Preserve Empathy and Moderation after Ramadan
The momentous month of Ramadan has passed. It was an incredibly special and a deeply spiritual time for Muslims all over the world. During Ramadan, Muslims strive to exhibit increased morality and to attain piety.
The Quran states that the ultimate purpose of fasting is to “attain piety”. This can be understood from verse 183 of Surah Al-Baqarah: “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.”
Fasting in Arabic is “sawm.” It literally means “restraint and self-control.” As an ibadah, fasting is a form of abstinence from food and drinks from dawn until dusk. In general, fasting is also an abstinence from fulfilling physical desires and a catalyst for self-discipline. Through fasting, Muslims practise noble manners and morality.
Morality at an individual level is about embracing justice, compassion and tolerance towards all. At the communal level, it is about being a responsible citizen and contributing to the overall good of society. While these precepts are inherent in Islam, they also resonate with core universal values. Indeed, Ramadan is the right time to inculcate such values.
One of the important aspects of morality that is emphasised during Ramadan is empathy. Empathy is an ability to understand and feel pain that someone else is suffering. As we regularly feel the pangs of hunger and thirst during the day in Ramadan, we gain a glimpse into what it is like for those who have no choice but to be hungry and thirsty every single day due to poverty. There are people who are struggling with food insecurity. This happens not just in remote countries but also in our own.
Fasting helps us feel their pain, suffering, loneliness, poverty and hunger. In a way, it connects us as humans. Empathy towards those in unfortunate situations can also be portrayed through the act of moderation. Moderation is the avoidance of excesses or extremes, especially in behaviour. Moderation that is inculcated in Ramadan includes the moderation of meal preparation and intake during iftar. The act of moderation and avoiding excessiveness in food and drinks instils the feeling of pity towards the poor.
As the month of Ramadan has ended, Aidilfitri is celebrated in the following month, Shawal. The eve of Shawal is a day of celebration, for being victorious in restraining oneself from the human need for food, water and the temptation to succumb to the extremes of human desires, either the conscious, such as anger and hatred, or the subconscious, like lust or carnality.
Aidilfitri is a day for thankfulness and rejoice, and, hopefully, as a community, Ramadan would have provided us with a clean slate to move forward as better Muslims, to be useful to our community, fellow citizens as well as human\ and living beings.
However, many of us tend to abandon the spirit of high morality during Ramadan when celebrating Shawal. If the celebration of Shawal is not properly controlled, it may be held in excessiveness especially for food and drinks. Shawal may become the month of eating festival with a variety of cuisines at open houses being held throughout Shawal. The excessiveness of food preparation for Shawal celebration often leads to the increase of food waste.
It is reported by the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp Malaysia) that the total collection of food waste during festive seasons including Shawal is higher, that is, 18,000 tonnes daily compared to normal season which is 15,000 tonnes daily. This makes the amount of food wasted during festive seasons increased between 15 and 20 per cent daily compared to normal season.
Even more unfortunate when it is reported that the majority of the food waste that is collected can still be eaten. Indeed, this is a form of loss in terms of money and a hazard towards the environment.
Wasting food during Islamic festivals gives a bad portrayal of Muslims and Islam as a whole in the eye of the public. During Ramadan, through fasting, we have trained ourselves to feel the pangs of hunger and thirst of the poor throughout their lives. However, the over-enjoyment of food during Shawal does not reflect the consistency of empathy that we feel towards the unfortunate during Ramadan.
Shawal is a celebration of thankfulness for being able to get rid of old bad habits. Therefore, after the month of Ramadan, the old habits should not be practised anymore. The moderation that we practise during Ramadan should always be continued even beyond it. Indeed, the consistency of practising good values and abandoning old bad habits is a symbol of Ramadan blessing.