor does it offend me in any way.

I believe that in many Muslim majority countries, there is a certain urge to maintain the “Muslim” identity, but that identity looks very different for different people. That’s why it gets really tricky. In order to maintain the power of religion, such laws are passed so that citizens are constantly under fear to comply. Even if we were to give that logic the slightest benefit of the doubt, it does not justify the unfairness towards non-Muslim citizens and towards people who choose not to fast.

Perhaps eating in public during Ramazan, especially in Pakistan’s case should be given less importance and concentrating on teaching people to just be better and kinder should be focused on more. Just last week, there was horrible news of two sons who brutally abused their mother and dumped her in the trash; there was another case of a father who violently beat his daughter; Charanjit Singh, a social worker, an active preacher for interfaith harmony and a diehard patriot was murdered in Peshawar. How is that these acts are not offensive enough to be penalised or criminalised, that too in Ramzan, but simply eating in public is something that some people can’t fathom? How is it that these acts don’t damage the so-called “Muslim” identity that we are so desperate to create but eating in public does?

I am deeply saddened by the affairs around me. Intolerance is at an all-time high and I sincerely do not think it has anything to do with Islam as a religion. Because if anyone knows Islam properly, they know that it teaches nothing but love, harmony and tolerance. It teaches sympathy and unity amongst all humans. And it certainly forbids violence and murder. So, my request to everyone out there who thinks that the ban on eating publicly in Ramazan is a good idea, is to really re-examine the strength of your faith, because if seeing people eat around you offends you so much, perhaps you don’t know the first thing about Ramazan and its core objectives.

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as a Publicist and as the Head of Social Media Marketing. She tweets @purniyaA (twitter.com/PurniyaA?lang=en)

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

  • Patwari

    Agree with the blog writer 100%. Kudos to the writer. Indeed, she is brave.
    Is your faith so weak that watching someone eating, during Ramzan turns
    you into a savage?
    No, that is not Islam. That is a belief that belongs to ignorants thugs still living
    in the 7th. century.
    There is no religious freedom in Pakland. Every Human Rights Agency in the
    world can tell you that,…with proof, in triplicate.
    If you are not a Wahabi Sunni, you are on your own. If you belong to a minority
    sect of Islam, such as Shias, may God protect you. No one else will be able to.

    Sorry ET auditors, this the truth. Which you are afraid to admit. Which why your
    country is in the doldrums, worldwide.Recommend

  • Suriyewa Yadd

    Perfect!Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    I am glad I am not living in regressive Islamic country. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Excellent article….and I agree with your view completely.
    Some years ago while traveling I landed in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia ( an Islamic country ) on the first day of Ramazan …… and I found the side walk cafe’s open during the day and I asked the waitress if it bothered her to serve food during Ramzan and she was surprised as to why I asked such a question….and she said absolutely not although she herself was fasting.
    Sadly we in Pakistan wear our religion on our sleeve ….. and miss understanding its substance and essence.Recommend

  • Sami Thinker

    It is about the respect of Ramzan and about the witness of fast leavers. To have fast in ramzan is a compulsory deed which some so called muslims do not accpet and want to eat freely as like 0ther 11 months. Respecting Fast by not eating in open is a moral act. For Eg. In a house if death occurs then will their neighbouring people be keep joying as per their daily life ???? No. They will respect their grief. Similarly Fasting is a hard job especially for those who are working out side in Field so by watching open cafes and hotels makes their heart to think opposite which increases their hardships. Fragrance of food might also makes them hasty to release their fast. Hence, things do not go like this, think before writing from both sides. Bunch of hotels are open in several cities and people are breaching the holy cause of Ramzan relentlessly. What place are you talking about ? How much loss you want us to pay ? Be a neutral writer.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Suppose you want to make your child habitual of something doing or refraining from something where all other kids of his age are doing the opposite.

    How difficult/easy you will find this task. Think about generations, don’t be selfish by thinking only for yourself. “Environment” is very important for all of us.

    I still don’t believe there should be a law and enforcing this on people who don’t fast. But government probably should be requesting people to refrain from eating in public through media.Recommend

  • Patwari

    As the well known Chinese sage said :-
    A journey of a 1000 miles begins with that first step.
    So the author has taken that step. Towards building awareness.
    There is nothing selfish or personal about what the author of the blog wrote.
    There is nothing selfish thinking about the welfare of the very old and the infirm.
    [Who will be more sick and may die if they keep rozas, in 115 degrees heat.]
    There is nothing selfish thinking about people on medication, their lives depends on
    DAILY INTAKE, through out the day, of various medications. Just to stay alive.
    There is nothing selfish thinking about the very young, forced to keep rosas.
    There is nothing selfish thinking about people who are not Muslims. Are full citizens.
    And cannot be forced to go hungry all day or beaten to death if caught drinking water.
    Majority ‘religious’ norms and observances of an Islamic country CANNOT be forced upon it’s minority non Muslims citizens. Otherwise it is a kingdom, an absolute monarchy.
    Where the king tells you what you can or cannot do in HIS COUNTRY.Recommend

  • Al Ali

    Your arguement lacks any wisdom. I live is US and our kids are doing just fine learning about Islam, Ramadan and fasting with everyone around us eating in public!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    And no one in the US threatens you or your family FOR FASTING!
    Read the article again!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Is the faith so frail that those fasting shouldn’t suffer the temptations of seeing other people eating or drinking water???
    That reasoning follows the concept that women should all wear burkas to not temp weak men from dangerous thoughts!Recommend

  • Mirza Aasauf Baig

    If we want to make our childrens habitual of Fasting then I strongly believe there should be a law to refrain people from eating in public.

    Recommend

  • Raunaq Sarwar

    What the Hindu did will certainly hurt sentiments of fellow Muslims. Understand and respect to others feelings is all about culture. Similarly Muslims should show consideration to Hindu sentiments and avoid beef eating.Recommend

  • Asad

    perfectly crafted article … well written … you said what i totally believe in …Recommend

  • Komal S

    There are many days where some Hindus fast. Can we make eating places in Pakistan closes on those days as a respect to fellow Hindus.Recommend

  • Jhon Stuart

    Perfect articleRecommend

  • Sami Thinker

    Yes, bec Muslims are Humans and they see catch the environment around them. Well as far as burka is concerned why are you so scare of it ? May be bcz you can’t reach a woman easily?!!!Recommend

  • siesmann

    ANd then you are the one who will claim Muslim is a better human?!!Beating an older man eating for whatever reason is an inhuman act.and so is forcing your faithfulness on to other than yourself.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Majority of Muslims likely do not care if somebody is eating when they are fasting.It is people of weak faith,and with self-doubt who think otherwise.And you stoop so low as to equate Ramzan with death.Recommend

  • siesmann

    And it is only fair that there should be a law against eating beef ,in public at least.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Right on !Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Pakistanis claim to be Muslims who obey God and the Qur’an. I used search engines to go through the text of the Qur’an. There is no ban on public eating in the Qur’an. Who is making up these lies and why are Pakistanis so ignorant they don’t know how the check the Qur’an? While checking for this non existent ban I came across the phrase there is no compulsion in religion, the ban on public eating is clearly compulsion in religion. Then I thought, no wonder Pakistan has problems, they claim to be Muslims who obey the Qur’an but they invent lies about the Qur’an no wonder God has let Pakistan descend into killings and chaos, Pakistanis by their actions prove they are not the Muslims they claim to be.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    There is no “respect of Ramazan” instruction in Qur’an. God will not forgive your attempts to take His place and make up laws that He never made.Recommend

  • Sami Thinker

    Actually you want rule of jungle everywhere. Sorry we can’t allow you in humans society.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Many Muslim majority countries, Pakistan included, have banned eating in public during Ramazan, with consequences of imprisonment and fine for those who do not comply with the law.

    This is not in line with Quraanic teachings but simply expresses the will of monarchs and authorities in the country. Fasting renews humans immune system and is for their good more or less followed by all people of Ibrahimic religions. Let the muslims come out of 7th century practice and enlighten thmselves without imposing their will on others having different interpretation of the ancient rituals. We are all travellers in this world, our dstiny being the life aftr death.

    Rex MinorRecommend