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Wednesday, 06 December 2023

A People Without a Past is a People Without a Soul

Columns

David Magang

Sir Seretse Khama’s Vision of Development of Botswana (Part 3)

Newer Lights of Knowledge Must be Taken into Account

I also note to my dismay that our historians don’t seem to be that keen to give history a re-look in light of newer insights that have emerged regarding our origins as the Tswana race and certain of our totemic dogmas that we have all along taken as gospel truth. Researchers, some of whom are not even conventional historians, have turned up virtually incontrovertible evidence that we originate not from Cameroon or the Great Lakes regions of Mother Africa but from southern Egypt.

In my own interactions with and observations of the South Sudanese, I have come to recognise that their traditions and customs as well as the cadences and inflexions of their speech patterns bear striking parallels with our own. To me, they come across as our veritable kith and kin with whom we hot-tailed it from southern Egypt at a time when the white-skinned Hyksos invaded that country and triggered a mass, multi-directional   exodus of Bantus.

Mmegi newspaper columnist LM Leteane has demonstrated, with awe-inspiring originality, that Setswana is actually a primeval language that go back to the Sumerian civilisation of 6000 years ago. It explains why Leteane is able to understand and interpret the Sumerian records much more sensibly and convincingly than scholars who trained in the swashbuckling, Ivy League institutions of the Western world.

I appeal to our historians and other academics, including those in the scientific fields, to reach out to and compare notes with this remarkable, phenomenally gifted man. The local media, both public and private, should also demonstrate a readiness and keenness to provide a forum for profound historical motions as adduced by such percipient, self-driven pundits of history as Leteane.

Revisit those Totems Please

The Ngwato totem of Phuti can also now be put into its proper context thanks to the ground-breaking labours of people like Leteane. Phuti, it turns out, has nothing to do with a duiker that scurried out of a thicket behind  which a Ngwato royal had taken refuge whilst in flight, in the process deflecting his pursuers, as is the ingrained belief. It is actually an abiding reverencing of the great Egyptian god of yore who was known as Ptah, or Enki in the Sumerian chronicles, and who was the most worshipped on the continent of Africa. Indeed, the BaPhuti tribe of Lesotho, the cousins, apparently, of our BaNgwato, do not remotely recall the aspect about the duiker in their peregrinational annals.  

Even my own totem as a  MoKwena, the crocodile,  can also  now  be properly contextualised. It does not stem, I believe,  from our miraculous crossing of a river once upon a time on the backs of  witting crocodiles lined nose-to-tail to form a providential  makeshift  bridge to conduct us to safer shores. Rather, it emanates from our veneration of a water-borne dragon that was the most sacred animal in the Egyptian culture. This dragon, which in Setswana we call kwena and in English crocodile, was known as the messeh in Egypt or mus-hus in Sumeria.   Since as a people we originally came from Egypt, we carried along these cultural lores and in the course of the centuries’-long, stop-go great trek from the north to other parts of Africa, they naturally assumed newer glosses, contexts, and embellishments bordering on sheer mythology.   

I would love to see a new revisionist thrust on the part of our historians where this new enlightenment about our past is zestfully and zealously mainstreamed both in high schools and universities. History is dynamic, in terms of its elasticity and therefore capacity to yield newer lights: it is not meant to stand as unimpeachable testimony before the court of posterity through and through like some kind of Holy Writ. History does not have a tone of finality. It is not as unassailably factual as the hard sciences such as physics or chemistry.  It follows, therefore, that to rigidly adhere to the history that was an article of faith decades ago is a serious indictment on the intellectual vigilance of people who  brandish PhDs in history and on whose word we lay people are of necessity obliged to hang.

If the new narrative about our origins as advanced by the likes of  Leteane is peppered  with cracks and so falls dismally short of verisimilitude, then our conventional historians must make their way to the dais and bravely  debunk it instead of simply nonchalantly and unscholastically dismissing it offhand.  

Festivals, Dances, are for Show Only

Much has been said about the cultural revitalisation witnessed in recent years as a great leap forward in the accentuation of our historical heritage. On one level, this takes the form of popular dances such as setapa, borankana, matshela-kankgwana, dikopelo, tsutsube,  hosanna, etc. On another, it assumes the guise of cultural festivals such as Letlhafula, Dithubaruba, and Domboshaba. The revival of initiation ceremonies such as bogwera for males and bojale for females are also emphatic statements in the crusade for cultural reawakening.

Yet most of these spectacular assertions of cultural renaissance are driven in the main by ulterior economic motives: they are packaged for sale, to either the tourist or the ordinary reveler,  and geared toward sheer entertainment. Instead of focusing on entrenching our history on the psyche of our people, they are tainted with commercial overtones, with the result that what is ultimately put on parade is cultural caricature rather than authentic historicity which reach back to our very genesis as merafe, or polities. So whilst I applaud them – something is better than nothing at all – I am not that seduced, sorry.

The Cost of Western Perversion

What are some of the virtues and values  we have lost on account of our being almost completely oblivious to our past? They abound. We no longer set much store by the primacy of  the extended family system. We address elderly folk by their first names and even when we deferentially address them by their surnames, we do not respectfully prefix them. The specific roles of a female spouse and a male spouse in the household remains a moot point even when centuries of matrimonial ethics lay bare as to who is senior and who consequently should submit to the other. The bone of contention stems from the intrusivist paradigms of “modernity” and “civilisation”, either of which is simply code for the encroachment of Western value systems.  

Our own traditional forms of therapy have completely been discarded with the result that we have to resort to Western-manufactured pharmaceuticals at the slightest sign of even a fleeting ailment.   The white-coated doctors with stethoscopes slung from their necks just will never see common cause with the “primitive” and “benighted” herbalist. Our own spirituality which was based on the invocation of badimo has long been sidelined and forgotten: we’re now Christians or Muslims because some missionary who came with the Bible or Koran in one hand and the gun in the other convinced us that our religion was “barbaric” and “primitive” and we had to convert to a new faith that was progressive and spiritually unsullied.  What this new religion did fundamentally was to turn us into a docile lot eager to offer the other cheek when the white man viciously bludgeoned the other.

We were told that we should not mind a life of hardship and appalling lack in this world as it wasn’t actually our home: our eternal and blissful home followed after death.  Thus whilst the likes of Cecil Rhodes were living life to the full in this very world which was not their permanent home, we ourselves were enjoined to make do with prayer only! To cut a long story short, before we knew what had happened to us, we had lost our lands, our sovereignty,  and our culture thanks to the blindfold called the Bible.  

Even our age-old cultural practices such as bogwera were condemned as primitive and potentially harmful to our wellbeing when in fact they had advantages that disposed men to warding off sexually transmitted  diseases as it has now come to light  in recent times. One of our kings, Sebele II, was hauled over the coals by our  colonial overlords for religiously enforcing the rite of  circumcision: he was deposed, replaced by his estranged and conformist younger brother, and exiled to Ghanzi District, his Siberia.

The Guilty Parties

If our history is not being effectually embedded in the value orientations of our people, the reason for this  tragedy, as I deem it, are legion.   They include the indifference  on the part of Government itself, which seems to relegate history to the very margins of curricula imperatives; the apathy of the private sector; the corruption of Western acculturation, which is more pervasive today than it was in yesteryears; the tendency to adhere to syllabi that have outlived their shelf life; and the lack of drive on the part of our major university to acquire its own printing press.

I remember once asking the late Professor Thomas Tlou why most of the theses of our indigenous historians were based on research conducted in other countries when ideally our own country ought to take pride of place. The professor laid the blame squarely on Government: he told me whereas other governments were prepared to avail funding for research to even non-citizen historians, ours didn’t seem to care an iota. Almost every University of Botswana lecturer I have had occasion to talk to over the years bristles at the stigmatic absence of a printing press at a university that prides itself as one of the best on the continent.

An in-house  printing press would make information dissemination by way of  books easier and cheaper. It would open the floodgates of indigenous bibliographical output, which presently comes only in trickles as international scholarship arbiters repeatedly lament. Equally culpable is the private sector, which is not playing its part in promoting the proliferation of historical literature, though that hardly surprises me anyway as most of the leading lights of Botswana enterprise  are  overwhelmingly domiciled from across the border and therefore their  priorities cannot be expected to be evenly aligned.

A few years ago, I was approached by one gifted writer who proposed a biography on Sechele. Since the project required funding and the idea captivated me, Phakalane Estates made a pledge and even set up an account in which to pool donations from sponsors. The proponent of the project then wrote to more than 100 leading companies in the country for the requisite financial assistance. Only one company made a donation and a very inconsequential one for that matter. More than five years on, the project is yet to see the light of day.
     
All Hands Must be on Deck

Contrast that with  South Africa, where the private sector is typically the prime mover in initiating literary projects from which they do not even directly benefit. Most book projects of a biographical nature in South Africa are bankrolled by the private sector long before they arrive on the desk of  the publisher. It goes without saying that our own, home-grown  pillars of the private sector should emulate their counterpart across the Limpopo, who even when based here in Botswana and making money from Batswana continue to support book propositions in their home country whilst giving ours a cold shoulder.

I appeal to the stalwarts of indigenous Botswana enterprise to join the bandwagon and help bring about an explosion of historical chronicling in our country from across the board.    Such a seismic shift in our view of history would certainly make our beloved founding President Sir Seretse Khama smile in his grave in that the ensuing cornucopia of historical literature would reverse the stigma so that we’re no longer “a people without a past and a people without a soul” but a people with an amply illustrated past and a people with a soul or substance.

In many African societies, the respect for and deference to fallen heroes not only is paramount but palpable. In our case too, kowtowing to the expressed wishes of our leading lights who have long departed the stage must take precedence over everything else. As such, let us in heed of this moral shine the spotlight on Sir Seretse Khama’s concern and accordingly set about embracing and promoting our history with the zest and gusto he envisaged. Trust me folks, the socio-economic and political challenges that currently beset us as a nation would be overcome, not necessarily in one fell swoop but incrementally.  History would be made and we would become a truly united and proud nation.

This is the last of a three-part comprehensive version of the speech David Magang gave at a UB function on August 17 2017. It is scheduled to appear in BOTSWANA NOTES & RECORDS, the Botswana Society’s annual publication.

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Columns

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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