17 days ago

A month of restraint

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Fasting during the month of Ramadan has not only spiritual connotations but also Sufistic elements. Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstention from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. This approach is also expected to promote  control of our impulses and help develop good behaviour.

During this sacred month of Ramadan, believers can undertake efforts not only towards purifying their body and soul but also enhancing their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). Such an effort is expected to lead towards purification of body and soul and also tone the inner and outer spheres of every individual.

However, there is also the denotation matrix within the framework of fasting. It needs to be remembered that Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Excess food is discouraged and eating is aimed at only being enough to silence the pain of hunger. However, Muslims are encouraged to be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty and responsibility.

Fasting is obligatory for every adult Muslim during the month of Ramadan, unless one is physically indisposed. Although fasting during Ramadan is fard (obligatory), exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances. Some of these conditions are applicable in the case of: (a) prepubescent children; (b) one suffering from unconditional vomiting; (c) serious illness; (d) if one is traveling; (e) an ill person or old person who is not physically able to fast; and (f) a mentally ill person.

Our Hadith, however, also specifies that those who will not be able to fast can donate a meal (or an equivalent amount of money) to the poor or needy for each day of missed fasting. In the case of women, for each day of fasting missed during Ramadan, they should donate the amount of a normal person's diet to the poor or needy. These stipulations will apply only if the concerned person is financially capable.

Each day, the fast begins at dawn and ends at sunset. Non obligatory fasts are two days a week as well as the middle of the month, as recommended by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

During this sacred month, believers strive to purify their body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This effort towards purification is expected to harmonise the inner and outer spheres of every individual.

Unfortunately, we have noticed another scenario this year like the past years. Traders are again exploiting this month by misusing different opportunities that emerge during Ramadan. They have no qualms in their greedy pursuit of profit. They tend to overlook the principle that all foods including specific Iftar items should not only be served in a hygienic manner in compliance with government health rules but also be displayed in a healthy way. They do not hesitate to resort to underhand methods where they exploit consumer expectation for an extra bit of profit. Values related to principles are compromised and the consumers are pressed into buying things at excessive pricing.

To this dynamic has been added another unfortunate aspect-- adulteration, the use of preservatives, fabric dyes, chemicals, formalin and carbide. In the recent past mobile food inspection teams appear to have identified some factories where unscrupulous businessmen are producing adulterated sub-standard vermicelli in unhygienic conditions and then flooding the city markets as well as rural haats and bazaars with this hazardous product. There have also been reports of such vermicelli being dried under the open sky in unclean places and later packed in colourful packets to draw the attraction of consumers in the rural areas. There have also been reports of importers forming syndicates to adulterate milk powder and then selling to retailers who pass it on to low quality bakeries, restaurants and hotels.

Dishonest traders also appear to have no compunction in tainting seasonal fruits to improve their appearance for the consumer. This is done without any respect for public health and the provisions as set forth in the Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009, Food Safety Act, 2013 and the Formalin Control Act, 2015. This is happening partially because there is very little organised monitoring of cheap food producers and food manufacturers in the country by the relevant authorities.

Nevertheless, claims are made by such authorities that they have already initiated efforts towards more effective surveillance of the situation and through the use of mobile courts have been imposing fines on those found guilty of adulteration. One can only conclude that this is encouraging but this is really only touching the tip of the iceberg. They need to operate additional mobile courts to ensure that there is greater implementation of rules and regulations not only throughout Ramadan but also afterwards. This will require careful recordkeeping and documentation of inspection already carried out. It will also require coordination among the different agencies to improve accountability.

Prices of almost each and every Iftar item has gone up by 19 to 35 per cent this year, putting the low-income group of people in a state of shock. The last week has already seen an inordinate rise in price of basic ingredients associated with the preparation of different kinds of items for Iftar. These include sugar, edible oil (required for frying different delicacies), aubergine, onion, garlic, potato, spices, green chili, vegetables, chickpea and green papaya. Cost of these items has shoot through the roof.

Surveys carried out by the print and electronic media in different markets located in Malibagh, Shantinagar and Karwan Bazar have indicated that the price of aubergine has gone up by nearly 60 per cent over the last few days. Prices of gram, garlic, onion, cucumber, lemon and sugar have also taken a leap. There has also been a noticeable rise in the prices of eggs, fish, chicken, mutton and beef -- all essential sources of protein. This time, the prices of jilapi, kebab and other meat dishes have also gone up. Puffed rice (muri) has also marked a sharp rise this year.

Mutton is now selling at around Taka 950 per kg, and beef at over Taka 750 per kg. The butchers have no hesitation in attributing the rise to the cost of beef  and  insufficient supply.  Broiler chicken is selling at around Taka 250 per kg. Non-broiler local chicken is retailing at around Taka 360 per kg. The prices of fish per kg, other than Tilapia, Pangash and Koi, have climbed over Taka 350. Ruhi and Katla are selling between Taka 400 and Taka 450 per kg. Locally grown fruits-- bananas, green guavas-- and dates (partially imported to meet increased demand at this time) have all witnessed rise in their prices on an average of more than 30 to 35 per cent.

One has to remember that there is a symbolic aspect about Eid and Ramadan. This was reflected in the famous line of Kazi Nazrul Islam: "Ramzaner oi rojar sheshe elo khushir Eid". Let us all try and work together. At this point one also needs to draw attention to the end of Ramadan and the arrival of Eid-ul-Fitr. For Muslims, this is a joyous festival that has both spiritual and social implications. It arrives in the wake of this holy month and marks the end of fasting for Muslims seeking purification and salvation.

The crescent moon that heralds the end of this special month also brings with it natural delight for each family. However, efforts need to be undertaken so that this happiness is shared throughout the community.

All of us -- either through individual or institutional means-- should try to bring joy and fellowship for the young and old living with and around us. Every smile that emerges because of our efforts will help us to move forward and overcome challenges within every tier of our social framework. It will also re-affirm the nuance as enunciated in Surah 107 (Al- Maun) - true worship requires faith and also love for the needy.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
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