By Shandana Minhas
I would like to begin by asking when Ramzan or Ramazan officially became Ramadan? It is the month the natural born Pakistani’s intrinsic need to feel holier than thou — a necessary if trying counterpoint to the self loathing we traditionally embody– manifests itself to an alarming degree.
Celebrities begin their yearly plummet off the cliffs of prudishness at the onset of the month, like lemmings but without the charisma. Chiffon clad women wrap themselves in an extra layer of piety as they harangue their Hindu maids. Those who imbibe swear off the stuff for the duration, as if it isn’t haram all year around.
Mosque loudspeakers’ volumes are raised an extra notch, a crude but effective way to ensure all in their immediate vicinity bridge the class divide by being equally susceptible to inner ear damage. And salespeople ringing up midday food purchases do so with such a contemptuous superiority it is a wonder they are able to stay seated and not inadvertently levitate straight to heaven, bottoms up. And should the topic of inappropriate sanctimonious be brought up in conversation with, say, a person who has broken a red light in their rush to get home for Iftar and nearly totaled your car in the process, do you know what you are likely to get in response? I cannot possibly eat humble pie: I am fasting.
I’m generally not so negative but this year things got off to a bad start for me thanks to the pick up truck that parked outside the apartment complex I live in during the wee hours of the first night and proceeded to harangue all inmates with demands for charity over a megaphone, which is never a nice thing to do to anyone in bed.
Then, reeling from both sleep deprivation and the knowledge of my own helplessness in the face of wanton, unprovoked wailing, I read about the directive issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to all provincial governments directing them to ensure full implementation of the Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance. The ordinance, promulgated in 1981 under Zia-ul-Haq, makes it illegal for anyone – young, old, infirm, pregnant, lapsed – to eat, drink or smoke in public and applies across the board to Muslims and non-Muslims. In other words, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.
Quite apart from the fact that whether a Muslim fasts is not the business of the state, the ordinance effectively marginalizes Pakistan’s minorities, among which should be included its atheists, its agnostics, its dissolutes, telling them that if they cannot conform, they will be made to conform. So, an affirmation of the lingering suspicion that minority’s rights will remain forever subservient to the majority’s misplaced perceptions of its own? One more nod to the mullah fostered ignorance, arrogance and insularity that has brought us nothing but fragmentation and death? What a way to mark the passage of the month meant to foster empathy and community for all humanity, not just one subset of it. And what a hypocritical lot some of us are, baying for the blood of one dictator while kowtowing to the pseudo-religious fascism that should have been buried with another. In an unmarked grave.
Then — and this I understand is a peeve birthed of preference rather than rationality — there is the modern media’s collective decision to both run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Thus, in what is no doubt being peddled as a sign of our new found open mindedness, shows featuring the worst and latest crass commercialization of the performing arts have not in fact been taken off the air but rather repackaged. The subsequent juxtaposition of base imagery and avowed spirituality is, for lack of a better word, bizarre.
For example on one particular radio station the show ‘Lunch with etc.’ has been named ‘Running on empty’ for the duration of the month. In one set I was unfortunate enough to have to listen to, being stuck in a traffic jam with a teenager, the anchor interspersed songs featuring the sort of asinine derogatory lyrics that make feminist poets kill themselves with monologues about how he was really ‘feeling’ his fast that day. Then there were tips sponsored by multinational corporations (a long-established if unacknowledged bastion of Islamic values, apparently) about how eating fruit during sehri helped quench ones thirst during the day.
Quite apart from the fact that the songs apparent hold on the imagination of a populace ceaselessly objecting to drone attacks is fascinating, this superficial toeing of the official line while surreptitiously continuing to do exactly what one wants to do is emblematic of my other big problem with Ramazan as it tends to unfold here.
For most people, it has no meaning beyond publicly abstaining from the publicly-proscribed for a certain duration each day. The inward journey, lessons learnt during the deprivation (a deprivation that is meant to be self imposed, not involuntary, mind you), promises made in isolation…these things are forgotten once that siren sounds to be remembered anew the next morning and discarded again the next night.
And this year, the year of Swat, the year of Gojra, I have no patience with this enforced obeisance. Like a smile that does not touch the eyes, it is a fake thing, a soul rictus, an insult to the omniscient and everything it stands for.
Shandana Minhas is a writer. Email: