By Ibrahim Adémólá Òrúnbon
There is a need to pay more attention to the plight of the poor. The Muslims’ holy month of self- purification and self- denial otherwise known as Ramadan has just ended. While it lasted, the season of fasting and prayer offered all Muslims the opportunity to reflect on their relationship with Allah. It also enabled those with means to share food with the poor, the needy and the less privileged. For all Muslims, it was an opportunity to rededicate themselves to the teachings of the faith and the cause of mankind as a whole. Altogether, it was a period of deep reflection on the inter-relationship between man and his neighbour, on the one hand, as well as man and his God, on the other. Even though the month-long fasting has come and gone, its lessons must endure. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan has a highly spiritual significance.
To devotees, it was a period of self-emptying without which no spiritual being can have a truly rewarding relationship with his or her maker. That explains why the exercise was marked in Nigeria (as elsewhere in the world) by private and group prayers, and abstinence from all forms of worldly comforts and pleasures. The aim was to enhance spiritual growth and foster charity and brotherly love.
As the Muslims therefore mark the end of this annual spiritual exercise, it is hoped that the outcome will be of immense benefit to the nation. Clearly, there has never been a greater need for sharing with the less privileged and the needy than exists today when millions of Nigerians can hardly make ends meet due to the prevailing economic situation in the country.
By paying attention to the plight of the poor, as was amply demonstrated in the course of Ramadan, we invariably place the welfare of our neighbour as important as ours. By allowing others to partake of our wealth or material possessions, we honour the One who gave us the wealth in the first place. This happens to be at the heart of all religions but a virtue hardly imbibed by many in Nigeria today. That must change.
Since the Ramadan fast, like the other four pillars of Islam, was aimed at promoting both the spiritual and material wellbeing of man, it stands to reason that man is invariably better off doing the will of God than merely pleasing himself. When he is able to rein in the impulse for self- gratification and greedy accumulation of wealth, man is more liable to make his society a better place to live in, not only for himself but also for his neighbour. That for us was one of the most enduring lessons of Ramadan which we hope many would have imbibed. It is noteworthy that fasting as a spiritual exercise is advocated by all religions ostensibly with the notion that the man who can make sacrifices in the bid to tame his desires would be a better person both for himself and the larger society.
As one expert puts it, besides abstention from food and drink, fasting helps the faithful “from looking at the provocative, from hearing the mischievous, and from uttering the obscene….to avoid slander and from thinking about inflicting injury to others”. The month of Rahmah (blessing), Barakah (mercy), and Magfirah (forgiving) is upon us. The blessed month is a precious gift from Allah SWT to Muslims. But do we know exactly why this month is so special to Muslims? What exactly is the purpose of this month, and all the blessings associated with it? What are the lessons we are supposed to take away in observing the sanctity of this month?
Of course, this blessed month exists to train us, to guide us, and to remind us of how we should approach the remaining 11 months of the year. Ramadan imparts upon us numerous lessons: How to develop our manners and moral fortitude, how to treat our fellow human beings with respect, how to strengthen our brotherhood, how to maintain unity among the Muslim community, and how to be welcoming to all the non-Muslims who share this land with us.
The month also teaches us to be more pious, disciplined, and how to maintain self-control, while shielding our souls from greed and immorality. But, most importantly, the month teaches us how we can improve our connection with the Almighty. The month of Ramadan also instills a sense of empathy within us. It allows us to understand the situation of the less fortunate, to feel and experience the pain of hunger and the pangs of thirst that our poverty-stricken brothers and sisters — who are often forced to go without food and drink — feel every waking day. Ramadan is a month of mercy and bonding — Muslims all over the world help one another, and those outside their community, spreading happiness all around. This month is a shining example of the unity that can be achieved among all classes of people in any society, as the rich and the poor, the employer as well as the employee; the parents as well as the child, the ruler as well as the subjects, all keep fast. Regardless of the colour of their skin or their social stature, fasting unites us all. It reminds us how we should conduct ourselves and our behaviour towards those around us, while also teaching us the importance of respect.
Not only do we learn to abstain from food and drink, but we also abstain from making any statements and actions that may cause harm to people or violate their rights. It gives us an opportunity to rectify ourselves through performing numerous good deeds such as providing food or aid to the needy, improving social interaction, giving charity, sadaqah and zakat, and so on. And all of these deeds will be remembered on Judgment Day by the Almighty. But what happens to all these lessons after Ramadan? Unfortunately, we seldom retain any of the lessons we learn on this holiest of months beyond Eid-Eil-Fitr itself. But the purpose of Ramadan runs deeper than mere celebration. The lessons we receive are the lodestar for the rest of the 11 months in any given year. The training we receive is meant to improve us as human beings for the rest of our lives, as that is the true purpose of Ramadan.
After the month is over, and we have all observed our final fast, and the Eid celebrations are dealt with, we will all return to our normal lives. But, it is important that we keep the spirit of Ramadan alive for the rest of the year, and indeed the rest of our lives. Because it is only through unity, modesty, and temperance that we can make the world a better place for all of us.
All said, the nation’s leaders, political and otherwise, have much to take from the lessons of Ramadan. If they can curtail their materialistic tendencies and pay more attention to the yearnings of the people, the country will certainly become a much happier place for everyone. We therefore urge our leaders to imbibe the lessons of Ramadan. Happy Eid-el Fitr celebration.
Òrúnbon writes from Abeokuta, Ogun State