View From Mana House
Over the month of October, there has been on-going tumult in the citadels of higher learning in neighbouring South Africa which the local media has scarcely bothered to report upon.
Violent protests have swept across most of the country’s 26 universities as students insist on the inalienable right to free education through thick and thin in a year-long movement that has come to be known as FeesMustFall.
In the ensuing clashes with police, the latter have lobbed stun grenades, fired rubber bullets, and unleashed salvoes of tear gas canisters at stone-throwing and road-blockading students. Campus structures have been vandalised by the unruly and intractable students, forcing some universities to suspend classes citing security concerns.
It is not that the Zupta government – excuse the sneering sobriquet: it’s so much in vogue at present – has all of a sudden jettisoned the notion of free education in its entirety. What it did, early last month, was to give universities carte blanche to hike fees by no more than 8 percent. Whereas government undertook to subsidise students from low-income families, who constitute 75 percent of the student population, to cater for the increase, it at the same time indicated that those from better-off families (that is, households earning more than R600,000 a year) would have to top-up from own resources.
It was this partiality that sparked the protests as students wanted a blanket subsidy that covered all and sundry and not only a certain layer in the social strata.
Education is South Africa’s largest budget item, constituting 0.7 percent of GDP. This year alone, government set aside approximately R300 billion for the purpose, which translates to 20 percent of the national budget and almost double the spending on health. About R70 billion went to tertiary education only.
Education minister Blade Nzimande has already served notice that the across-the-board free education model is not sustainable in today’s South Africa which is not faring too well economically and which has a multiplicity of imperatives to contend with. That sounds familiar or doesn’t it? At a recent Tertiary Education Financing pitso organised by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), our own Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology Minister Honourable Dr Alfred Madigele seemed to echo the Nzimande line when he opined that, “the current tertiary education funding model used by government is not sustainable”. His outlook was informed by what he termed “massification”, this being “a massive increase in tertiary education enrolment; ever increasing costs; equally important competing priorities; and dwindling financial resources”.
The new minister’s pronouncement must not be taken casually. It was loaded with a lot of suggestibility and therefore has implications which are just too easy to prefigure. Government should not talk in riddles but come clean on the subject of continued free education well in the nick of time so as to avoid stunning the nation with a sudden, BCL-like bombshell.
THE PARADOX OF EDUCATIONAL EXPENDITURE
What concerns me at this juncture, however, is not the augury of Honourable Madigele’s statement. It is what one Mpho Bosupeng, a researcher at the University of Botswana, wrote. I have just come across a scholarly article he penned for the Journal of Applied Economics and Business Research in 2015 titled Payoffs of Education Expenditure In Botswana: Long Run Economic Growth Implications.
Bosupeng studied data from 1960 to 2013 with a view to establish a link between GDP growth and educational expenditure in that timeframe. In other words, Bosupeng sought to determine whether government spending on education in Botswana more or less boosted GDP growth. Economic growth is driven by new ideas, by discoveries that result in better products and more efficient production technologies. Human capital is the engine of this process: a better educated labour force increases the return on research and development and ensures that discoveries are more readily absorbed in the productive structures of the economy.
In the end, more education must yield more economic growth. India is an oft-cited example in this regard. The country’s much hyped software boom is said to reflect, at least partly, the earlier public investment in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
The World Bank reckons that ideally, for every dollar a government spends on education, GDP should grow by $20 on average. In practice though, that is seldom the case.
In the case of Australia, for example, an extra $1 of educational expenditure actually increases Australian GDP by $2. In one specific study of 151 countries, which calculated the impact of educational expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) between 1990 and 1999 on GDP growth between 2000 and 2010, the World Bank found that an increase in education expenditure by 1 percentage point of GDP (e.g. from 4.5% to 5.5%) increased GDP growth by 0.9 percentage points (e.g. from 4.5% to 5.4%). Whatever the case, there ought to be a positive relationship of some magnitude between GDP sustainability and educational spending.
In the Botswana study, Bosupeng found that for the period 1960-2013, “there exists no statistically significant relationship between GDP and expenditure on education and skills development”. The mean GDP for the period was $3.86 billion while expenditure on education averaged just under $850 million.
The paradox of educational expenditure having hardly any effect on GDP growth is staggering given that we spend 8.7 percent of our GDP on education. On the African continent, we’re second only to Lesotho. Globally, our educational spend ranks among the top ten. Our government also allocates close to 30 percent of the ministerial recurrent budget to the ministry of education every year, the lion’s share which in 2014-2015 amounted to P9.26 billion.
The Department of Tertiary Education Financing alone has an average budget of P2.7 billion. Of this, between P1.2 billion and P1.7 billion goes to sponsorship of 20,000 to 30,000 students in both private and public tertiary institutions, with at least 10,000 being first year students.
SCHOLAR CORROBORATES MY TAKE IN DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
In Mpho Bosupeng’s more than 50 bibliographical references, my name does not feature at all. He was not under obligation to cite me, and most likely didn’t even get to read my books, but what he observed about the sorry state of Botswana’s education system I also elaborately set out in my 2015 book Delusions of Grandeur Vol. 2 (Chapter 2, titled “Education Without Edification”).
I summarise Bosupeng’s concluding remarks as follows:
“The lack of a positive affiliation between GDP and expenditure on education has several implications. Firstly, it implies that for a developing economy like Botswana, the country could be channeling funds to education with no increased production. This extrapolates further to mean that the government’s budget is being pushed to the limit while there is no payoff from education investment. The government will have to reconsider this investment spending carefully for it to have higher rates of returns.
“Secondly, the lack of a statistically significant relationship between educational expenditure and GDP may mean that the government is not providing enough jobs for the recent graduating classes who are fresh from their universities or vocational training institutions. This case is attached more to Botswana since the government is the largest employer.
“The third factor is that even though the government is spending so much money on the education system, there might be a mismatch between what the employer needs and the skills possessed by the students. In essence, government should consider the programmes each high institution of learning such as University of Botswana has to offer for economic growth and empowerment.
It is no use for the government to sponsor students whose degree programmes will not be beneficial to the long run economic growth and sustainability.
“Fourth … the quality of the education itself should not be sidelined also.
If the quality of the education is very low, it is reasonable to expect low returns to national output in consequence. This will invalidate the anticipated positive relationship between educational expenditure and national economic growth.”
Virtually all the above observations I too underscore at length in my books.
THE VANITY OF EXAM ROOM-BASED ASSESSMENT
If our education system availeth very little if at all, it is principally because we are so beholden to the stasis of the British model we inherited at independence and which we haven’t adapted to our own specific circumstances 50 years hence. It is too theoretically premised and lays undue emphasis on progression through examinations instead of innate ability. This has the result that when students graduate from college or varsity, they are practically “empty”, having regurgitated all they crammed onto the exam room script.
Examinations are a global convention and have been around since days immemorial yet they are not the best gauge of a student’s competence or intelligence quotient. If they were, then what about Albert Einstein, who is acknowledged as the 20th century’s greatest intellect but was not particularly good at passing examinations and bemoaned the fact that “the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning?” What about Thomas Edison, the inventor, amongst other things, of the electric bulb, who had no more than 3 months of formal education? What about the iconic Richard Branson of “Virgin Empire” fame, who had such a hard time passing examinations that he finally said enough was enough and dropped out of high school at age 16?
Examinations actually test test-taking ability, not innate ability or creative and innovative potential. They are a memory retention contest in the main. Regular examinations result in students working toward exams and exams only and not toward retentive learning. The better you are at cramming, the better your chances of passing. As somebody aptly put it, what the examination system encourages is “practising past papers in the hope of mastering tests and not the subject. Tests do not encourage the pursuit of knowledge so much as the pursuit of great grades.”
The memory-based examination system loyally panders to the cunning of our colonialists, who wanted our education system to churn out intellectually “undernourished school leavers” who were not resourceful, creative, and self-actualised but had to pin all their prospects for earning a living on the job market. Contrast that with the type of education the likes of Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg underwent which for only part of the way was sufficient to enable them create Google and Facebook respectively in a student hostel. Bill Gates and Paul Allen for one ditched varsity altogether, having imbibed enough knowledge to set out on their own and create the software titan called Microsoft.
So what is my bone of contention? It is that those who understand this theme best say routine examinations as a means of assessing skills and knowledge must be done away with. Much more practical and realistic methods of assessment which reflect real life situations must be investigated and adopted.
Otherwise, we will continue to deny our youth the opportunity to fully assert their God-given potential simply because they are not blessed with the gift of theoretical recollection or are not good at figuring out the nuances of an examination question. I could personally cite a number of people who otherwise were intelligent in the class room and in everyday life but were prone to succumb to a morbid case of examination fever the moment they set foot in the examination hall.
THE FINNISH MODEL
Whereas in much of the world competence is based on passing exams after spells of exhaustive cramming and rote learning, in Finland there are no standardised examinations. In fact, there is only one mandatory national examination from Standard One to high school – the matriculation exams, which we call BGCSE in Botswana.
The education system is based on a balanced programme and a process of continuous professionalism, not on the artificiality of exam room testing. Said one report: “Students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metal work, and textiles. These classes provide natural avenues for learning math and science, nurture critical cooperative skills, and implicitly cultivate respect for people who make their living working with their hands”.
There is no performance ranking for students or schools, the type you see in Botswana newspapers when nationwide examination results are announced, whereby the “super-performers ” are shown off in centre-spread adverts. When teachers assess students in Finland, they do not use numerical grades but descriptive feedback. This helps teachers and students focus on learning in a fear-free environment in which creativity and risk-taking are encouraged. Teachers have more real freedom in time planning when they do not have to focus on annual tests or exams. The result is that the difference between weakest and strongest student is the smallest in the world.
In Botswana, everybody wishes their child was at Westhood or Maruapula, or schools of a similar ilk. In Finland, “parents can also choose, but the options are all the same”. At best, choice is one of which institution of learning is closest to home.
The Finns are today dubbed the rock stars of global education. A recent report said 93 percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percent score points higher than the US, the touted bastion of superlative education, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the EU.
It has now become fashionable for foreign delegations from across the world to make pilgrimages to Finland to study up-close the Finish educational model. It’s time ministers Alfred Madigele and Unity Dow got on the next plane too.
In recent years, using personal devices in working environments has become so commonplace it now has its own acronym, BOYD (Bring Your Own Device). But as employees skip between corporate tools and personal applications on their own devices, their actions introduce a number of possible risks that should be managed and mitigated with careful consideration. Consider these examples:
Si-lwli, a small family-run business in Wales, is arguably as niche a company as you could find, producing talking toys used to promote the Welsh language. Their potential market is small, with only some 300,000 Welsh language speakers in the world and in reality the business is really more of a hobby for the husband-and-wife team, who both still have day jobs. Yet, despite still managing to be successful in terms of sales, the business is now fighting for survival after recently falling prey to cybercriminals. Emails between Si-Iwli and their Chinese suppliers were intercepted by hackers who altered the banking details in the correspondence, causing Si-Iwli to hand over £18,000 (around P ¼ m) to the thieves. That might not sound much to a large enterprise, but to a small or medium business it can be devastating.
Another recent SMB hacking story which appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerned Innovative Higher Ed Consulting (IHED) Inc, a small New York start-up with a handful of employees. IHED didn’t even have a website, but fraudsters were able to run stolen credit card numbers through the company’s payment system and reverse the charges to the tune of $27,000, around the same loss faced by Si-Iwli. As the WSJ put it, the hackers completely destroyed the company, forcing its owners to fold.
And in May 2019, the city of Baltimore’s computer system was hit by a ransomware attack, with hackers using a variant called RobinHood. The hack, which has lasted more than a month, paralysed the computer system for city employees, with the hackers demanding a payment in Bitcoin to give access back to the city.
Of course, hackers target governments or business giants but small and medium businesses are certainly not immune. In fact, 67% of SMBs reported that they had experienced a cyber attack across a period of 12 months, according to a 2018 survey carried out by security research firm Ponemon Institute. Additionally, Verizon issued a report in May 2019 that small businesses accounted for 43% of its reported data breaches. Once seen as less vulnerable than PCs, smartphone attacks are on the rise, with movements like the Dark Caracal spyware campaign underlining the allure of mobile devices to hackers. Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission released a statement calling for greater education on mobile security, coming at a time when around 42% of all Android devices are believed to not carry the latest security updates.
This is an era when employees increasingly use their smartphones for work-related purposes so is your business doing enough to protect against data breaches on their employees’ phones? The SME Cyber Crime Survey 2018 carried out for risk management specialists AON showed that more than 80% of small businesses did not view this as a threat yet if as shown, 67% of SMBs were said to have been victims of hacking, either the stats are wrong or business owners are underestimating their vulnerability. A 2019 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the latter, stating that the majority of global businesses are unprepared for cyber attacks.
Consider that a workstation no longer means a desk in an office: It can be a phone in the back of a taxi or Uber; a laptop in a coffee shop, or a tablet in an airport lounge. Wherever the device is used, employees can potentially install applications that could be harmful to your business, even from something as seemingly insignificant as clicking on an accidental download or opening a link on a phishing email. Out of the physical workplace, your employees’ activities might not have the same protections as they would on a company-monitored PC.
Yet many businesses not only encourage their employees to work remotely, but assume working from coffee shops, bookstores, and airports can boost employees’ productivity. Unfortunately, many remote hot spots do not provide secure Wi-Fi so if your employee is accessing their work account on unsecured public Wi-Fi, sensitive business data could be at risk. Furthermore, even if your employee uses a company smartphone or has access to company data through a personal mobile device, there is always a chance data could be in jeopardy with a lost or stolen device, even information as basic as clients’ addresses and phone numbers.
BOYDs are also at risk from malware designed to harm and infect the host system, transmittable to smartphones when downloading malicious third-party apps. Then there is ransomware, a type of malware used by hackers to specifically take control of a system’s data, blocking access or threatening to release sensitive information unless a ransom is paid such as the one which affected Baltimore. Ransomware attacks are on the increase, predicted to occur every 14 seconds, potentially costing billions of dollars per year.
Lastly there is phishing – the cyber equivalent of the metaphorical fishing exercise – whereby cybercriminals attempt to obtain sensitive data –usernames, passwords, credit card details –usually through a phoney email designed to look legitimate which directs the user to a fraudulent website or requests the data be emailed back directly. Most of us like to think we could recognize a phishing email when we see it, but these emails have become more sophisticated and can come through other forms of communication such as messaging apps.
Bottom line is to be aware of the potential problems with BOYDs and if in doubt, consult your IT security consultants. You can’t put the own-device genie back in the bottle but you can make data protection one of your three wishes!
“I Propose to Diana Tonight”
About five days before Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed landed in Paris, General Atiku, a certain Edward Williams was taking a walk in a woods in the Welsh town of Mountain Ash. Williams, then 73, was a psychic of some renown. He had in the past foretold assassination attempts on US President Ronald Reagan, which occurred on March 30, 1981, and Pope John Paul II, which came to pass on May 13, 1981.
As he trudged the woods, Williams had a sudden premonition that pointed to Diana’s imminent fate as per Christopher Andersen’s book The Day Diana Died. “When the vision struck me, it was as if everything around me was obscured and replaced by shadowy figures,” Williams was later to reminisce. “In the middle was the face of Princess Diana. Her expression was sad and full of pathos. She was wearing what looked like a floral dress with a short dark cardigan. But it was vague. I went cold with fear and knew it was a sign that she was in danger.”
Williams hastily beat a retreat to his home, which he shared with his wife Mary, and related to her his presentiment, trembling like an aspen leaf as he did so. “I have never seen him so upset,” Mary recounted. “He felt he was given a sign and when he came back from his walk he was deeply shaken.”
The following day, Williams frantically sauntered into a police station to inform the police of his premonition. The officer who attended to him would have dismissed him as no more than a crackpot but he treated him seriously in view of the accuracy of his past predictions. He took a statement and immediately passed it on to the Special Branch Investigative Unit.
The report read as follows:
“On 27 August, at 14:12 hrs, a man by the name of Edward Williams came to Mountain Ash police station. He said he was a psychic and predicted that Princess Diana was going to die. In previous years, he has predicted that the Pope and Ronald Reagan were going to be the victims of assassination attempts. On both occasions he was proved to be correct. Mr Williams appeared to be quite normal.”
Williams, General, was spot-on as usual: four days later, the princess was no more.
Meanwhile, General, even as Dodi and Diana were making their way to the Fayed-owned Ritz Hotel in central Paris, British newspapers were awash with headlines that suggested Diana was kind of deranged. Writes Andrew Morton in Diana in Pursuit of Love: “In The Independent Diana was described as ‘a woman with fundamentally nothing to say about anything’. She was ‘suffering from a form of arrested development’. ‘Isn’t it time she started using her head?’ asked The Mail on Sunday. The Sunday Mirror printed a special supplement entitled ‘A Story of Love’; The News of the World claimed that William had demanded that Diana should split from Dodi: ‘William can’t help it, he just doesn’t like the man.’ William was reportedly ‘horrified’ and ‘doesn’t think Mr Fayed is good for his mother’ – or was that just the press projecting their own prejudices? The upmarket Sunday Times newspaper, which had first serialised my biography of the princess, now put her in the psychiatrist’s chair for daring to be wooed by a Muslim. The pop-psychologist Oliver James put Diana ‘On the Couch’, asking why she was so ‘depressed’ and desperate for love. Other tabloids piled in with dire prognostications – about Prince Philip’s hostility to the relationship, Diana’s prospect of exile, and the social ostracism she would face if she married Dodi.”
DIANA AND DODI AT THE RITZ
Before Diana and Dodi departed the Villa Windsor sometime after 16 hrs, General, one of Dodi’s bodyguards Trevor Rees-Jones furtively asked Diana as to what the programme for the evening was. This Trevor did out of sheer desperation as Dodi had ceased and desisted from telling members of his security detail, let alone anyone else for that matter, what his onward destination was for fear that that piece of information would be passed on to the paparazzi. Diana kindly obliged Trevor though her response was terse and scarcely revealing. “Well, eventually we will be going out to a restaurant”, that was all Diana said. Without advance knowledge of exactly what restaurant that was, Trevor and his colleagues’ hands were tied: they could not do a recce on it as was standard practice for the security team of a VIP principal. Dodi certainly, General, was being recklessly by throwing such caution to the winds.
At about 16:30, Diana and Dodi drew up at the Ritz Hotel, where they were received by acting hotel manager Claude Roulet. The front entrance of the hotel was already crawling with paparazzi, as a result of which the couple took the precaution of using the rear entrance, where hopefully they would make their entry unperturbed and unmolested. The first thing they did when they were ensconced in the now $10,000 a night Imperial Suite was to spend some time on their mobiles and set about touching base with friends, relations, and associates. Diana called at least two people, her clairvoyant friend Rita Rogers and her favourite journalist Richard Kay of The Daily Mail.
Rita, General, was alarmed that Diana had proceeded to venture to Paris notwithstanding the warning she had given Dodi and herself in relation to what she had seen of him in the crystal ball when the couple had consulted her. When quizzed as to what the hell she indeed was doing in Paris at that juncture, Diana replied that she and Dodi had simply come to do some shopping, which though partially true was not the material reason they were there. “But Diana, remember what I told Dodi,” Rita said somewhat reprovingly. Diana a bit apprehensively replied, “Yes I remember. I will be careful. I promise.” Well, she did not live up to her promise as we shall soon unpack General.
As for Richard Kay, Diana made known to him that, “I have decided I am going to radically change my life. I am going to complete my obligations to charities and to the anti-personnel land mines cause, but in November I want to completely withdraw from formal public life.”
Once she was done with her round of calls, Diana went down to the hair saloon by the hotel swimming pool to have her hair washed and blow-dried ahead of the scheduled evening dinner.
THE “TELL ME YES” RING IS DELIVERED
Since the main object of their Paris trip was to pick up the “Tell Me Yes” engagement ring Dodi had ordered in Monte Carlo a week earlier, Dodi decided to check on Repossi Jewellery, which was right within the Ritz prencincts, known as the Place Vendome. It could have taken less than a minute for Dodi to get to the store on foot but he decided to use a car to outsmart the paparazzi invasion. He was driven there by Trevor Rees-Jones, with Alexander Kez Wingfield and Claude Roulet following on foot, though he entered the shop alone.
The Repossi store had closed for the holiday season but Alberto Repossi, accompanied by his wife and brother-in-law, had decided to travel all the way from his home in Monaco and momentarily open it for the sake of the potentially highly lucrative Dodi transaction. Alberto, however, disappointed Dodi as the ring he had chosen was not the one he produced. The one he showed Dodi was pricier and perhaps more exquisite but Dodi was adamant that he wanted the exact one he had ordered as that was what Diana herself had picked. It was a ploy on the part of Repossi to make a real killing on the sale, his excuse to that effect being that Diana deserved a ring tha was well worthy of her social pedigree. With Dodi having expressed disaffection, Repossi rendered his apologies and assured Dodi he would make the right ring available shortly, whereupon Dodi repaired back to the hotel to await its delivery. But Dodi did insist nonetheless that the pricier ring be delivered too in case it appealed to Diana anyway.
Repossi delivered the two rings an hour later. They were collected by Roulet. On inspecting them, Dodi chose the very one he had seen in Monte Carlo, apparently at the insistence of Diana. There is a possibility that Diana, who was very much aware of her public image and was not comfortable with ostentatious displays of wealth, may have deliberately shown an interest in a less expensive engagement ring. It may have been a purely romantic as opposed to a prestigious choice for her.
The value of the ring, which was found on a wardrobe shelf in Dodi’s apartment after the crash, has been estimated to be between $20,000 and $250,000 as Repossi has always refused to be drawn into revealing how much Dodi paid for it. The sum, which enjoyed a 25 percent discount, was in truth paid for not by Dodi himself but by his father as was the usual practice.
Dodi was also shown Repossi’s sketches for a bracelet, a watch, and earrings which he proposed to create if Diana approved of them.
DIANA AND DODI GUSH OVER IMMINENT NUPTIALS
At about 7 pm, Dodi and Diana left the Ritz and headed for Dodi’s apartment at a place known as the Arc de Trompe. They went there to properly tog themselves out for the scheduled evening dinner. They spent two hours at the luxurious apartment. As usual, the ubiquitous paparazzi were patiently waiting for them there.
As they lingered in the apartment, Dodi beckoned over to his butler Rene Delorm and showed him the engagement ring. “Dodi came into my kitchen,” Delorm relates. “He looked into the hallway to check that Diana couldn’t hear and reached into his pocket and pulled out the box … He said, ‘Rene, I’m going to propose to the princess tonight. Make sure that we have champagne on ice when we come back from dinner’.” Rene described the ring as “a spectacular diamond encrusted ring, a massive emerald surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, set on a yellow and white gold band sitting in a small light-grey velvet box”.
Just before 9 pm, Dodi called the brother of his step-father, Hassan Yassen, who also was staying at the Ritz that night, and told him that he hoped to get married to Diana by the end of the year.
Later that same evening, both Dodi and Diana would talk to Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi’s dad, and make known to him their pre-nuptial intentions. “They called me and said we’re coming back (to London) on Sunday (August 31) and on Monday (September 1) they are
RAMADAN – The Blessed Month of Fasting
Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims, where over one billion Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn to sunset, and pray additional prayers at night. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to Allah, and self-control. It is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. As you read this Muslims the world over have already begun fasting as the month of Ramadan has commenced (depending on the sighting of the new moon).
‘The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for people, in it are clear signs of guidance and Criterion, therefore whoever of you who witnesses this month, it is obligatory on him to fast it. But whoever is ill or traveling let him fast the same number of other days, God desires ease for you and not hardship, and He desires that you complete the ordained period and glorify God for His guidance to you, that you may be grateful”. Holy Qur’an (2 : 185)
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. The other four are: the declaration of one’s belief in Allah’s oneness and in the message of Muhammad (PBUH); regular attendance to prayer; payment of zakaat (obligatory charity); and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
As explained in an earlier article, fasting includes total abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, refraining from obscenity, avoiding getting into arguments and including abstaining from marital relations, from sunrise to sunset. While fasting may appear to some as difficult Muslims see it as an opportunity to get closer to their Lord, a chance to develop spiritually and at the same time the act of fasting builds character, discipline and self-restraint.
Just as our cars require servicing at regular intervals, so do Muslims consider Ramadan as a month in which the body and spirit undergoes as it were a ‘full service’. This ‘service’ includes heightened spiritual awareness both the mental and physical aspects and also the body undergoing a process of detoxification and some of the organs get to ‘rest’ through fasting.
Because of the intensive devotional activity fasting, Ramadan has a particularly high importance, derived from its very personal nature as an act of worship but there is nothing to stop anyone from privately violating Allah’s commandment of fasting if one chooses to do so by claiming to be fasting yet eating on the sly. This means that although fasting is obligatory, its observance is purely voluntary. If a person claims to be a Muslim, he is expected to fast in Ramadan.
The reward Allah gives for proper fasting is very generous. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) quotes Allah as saying: “All actions done by a human being are his own except fasting, which belongs to Me and I will reward it accordingly.” We are also told by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the reward for proper fasting is admittance into heaven.
Fasting earns great reward when it is done in a ‘proper’ manner. This is because every Muslim is required to make his worship perfect. For example perfection of fasting can be achieved through restraint of one’s feelings and emotions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that when fasting, a person should not allow himself to be drawn into a quarrel or a slanging match. He teaches us: “On a day of fasting, let no one of you indulge in any obscenity, or enter into a slanging match. Should someone abuse or fight him, let him respond by saying: ‘I am fasting!’”
This high standard of self-restraint fits in well with fasting, which is considered as an act of self-discipline. Islam requires us to couple patience with voluntary abstention from indulgence in our physical desires. The purpose of fasting helps man to attain a high degree of sublimity, discipline and self-restraint. In other words, this standard CAN BE achieved by every Muslim who knows the purpose of fasting and strives to fulfill it.
Fasting has another special aspect. It makes all people share in the feelings of hunger and thirst. In normal circumstances, people with decent income may go from one year’s end to another without experiencing the pangs of hunger which a poor person may feel every day of his life. Such an experience helps to draw the rich one’s conscience nearer to needs of the poor. A Muslim is encouraged to be more charitable and learns to give generously for a good cause.
Fasting also has a universal or communal aspect to it. As Muslims throughout the world share in this blessed act of worship, their sense of unity is enhanced by the fact that every Muslim individual joins willingly in the fulfillment of this divine commandment. This is a unity of action and purpose, since they all fast in order to be better human beings. As a person restrains himself from the things he desires most, in the hope that he will earn Allah’s pleasure, self-discipline and sacrifice become part of his nature.
The month of Ramadan can aptly be described as a “season of worship.” Fasting is the main aspect of worship in this month, because people are more attentive to their prayers, read the Qur’an more frequently and also strive to improve on their inner and outer character. Thus, their devotion is more complete and they feel much happier in Ramadan because they feel themselves to be closer to their Creator.