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Ramadan – The Month of Fasting

IQBAL EBRAHIM
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

‘O you who believe, Fasting is prescribed to you as it was for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint. Fasting for a fixed number of days……. and it is better for you that you fast, if you only knew’. (Quran 2: 183-184)

Within the next few days depending on the sighting of the new moon that heralds new month of Ramadan, over one billion Muslims throughout the world will begin their fasting from dawn to sunset, and in addition the will offer extra prayers at during the night.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built – fasting during the month of Ramadan is Third Pillar of Islam. 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.

The month of Ramadan can best 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 self and character. Thus, their devotion is more complete and they feel much happier in Ramadan because they feel themselves to be closer to their Creator.

Also for a Muslim this month is a very auspicious in that they are given the 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. 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, all this from sunrise to sunset. While fasting may appear to some as difficult Muslims see it as an opportunity for a serious believer to remould, reshape, reform, and renew his/her physical and spiritual nature and behaviour.

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.  

As the Qur’an says: ‘0 you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was a prescribed to those before you that you may (learn) self-restraint and piety (Taqwa).” (2:183). Further Allah says: "…..that He wants you to complete the prescribed period (of fasting) so that you are able to magnify the greatness of Allah for His having guided you, and so that – perchance – you may be thankful" (2: 185).

Taqwa (God consciousness, self-restraint and piety) can be generated and realized through the opportunities provided for us by the fast because what it does is:  The disciplining of the will; the purification of the self; the purification of the soul; Further Ramadan is the month of instilling patience. A person who is ready to be patient, not to eat  while he is hungry, not to drink while he is thirsty, not to lean to his lusts, such a person is a noble individual.  Such a person will be given paradise by Allah (SWT) as a gift, as a merit of award.

Fasting is also part of Christianity I recall when many of my Christian colleagues fasted during Lent. The Bible says:  ‘As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted ……………and when they had fasted and prayed….’ (Acts 13: 2-3). ‘And they said unto him. Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers….’ (Luke 5: 33). ‘Then was Jesus was led up of the Spirit…..and when he had fasted for forty days and forty nights…. (Matthew 4: 1-2)

Fasting helps us to train us to abstain from some the things we take for granted in this life. It needs a strong will to have self-control, self-discipline and self-restraint. Fasting develops self-control and helps Muslims overcome selfishness, greed, laziness and other faults. It is an annual training program to refresh us for carrying out our duties towards Allah. A person who can restrain himself, for the love and pleasure of Allah, deserves a reward from the Creator Himself.

Fasting not only means abstaining from food and drink, but also refraining from all vices and evils committed by us consciously or unconsciously. It also builds the strength to bear difficulties and hardship and instils in us the character of perseverance. The fasting person by depriving himself from food and drink and other necessities of life throughout the daylight hours becomes capable of controlling his desires, urges, and temptations. The purpose of fasting is to enable a Muslim to control his passions, so that he becomes a person of good deeds and intentions.

A fasting person is also required to guard his tongue from vain talk and obscenities. We are also required to suppress a common human weakness of anger which should also be brought under control by fasting. 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!’” The spirit of Fasting is not observed as only an exercise in starvation but also an exercise of restraint in every manner. The Prophet (pubh) said “whosoever does not give up telling lies, or acting in a false manner, Allah has no need for his giving up his eating or drinking.”  

Another lesson that fasting person is taught is that it engenders feelings of sympathy for the poor. Fasting has another special aspect because it is a practical means that develops within us the compassion for other people’s sufferings. Whilst fasting, it makes us share in the feelings of hunger and thirst of the poor and needy.

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 conscience of those of us who are blessed, nearer to needs of the poor. A Muslim is encouraged to be more charitable and learns to give generously for a good cause.

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “O people!  The month of Ramadan has come with His mercy, blessing and forgiveness.  Allah has decreed this month the best of all months. Its days are the best among days, its nights the best among nights, and its hours the best among hours.  This is a month in which you have been invited by Him to fast and pray.  Allah has honoured you in it.  Every breath you take in this month has the reward of praise of Allah. Your sleep in worship your good deeds are accepted and your invocations answered.”  

Therefore we must invoke our Lord in earnest, with hearts that are free from sin and evil, and pray that Allah helps us through this Ramadan in the true spirit and manner that we are required to.
Ramadan Mubarak (Ramadan Blessings) to all Muslims.

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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