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Academic performance where we stand

Dr Philip Bulawa


The decline in examination results in Botswana has now become a matter of grave concern to the nation, and one cannot argue against the contention by some critiques that this gloomy situation is reflective of an education system that for all intents and purposes has almost collapsed. This has been going on for a number of years now and when we started experiencing such dramatic decline there was hope that this was a temporary occurrence that would come to an end with the passage of time.

 

However, this has proved a complex situation to address and the nation seems to have now resigned to the reality that ours is a perennial state of national despair of catastrophic proportion with relatively a few mediocre performances by a handful of schools, which have also not been very consistent.

 

It is crystal clear that the Ministry of Basic Education is completely overwhelmed and therefore needs the support of all of us with stake in education. You see given the number of years the failure rate has continued, and the amount of funding we’re told continues to be invested in basic education, then there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Ministry on its own has found the going really tough.


Things have become so bad that when examination results are released by Botswana Examination Council (BEC) for public consumption, one can always predict that the students’ performance would certainly be preposterously low. In fact, one can already predict for instance, that unless some dramatic interventions are put in place to mitigate the state of affairs, 2018 BGCSE examination results will be a disaster given students with wide range of learning abilities that have been admitted into Form 4.

 

In this article I therefore, share my views on the ever declining students’ performance in examinations, and offer possible interventions that can be explored specifically to deal with the current cohort of Form 4 students and hopefully avoid an even more embarrassing performance in 2018.


This year as in previous years, the ministry found itself at the receiving end and from time to time having to desperately engage in relentless altercation pertaining to reasons for students’ poor performance, of course many of them not necessarily based on any empirical researched evidence, but arising mainly from public anger and desperation.

 

As things stand, the problem however, is not whether or not research has been undertaken, but the real danger lies in finger pointing and failure by stakeholders to collectively come together at formal fora where they could discuss the performance debacle and try to identify possible solutions to the fiasco that seems not to come to an end.

 

For instance, the Ministry of Basic Education, Academics, Teacher Unions, Politicians and Parents seem to have the tendency of voicing their concerns for a few days subsequent to the release of the results, only to be heard again expressing some emotional frustrations or outbursts twelve months down the line when another announcement of similar catastrophic results by another cohort of students is made.

 

For me this is not helpful to anybody, and especially to the learner because when I listened to the discourse on radio in 2017, it was almost the same blame-game that was aired on radio in 2014, 2015 and 2016 following similar deplorable performances in both junior certificate and BGCSE examination results.


The question therefore, is what is it that stakeholders could possibly explore in the event that they were to formally dialogue on this issue of poor performance that has become so sensitive? There are several such issues, but a number of key themes for possible interrogation that come to mind include, general trends in students’ performances, students’ admissions, class size, as well as school size. All these are discussed in this article in respect of their effect on teaching and learning.


The general students’ performance at all levels of our education system show a similar trend with most of the schools which seem to perform relatively better than the others located in urban or semi-urban areas, while those at the tail end of the rankings are in rural and remote areas. Although it may not be easy to single out one particular factor attributable to this situation, there are a number of them at play that come to one’s mind and may have to be given special attention if we are to stand any chance of turning around the deteriorating situation.

One possible factor could be lack of parental care arising from our traditional patterns of settlement with parents either staying at the cattle posts or ploughing fields leaving their children in the hands of relatives or even strangers where the school is located. Children left alone to fend for themselves with minimal parental care will certainly face many challenges including being target of all sorts of abuses, situations that would certainly distract them from learning.


Worse still is the situation in remote areas where predominantly children of Basarwa are taken away from parental care to attend pre-and primary boarding schools. While the establishment of such boarding facilities might have been in good faith, the reality is that these children are just too young to be separated from parents, something that would have long term adverse effect on their learning even as they proceed to the next levels of their education.

 

In fact, I believe a stakeholders’ forum or conference would give people on the ground, that is, those who run these schools on a daily basis an opportunity to share their experiences based on first-hand accounts of what is really happening, and therefore help in tackling a wide range of such questions as:


What resources/facilities are provided in these schools that would make children of this tender age enjoy the learning environment than to spend most of their time wishing they were home with their parents?
What special training has been given to teachers and other support staff to ensure that they run such schools effectively?


What incentives, not just remote dweller allowance, do members of staff receive to be motivated to enjoy their job and want to stay long at these schools?
How far are education offices located from these schools to be able to provide regular service in comparison to schools that are already at an advantage in terms of parental care, resources and distance?


Question “d” above obviously brings us to yet another range of pertinent questions to do with students’ admission. This is important because you might find that schools which are always at the receiving end in terms of weak academic performance are usually allocated students whose performance at either PSLE or JC were not up to scratch.

Alternatively there could be schools which are located in predominantly disadvantaged areas but still perform better in comparison to some which may be located in relatively well resourced areas. Whatever the situation might turn out to be, questions specifically about admissions such as the ones below would help stakeholders to be in a position to look at issues differently and further be helpful in finding out what really informs the Ministry’s decision on the admission of students to different schools:


 When these disadvantaged children complete their Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), or Junior Certificate (JC) at which schools are they mainly admitted?
Which are the dominant grades these children would have attained to proceed to the next level of their education?


If the majority of them are those who attained lower grades including those in the “D” or lower grades, what specific skills and competencies are given to teachers to prepare them for children with such diverse learning abilities?
If all these learners were to be admitted in a performing school located in such a place as Gaborone, Francistown, Orapa or Selebi-Phikwe, will that school still perform the way it would have performed?


Obviously these are difficult questions some people may feel uncomfortable about, but they would give stakeholders an idea of the extent of the problem and to be able to discuss issues with open minds. The stakeholder interaction of this nature might open further useful research opportunities to engage in tracer studies to find out among other things, the percentage of students attending schools located in disadvantaged communities who manage to complete tertiary education over a given period of time.  


Further significant in trying to find answers to the ever declining performances in schools is the widely debated issue of class size and its effect on teaching and learning. Whether class size has an effect on learning or not, has been a subject for debate in the literature for centuries with very few definitive conclusions.

 

Drawing on Angrist and Lavy (1996), Finn and Achilles (1999), make an observation about class size centuries ago, alluding to an instance in which the maximum class size recommended for Bible classes was strictly specified at 25 pupils. The same scholars make reference to previous studies on class size, with one finding concluding that whilst reduced class size could be expected to produce increased academic achievement, the effects of even substantial reductions are minimal.

 

Furthermore, was the finding that the major benefits from reduced classes can only be obtained provided class size is reduced to 20 pupils. In addition was another research conclusion that the economically disadvantaged students or those from some ethnic minorities perform better academically in smaller classes. These are different perspectives about class size, and while this debate continues, schools and teacher Unions in Botswana continue to express grave concern about teaching large class sizes which seem to adversely affect learning. Even without any conclusive evidence regarding the effect of class size, it’s an issue that needs interrogation to hear from classroom practitioners themselves and therefore, determine how best to deal with it not within just the global perspective but also within our own local context.


The images below from http://www.google.co.bw illustrate contrasting class sizes and classroom instruction situations. From these pictures even lay persons would easily identify a more ideal teaching and learning environment they would prefer for their children, if they had a choice.

 
Related to class size is the debate about the size of the schools themselves. There can be no doubt that Botswana has some of the biggest schools in the world as if we are in a war-torn country such as Somalia, South Sudan or Ukraine where resources have been badly affected by years strife. I am always at a loss as to why this should be the case in an upper middle income country such as Botswana with a small population of only two million people.

 

For me this completely defies logic and to expect miracles to come out of such large-scale institutions is to demand for the impossible from schools. You see school heads especially in senior secondary schools run the biggest organisations in Botswana, and there can be no doubt that having to manage such huge entities would pose equally huge challenges.

 

Imagine having to deal with teenagers in the region or even in excess of two thousand students in one particular place. You are talking here about young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, which compels one to give attention to a wide range of students’ other complex needs and multiple problems in addition to their core business of learning.


Some of these schools provide boarding facilities which makes their responsibility even more challenging and frustrating, and obviously they will from time to time have no choice but divert attention from effort to deal effectively with academic performance. In fact, most of the senior secondary schools are by international standards three times the normal and acceptable size and realistically with such large enrolments chances of improved academic performances would be most difficult to achieve, hence mediocre performances that have become common occurrence. With so many junior secondary schools, why not off load some of the students in senior secondary schools, a situation that will also address the problem of large class size.


I believe it’s not too late to do something that would at least save the current Form 4s from the fate that has so far been suffered by their predecessors whose academic performances have been disastrous. This group has two years before their examination, which in my view is enough time to try some of the interventions and possibly succeed in our effort to arrest the failure rate and therefore give these children hope of a better future.

 

I’m aware that there is ETSSP policy which aims to address some of the challenges facing our education system, and if implemented, monitored and evaluated could change our education for the better. I’ve so far read the policy line by line from page one to the last and have found it a very useful policy document, but the reality is that its implementation will take a while and will certainly not be helpful to the current Form 4s and 5s.

 

So to deal with the challenges facing us now, our starting point for example, could be reduction in class size of all Form 4s and further ensure that personnel with expertise in mixed ability teaching, managing group work, development of appropriate learning material and so on, not just from the Ministry of Basic Education, but also other stakeholders such as the University of Botswana are assigned schools to work with teachers on a regular basis for the next two years or more. This initiative could actually be used simultaneously as research and a pilot intervention for the next groups of students.

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GONE FISHING

28th March 2023

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!

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“I Propose to Diana Tonight”

28th March 2023

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

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RAMADAN – The Blessed Month of Fasting

28th March 2023

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.

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