Thursday, August 19, 2010
When you're Hungry and Thirsty...
Nine days into the fasting month. All Muslims who faithfully abide by the injunctions of Allah for the month or Ramadhan, would have by now acclimatized themselves to the new routine. Those who don't will have to continue pretending that they are or making excuses for their lapses. However they cover up the violations, Allah surely knows about them.
But the hunger and thirst in the fasting month is certainly not of the same order as that suffered by the poor and impoverished. The World Bank estimated in 2005 that some 1.02 billion people live in hunger and 16,000 children died of hunger everyday. 9 million children die before the age of 5 years, one third of that because of hunger and malnutrition. The World Food Program reported in 2003 that 38 million Africans lived under the threat of starvation. Even if conditions have now improved, we still see millions on TV suffering from famine and hunger everyday caused by political or tribal conflicts, crop failures and stark poverty
So, what is going hungry, with no food or drinks for a day, for the Muslims? And to prepare for that little test of endurance, they can feed themselves like a stuffed pillow until 5.30 am in Malaysia, to last them through till 7.25 pm or even earlier. Just about 13-14 hours of fasting in Malaysia while in UK and the US in summer Muslims might have to fast for 17 or 18 hours. Still, you can pile in as much food as you want when the 'azan' breaks the evening calmness.
Do we in Malaysia really appreciate the meaning of hunger and thirst? Fasting is supposed to help the Muslims to do so and, therefore, think of those who live in hunger all their life. It's supposed to make us step for a day into the shoes of those who must suffer the day without food, to feel the pang of hunger gnawing at our vitals, hear the stomach growling like a starving lion, and move us to do something to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. While appreciating Allah's bounty when we finally face a table loaded with food and drinks at the end of the day, we should also be thinking of the poor and starving who don't even have a place to go to break their fast, nor any food waiting for them at the place that they call home. They must go on rummaging for food day in a and day out like the stray cats and dogs that walk the streets.
It is most overwhelming to see some mosques and madrasahs holding fast-breaking receptions at their premises and allowing anyone at all to come and partake in the food and drinks that they offer. Some hold such receptions almost every night sponsored by people living in the vicinity of the madrasahs, a reception in the mosque being too expensive to be born by individual sponsors barring the rich and wealthy. Even then it could not be everyday of the month unlike the case of the small madrasah like in Taman Malawati where we take turn to sponsor the modest occasion. Only the well sponsored or government-funded Mosques can hold such occasions every evening, either offering a full feast or just some 'bubur lambuk' and other tidbits.
The poor and homeless Muslims who are fasting, are of course welcome to such receptions. There normally is plenty of food and drinks for all those who chose to break their fast in the mosques and madrasahs, although this could often be a sacrifice for they have much, much more food and delicacies waiting for them at home, goddies they and their family members have personally bought and accumulated since afternoon. We all know that Muslims really unleashed their purse strings during the fasting month, especially as we approached Aidil Fitri. You bet that food and delicacies are plentiful throughout the month of Ramadhan.
The big question is: ARE THE POOR AND STARVING REALLY WELCOME TO THE MOSQUES AND MADRASAHS DURING THE FAST-BREAKING OCCASIONS? Do we see them coming up in numbers or do we see just a very few who live in the vicinity and who are fasting? While there's a lot of food and drinks to be shared, most of it will be wasted at the end of the occasion. Even when the food is distributed to be taken home, who would really want the left overs? Certainly not those people who have loads of delicious stuff waiting for them at home! The waste that you see on every occasion and in some cases every night, if accumulated from the mosques and madrasahs all over the country, might be enough to be distributed to all the poor homes in the country or feed the poor and impoverished if they can be gathered at certain meeting points. One thing that is certain, the mosques and madrasahs all over the country at this point are not inviting the poor and impoverished to have a good feed for breaking their fast, either carried out as a religious obligation or forced by the miseries of life. The food festivals that we see in the nights of Ramadhan are more for the hungry well-to-do rather than for the really hungry and poor.
That being the case, can we say that the objectives of fasting in the month of Ramadhan had been fully achieved by all Muslims? We have only to ask ourselves for fasting is a fardu kifayah (individual responsibility) and we must strive out to satisfy our own ideals in the fulfillment of our religious obligations.