Dr. Zahid Parvez |
Islam aims to bring people together in peace and cooperative relationships. People bonded together with shared faith and moral values can become a force for positive change and development in the community and society. ‘Social Capital’ is a term used to denote social connections between people and the benefits these generate. It is built on communication, trust, and respect.
Social capital brings numerous social advantages and productive benefits including social support, reciprocity, mentoring, sharing resources, reputation, connections, and influence. Scholars suggest that social capital is also an important driver of economic productivity and progress in society.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan, like the other pillars of Islam, not only helps in developing people spiritually, thus impacting the individual life – but also brings numerous social benefits. It is a powerful programme for building social capital as well, through fostering spirituality, moral consciousness and sense of community and conviviality, which are essential ingredients for nurturing a strong, cohesive and thriving community and society.
The holy month of Ramadan. An Exculsive infographic from the #GVSMagazine
Fasting should not be seen as an objective in itself, but as a powerful means for strengthening community life and fulfilling the Islamic purpose in human life and society, which is to establish peace, human dignity and wellbeing, and justice for all.
Developing and maintaining social relationships require an investment of time and resources. As we have moved into a 24/7 society, there appears to be less and less time for self-reflection, for community groups, and for socializing with friends, neighbors and even family. Isolation and individualism are deepening in society; a sense of community gradually withering away; trust and social relations waning and social capital decreasing. Technological and bureaucratic framed government programmes offered to make up for this loss of family and community relationships and support structures, will not lead to long-term productive benefits.
Read more: Price hike during Ramadan
Spiritual and moral values are the glue that helps bind people together and underpin the development of social capital. This glue is nourished and strengthened on faith, God-consciousness, and spirituality. Fasting and other acts of worship strengthen our relationship with God and with the people as they have both individual and collective dimensions.
According to the Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), Ramadan is a great and blessed month. It is likened to a season in which believers can reap great spiritual and social rewards. Like the other pillars, fasting helps to produce and nurture a whole range of positive values and qualities in both individuals and community life. In particular, through fasting a person can develop God-consciousness, piety, strengthen their conviction in God, and develop moral character and sense of community.
Taqwa: First, fasting helps to develop God-Consciousness (Taqwa). According to Islam, this is the seed to all good. A God-conscious heart is a driving force for positive moral action. It drives individuals towards self-purification, self-development, to connect to others who share the same values, and for selfless sacrifices to achieve well in personal and social life – to help and care for others; to enjoin good and campaign against wrongs and injustices.
As people come together more often than normal, their communication and relations strengthen, which, in turn, fosters understanding, trust, brotherhood and sisterhood – and which are essential for the development of a strong community life.
Taqwa brings inner peace and tranquillity to hearts, creates a sense of purpose and mission, and generates energy for righteous moral action. It nurtures goodwill, forges fellowship and cultivates community spirit with those who are working for the common good and well-being of others. Indeed, it has a transformative power and enables the building of social capital. “O believers, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become God-Conscious” Quran (2:183)
Quran and Zikr: Second, Ramadan is the month in which the Glorious Quran was revealed. Thus, fasting in this month brings Muslims closer to the Quran. In many parts of the world, Muslims aim to complete at least one reading of the Quran during the night prayers (travih) in this blessed month. This helps to remind the Muslim community of the message contained in the Quran and their purpose and mission in life. It draws attention to the importance of people living in peace and cooperating in good works for the benefit of all. This is, therefore, a powerful means for revitalizing the Muslim community and bringing people together into a strong fellowship.
Forgiveness and gratitude: Third, in the month of Ramadan Muslims are encouraged to seek forgiveness for their shortcomings as well as forgiveness of others; their friends, neighbors and near and dear ones. Linked with this is to show gratitude to the favors of God and also to appreciate and be grateful to the people who have helped in many different ways. A spirit of forgiveness and gratitude are important elements in connecting and bonding people. “…Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful.” (2:185) “He who does not thank people does not thank Allah” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
Charity: Fourth, Muslims are encouraged to increase good actions in the month of Ramadan such as acts of charity, helping and caring for others, and providing food to help people break their fast. This creates space in the hearts of the receiver and the giver for each other, thereby, strengthening social bonds. “He who provides for the breaking of the fast of another person earns the same merit as the one who was observing the fast without diminishing in any way the reward of the latter.” (Tirmidhi)
As we have moved into a 24/7 society, there appears to be less and less time for selfreflection, or community groups, and for socialising with friends, neighbours and even family.
Patience and social discipline: Fifth, fasting cultivates both patience, and personal and social discipline – both of which are essential requirements for sustaining social relationships. Through fasting, Muslims learn to be patient and to endure long hours of hunger and thirst. This inculcates patience (saber), a strong belief in God, and also helps them to understand the sufferings of the poor and needy people in our world and, thus, generates compassion and a feeling to reach out and help others.
Fasting also produces individual and social discipline and order in the life of Muslims. The waking times, prayer times, time to break the fast, and so on, all help to create order and coordinate the actions of the Muslim community. Social discipline also plays a role in bonding people and coordinating social activities.
Read more: Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations across the globe!
Fellowship and community: Sixth, fasting nurture a strong sense of fellowship and community. Fasting is such an act that brings people together with a number of times a day; at sahoor, iftaar, and travih prayers, in addition to the normal five prayer times. By eating and offering prayers together, a strong sense of purpose and community is cultivated. As people come together more often than normal, their communication and relations strengthen, which, in turn, fosters understanding, trust, brotherhood, and sisterhood – and which are essential for the development of a strong community life.
The Eid celebrations, marking the end of Ramadan, also play an important part in bringing people together. The Eid day starts with a collective prayer. This connects people to God and also to the wider community, creating a sense of community and common purpose.
Thus, every aspect of fasting provides a great opportunity for Muslims to become God-conscious, to connect toGod and to connect with people in a range of different ways, thereby cementing their relationships. Indeed, fasting in the month of Ramadan is a powerful programme for building social capital.
“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful.”
The above points highlight how fasting, together with the other pillars of Islam, acts as a powerful glue that keeps people together in a community. Each pillar, if understood and practiced properly, can contribute to the purification and development of the inner self as well as in building social cohesion. They bring community members together (rich and poor), aid in the cultivation of a strong relationship with Allah, affect attitudes positively and strengthen relationships between members of the community. All these nurture spiritual and social capital.
Read more: The modern Eid; how and why it changed.
In the present day reality, however, the above qualities are not produced amongst many Muslims and it is important to ask why this is so. Every year during the blessed month of Ramadan, we see Muslims flock to the mosque in great numbers. During this month the mosques get filled, a feeling of piety and godliness is generated; hearts become soft, people engage in Zikr, in reading of the Qur’an, in prayers, tears flow before God as people earnestly seek his forgiveness and mercy, acts of Ibadah increase with more sincerity, devotion, and humbleness, etc.
However, soon after Ramadan is over, a feeling of piety weakens, hearts become negligent of God, mosques become empty, contacts with the Qur’an is reduced, and God is little remembered. No or very little change occurs in our family and community life, our problems continue and worsen, life carries on in pursuing our own ambitions, careers, interests, etc. The question is why.
All that we achieve during the great month of Ramadan seems to completely vanish. Perhaps this happens because we have not fully grasped the whole purpose of fasting and its relationship with the general body of Islam. Staying without food and drink seems to have become an objective in itself. This is why once Ramadan is over, many feel that the objective has been achieved and they can now continue with their normal routines of life.
As people come together more often than normal, their communication and relations strengthen, which, in turn, fosters understanding, trust, brotherhood, and sisterhood – and which are essential for the development of a strong community life.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) reminded people in many different ways as to what the purpose of fasting was. He has said: ‘Many are the fasters who get nothing from their fast except (hunger) and thirst, and many are those who pray during the nights but gain nothing from their prayers except wakefulness’. (Daarimi) ‘If one does not give up falsehood and actions in accordance with it, God has no need that he/she should give up food and drink.’ (Bukhari)
It is, therefore, important not to lose sight of the real purpose of fasting and the great qualities that can be produced in people through this act of worship. A correct way of fasting should directly impact our lives. It should strengthen our relationship with Allah and motivate people to strive for building a God-centred society. Fasting should not be seen as an objective in itself but as a powerful means for strengthening community life and fulfilling the Islamic purpose in human life and society, which is to establish peace, human dignity and well-being, and justice for all.
Dr. Zahid Parvez is the Principal of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester, UK. Prior to joining the Institute, Dr. Parvez was a Senior Lecturer in Information Management at the University of Wolverhampton Business School for 20 years. Dr. Parvez has authored various papers published in international journals on e-democracy and problem-solving from an Islamic Perspective. He has also written a book entitled, “Building a New Society: An Islamic Approach to Social Change”.