Ramazan: Beyond Transactions, Towards Empathy 

For representational purposes only | Abid Bhat for KO

Ramazan is Obligatory. But it is not a Transaction. It is Also about Empathy

THAT fasting in Ramazan is obligatory upon Muslims is to state the obvious. But Ramadan – fasting from dawn to dusk- is also an instructive guide on empathy , which according to Merriam Webster, ‘is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another’

With a specific reference to the month of fasting, the idea, among other things, is to feel and experience what is the quotidian experience of the needy. (I am deliberately avoiding the term ‘poor’ because of both the patronizing and pejorative connotations associated with the term). Before elaborating and laying out my core argument, it may be pertinent to explore the question of ‘poverty’. While reams have been written on the nature of the phenomenon and statistics marshalled for the same, definitions may not detain us here. It may be apposite to point out that ‘poverty’ is real and much of the world lives in its vicious grip — notwithstanding the efforts put in by developmental economics to understand and remedy it. In my opinion, with due regard to the impulse behind modernization, ‘poverty’ is a mystery and those born in it are not responsible for it nor its perpetuation.

This is the starting point of my discussion. If those unfortunate to be in the grips of this scourge are not responsible for it, then they cannot cop blame for it. Similarly but on the other end of the spectrum, those fortunate to be born in privilege are not responsible for the same either. They are neither special nor exceptional. Either is a matter of circumstance, good or poor luck. But societies across the world,(Kashmir being no exception), determine and assign status or its converse, lack of it based on the classifications of either poverty or privilege. This is both morally and ethically wrong. But, unfortunately, that’s how it is.

Now returning to the theme of Ramazan and empathy, what is the social response to it?

Obviously, as of now, my frame of reference is Kashmir. Most people welcome this holy month for its obvious spiritual merit. We wake  for sehree (pre -dawn meal), have our meal, offer our morning prayer, sleep for a little while, go to work and then , lo and behold, a sumptuous (or even an extravagant) meal with an assortment of fresh fruits, juices, firnee followed by dinner (the sequence is reversed for some) awaits us. Smug with our bellies filled by fine dining, we then go for taraweeh and night prayers, head to sleep awaiting the next roza. While I am sure some do, but honestly speaking, how many of us actually think of the needy, the deprived and the unfortunate?

To illustrate and drive home the point, consider the average day of an autorickraw driver, a person who earns his wage(s) on a daily basis- maybe on average 400-500 rupees on a good day after deducting petrol and other running expenses. It stands to reason that the work levels dip during Ramazan. This undercuts the auto rickshaw wallahs earnings.  With the reduced quantum of money that he makes, the auto rickshaw wallahs have to take care of the family needs, maybe ailing parents, expenses of his children and so on. Basic maths will reveal that there will be hardly anything left for a reasonably energy rich food basket. He and his family then are left to consume basic food stuff as opposed to a middle class family’s nutritious, nourishing one. Most if not all of these daily wage earners are reconciled to their condition. They don’t complain. But what about the conscience of the middle classes and the rich? Should not the hunger pangs faced during Ramazan induce and generate empathy? Maybe it does. But we forget about it when we are busy indulging ourselves with fine and gluttonous meals. These cloud and obscure our memory and empathy, defeating one of the  purposes of the holy month.

Come the end of Ramadan and the festival of Eid, we splurge on conspicuous consumption- fine bakery, condiments, and other forms of consumerism. This time, we don’t have the Ramadan hunger pangs to bother us and consciences. But yet again, what about the needy and their children? It's their Eid too.

Is this condition – the middle classes and the rich- cruising through Ramazan and the poor suffering it irremediable? Or as socially responsible members, can something be done about it? No. It is not. If not, what can be done about it? In differing and different capacities, those with means can help. Say, find out and determine the needy in a neighbour, with due respect to the dignity of the needy, drop off a food bag at the doorstep of the family? Or, figure out the needs of a given needy family, hand a money envelope to it? These are just illustrative examples. Other ways can also be figured out to help the needy.

All this is not to generate and thus assuage guilt by giving out a few food packets, clothes or money to the needy. That would defeat the very purpose of empathy that Ramadan must generate in us. Nor is it in the nature of making a transaction with God- that giving would lead to sawaab(reward in the Hereafter). This has its own standalone merit. But for now, the idea is to become socially responsible, ethical and fair.  Let us, this Ramazan, make haste slowly, induce in ourselves the aspect of empathy that lies hidden and obscured by conspicuous consumption and aid the needy. An empathetic self can be among the best tributes we pay to the spirit of Ramadan!


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a writer and columnist 

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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