Of all the well-known holy months in the wo­rld’s calendars, Rama­zan has got to be the most famous. It’s not just an event, it’s an entire month of spiritual cleansing brought about thr­ough fasting; an entire month of restraint from dawn to dusk, which never feels burdensome but more like a universal celebration. One has only to go down to the Jama Masjid and watch the rows of happy faces at the end of each day’s fast to know that every morrow beco­mes a celebration.
And then along comes this news of an octogenarian being beaten up in the rural area of Sindh in Pakistan for selling and eating before the time of “opening” of the fast. (I say opening and not breaking for a reason — we’ll come to that by and by.) This raised various questions — including the fact that the old man was a hindu and obviously beyond the boundaries of Ramazan. Even so, there are other questions: should the man not have been a hindu and a muslim, would it have been alright to rain blows upon him for eating publicly in Ramazan? And the much deeper question: were the accused policemen actually fasting? Because if they were, the upholders of “fasting” had “broken” their fast with the first foul word that escaped their lips — forget the blows. That man who was a hindu was under no obligation to fast — but these men, muslims, were not fasting in the least.
Fasting in Ramazan is not about hunger and thirst. That’s about the shallowest definition of it — the lowest common denominator, so to speak. Most muslims wax eloquent on the act of control over hunger and thirst, the pressing needs of your body (including the most intimate physical one, too — for that is also out of bounds during the fast). They speak of how fasting teaches sacrifice and restraint — not to mention compassion for the hungry. What is rarely if ever discussed is the actual process of cleansing — the victory over more psychological instincts, things that will “break” your fast before you can “open” it.
Uttering a lie, hurling an abusive word, a curse word, taunting, backbiting, spewing venom from your lips. Needless to say, beating som­eone and causing wounds is the absolute kiss of death for your fast — and anyway a great sin whether or not you’re fasting. But especially if you’re fasting, you’ve rendered it all useless through either of those acts.
An episode from islamic history goes thus: Prophet Mohammad heard a wo­man hurling abuses in anger at her servant. Immediately after, she received a “gift” of a trayful of food from the pro­phet. The woman, most astonished, declared she was fasting and couldn’t partake of any of it. To which Mohammad replied, “Your anger and misdemeanour has broken your fast. Hunger and thirst alone is of scant consequence.”
That, in one line, is the essence of Ramazan. Cleansing of the soul through guarding of the body. The actual act of restraint is not from food and drink. It’s from the dark portions of yourself, the hatred inside you, the violence you unleash upon others. A true rozadaar is one, who guards his body and soul ag­ainst inflicting harm on others, one from whom no one is in any fear. That is also a true muslim — who would never be a source of fear or pain to another human being.
So when someone says they’re fasting, do check if they really are.

(The writer is a freelance journalist)
Zehra Naqvi