Ramadan in Times Like This

Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU


For quite a while now, Ramadan comes handy as the Holy month of “spiritual grounding” or for what Farid Esack, the South African Scholar and former Commissioner for Gender Equality under Nelson Mandela’s government called “rootlessness” with the communities, in his thought-for-food book entitled Finding a Religious Path in the World Today .

Of course my spiritual grounding during the month of mercy-seeking is in Kaduna, Ilorin and Makkah (in-that-order!). For over a decade , Ramadan offers an ample “flight” from work- overload, a kind of un-official holiday from the endless distractive work schedules that toss one from one part of the world to the other.
It is pleasant to be “over-employed” in the age of massive unemployment and underemployment.

But are we to live to work or are we working to live and worship? We definitely need some balance, which often tilts in favor of work drudgery or what V.I Lenin, the 20th Bolshevik revolutionary, aptly called “wage-slavery.” It’s been a battle to harmonize my spiritual calendar with religion-blind work erratic schedules.

I recall that last year, I started 2019 Ramadan in Brussels where I attended IndustriALL Congress Working Group and Executive Board Meetings from 19th May to 23rd May 2019 at ITUC Trade Union House. The then Nigerian Ambassador, Alhaji Ahmed Inusa, to Belgium hosted me and other Nigerian Muslim brothers to Iftar at his Brussels residence.

I had enjoined countless generous Nigeria’s consular services abroad, especially in Geneva which hosts the ILO, that harbors labour market Stakeholders all over the world annually. I often agonize about the prospects of Ramadan coming to an end, as one is again severed from the month of piety and serenity to the cult of matter, gluttony, noise making, work and the newest anti-faith, fake news . I deliberately refused to attend ILO conference every year, as the calendar of the UN agency increasingly falls into Ramadan. Luckily, last year the opening session of the ILO 108th centenary Conference held first week of June after the Ramadan.

Managing the spiritual and the secular had been my lot in the last three decades of work without rest.
The point cannot be overstated: our world is (or should be) both spiritual and secular.

Any attempt to separate the two pushes us further into the abyss of ruination, material and spiritual poverty.
Certainly not at times like this. COVID: 19 pandemic, which has hit 4,197,142 million mark cases with over 277,000 deaths worldwide, tasks our imagination for both spiritual and scientific reflections. For the past five months, globally religion, spirituality and science, rationality and epistemology make up the two sides of the same existential coin!

The pandemic theme runs through many Ramadan messages by religious and temporal leaders.
President Muhammadu Buhari had congratulated all Muslims who witness this challenging year’s Ramadan fast. Some 150 have died, as many as 4651 are infected, 901 have recovered.

No thanks to the pandemic. But these are loved ones, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, not just Statistics. With aspirations distorted.

The President was on point in urging for measured socializing to avoid risking “spreading the Coronavirus” during the Holy month.

The real significance of Ramadan however is in its intrinsic values that include forbearances, discipline, mercy, forgiveness and sacrifice. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam.
First it is obligatory with defined exceptions and the discipline it imposes. Muslims certainly don’t need sermons again on the imperative of personal hygiene (washing of hands) which we are enjoined to do before all prayers. I am often reminded of-the Islam’s pragmatism. It makes Ramadan fasting a loud social compulsion as distinct from a private affair.

And think about it .
How difficult it would have been for individuals to live “their spiritual doors open”, by abstaining from food, drink, sex from dawn to sunset for a full moon” month while others keep their “spiritual doors shut” and neck and body deep in indulgence.

Muslims live in a world of diverse faiths but it is remarkable that even at best of times, Muslims and non-Muslim alike (who are under no spiritual obligation to fast) still respect this spiritual/ social month long compulsion. COVID-19 has paradoxically made this year’s Ramadan a kind of universal compulsion in Nigeria.

All spiritual and temporal doors are widely open in the effort to overcome the challenge of the pandemic.
The undercurrent lesson of Ramadan at the time of pandemic is the need for communal solidarity to cement our collective God consciousness so as to tame the spread of the Virus through prayers and wearing of face masks, washing of hands and respect for all public health protocols.

A Virus is defined as an ubiquitous “ piece of parasitic DNA”. A cupful of seawater is said to contain more viruses than the entire human population of 8 billion.

Just imagine how many viruses would fill a bucket or are in the seven seas that encircle our globe! Interestingly, out of the trillions of viruses, God empowers only 219 viruses to target humans. And if one Virus could put the whole world on a tenterhooks just within four months as Coronavirus is audaciously rampaging, it’s better imagine if additional one Virus is on the loose. ‘We have revealed the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan’ says Allah in the Qur’an, ‘a guidance for humankind.

Thus let those who witness the month fast.
As for others who may be ill or travelling, let them complete it some other time. Allah desires ease for you and not difficulty or discomfort’ (Q. 2:185) Kindly note that the Quran’s injunction addresses point-blank humankind not race, tribe or class and the injunction is all inclusive.

The exclusion is on the compassionate practical and verifiable grounds of illness and travelling and not our artificially created purchasable status of first class or VIPs or distinguished or Honourables. I bear witness that throughout this month the difference would not be clear between the hitherto visible rich and the obviously miserable poor before the Ramadan.

We are daily erecting class society as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Does it dawn on us that the rampaging Virus is also class and race blind? It takes head on some governors no less it attacks some Almajiris? We are at liberty to keep on agonizing about the unproved conspiracy theory of its causes.

We can even fuel unhelpful controversies over its cures. What is undeniable is it’s indiscriminate borderless spread. COVID-19 has exposed the futility of our “fortress mentality” expressed in thousands of artificially contrived walls, from border wall between Israel and the West Bank to proposed Donald Trump’s Mexico border wall. It’s clear that solidarity not personalization would assist to contain the infections.

If so why the selective criminalization and feverish deportations of Almajiris to their “states of origin”? Whence the empathy during the month we are all seeking for Allah’s mercy and at times like this in which an infection to all is a threat to all?

The mosques and churches are rightly under lock and keys.
But days and nights men and women of faiths especially during the last ten days of Ramadan, are still seeking extra bonus from Allah’s bagful of mercies to forgive our shortcomings and make us overcome the present afflictions.

Ramadan Kareem.

Issa Aremu, Member, National Institute, Kuru Jos