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Its Time We Walked the Talk and not Vice-Versa

The digital revolution will not foist itself on a society: it has to be courted, adopted, and mainstreamed. It is not so much an end as a means to an end.

If the payoff has to accrue and speedily mature, the digital economy has to be eagerly, keenly, and enthusiastically embraced. Just as one is certain to flunk examinations if they do not swot hard or often enough, a nation cannot expect to reap the rewards of the Information Age if it chooses to be a spectator at worst or a laggard at best. It has to be a spontaneous and active participant.

ICT use and application (a category that includes hardware, software, networks, and media collection, storage, processing, transmission, and presentation of information [voice, data, text, images, etc.]) must of necessity be a way of life. It has to become second nature if you like.

I need not underscore the obvious and foregone conclusion fact that ICT adoption has a direct correlation with sizeable boosts to GDP. A 2018 study listed the worlds 15 most technologically advanced countries as Japan, the US, South Korea, Germany, China, India, England, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Finland, Russia, Israel, France, and Singapore in that order.

It goes without saying that these are some of the worlds most buoyant economies who are what they are owing, fundamentally, to their compulsive deployment of cutting edge technology in practically every walk of life.

In yet another 2018 paper, a team of researchers had this to say about the economic prop and catalyst that is ICT: ICT has become very important in modern economies, and its effects on economic growth derive from two channels: the output of ICT-producing industries, and the output of the ICT-using industries.

The team trained its lens on EU countries over an 18-year period (from 2000 to 2017) and found that an increase in the digitisation of a country by only 10 percent led to a 0.75 percent increase in GDP per capita as well as a 1.02 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

One hopes Botswana, or to be specific, the Masisi administration, is listening.

South Koreas Pali-Pali

If I have to harp back to South Korea time and again, it is because it was, in a manner of speaking, forged in the same penurious crucible as Botswana.

Like Botswana, the country alternatively referred to as the Land of the Han River was a dirt-poor, nonentity economy in the 50s. It has since turned a corner and today it bears all the hallmarks of a Tiger economy, riding on the crest of a prosperity wave thanks in large measure to decades of government interventions and investments in modern technology.

At the last count, South Koreas GDP per capita was some $31,000 whilst sitting atop a foreign exchange reserves pile of over $400 billion, the bountiest after China, Japan, Switzerland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, and Honk Kong. The countrys unemployment rate is only 4.8 percent in a mammoth population of just under 52 million people.

South Korea leads the world in Internet penetration rates, with virtually every household capable of going, and affording to go, online anytime anywhere. In the last five to seven years, South Korea has featured in the top three on the International Telecommunications Unions ICT Development Index and presently tops the Bloomberg Index of Most Innovative Economies. More often than not, it has been highlighted as the worlds most efficient economy on Fareed Zakarias remarkably accurate and highly insightful GPS programme on CNN.

South Korea finds itself on pole as a digital economy on the back of three principal factors an advanced education system, a culturally resilient mindset, and a technologically-inclined government.

The watchword in South Korea right across the board is Pali-Pali, meaning quicker and quicker. One Korean executive was quoted as saying thus in this regard: The goal is to strengthen the 21st-Century learners capacity. In particular, we focus on 4Cs: Critical thinking and problem-solving; Collaboration; Character; and Communication. Nowadays, software education is in full swing, so we try to improve computational thinking.

Covid-19 A Wake-Up Call

As much as the advent of Covid-19 is an apocalypse of sorts, it has also ushered in a new epoch whereby things just will never be done with the languor and lethargic tendencies of yesteryears.

We now all have to be on the double: if in the past we simply reacted, now we have to be proactive. If hitherto we simply sat on projects long after they were instituted, now we have to put in place a revolutionary programme of action that should kickstart them, that will see things move at the speed of a gazelle, complete with checks and balances brought to bear round-the-clock.

The era of deadwood is over; where such is detected, all shoddy and slothful types must be weeded out and immediately replaced with proven or promising performers.

Every career, every occupational undertaking, formally begins in the classroom. It is here we must embed an ICT proclivity from the elementary or rudimentary stages of the educational continuum. It is here we must implant an abiding productive and workaholic mindset.

The hogwash that theres no hurry Botswana must be jettisoned altogether and consigned to a landfill: as in South Korea, everything should now be Pali-Pali. Accountability must be of the essence: bureaucrats should not get away scot-free for a bumbling or faltering performance which set the country back for years but instead, authorities should not hesitate to wield the axe.

Our former presidents, Quett Masire and Festus Mogae in particular, are on record as lamenting that as a people, we do not grind as much as others, such as Zimbabweans, for instance, do. We should not make President Masisi voice the same disillusionment. To the contrary, we should chug at such a lightning-quick pace as to prompt him to cheerily laud our capacity for hard work.

A seismic cultural shift is in order. Its either the 4IR way or the highway: there should be no two ways about it. As someone underlined in respect of South Korea, Societal changes were expedited by cultural characteristics and especially Koreans desire to move quickly as a driving force behind their rapid adoption of ICTs.

Note that as a transformative President, H.E. Masisi needs every hand to be on deck. We need him to steer us to uncharted prosperity territory just as he needs us to provide the vital anchorage. If we do not exert ourselves in doing our part in executing the tasks of nationhood, we will be sabotaging him and booby-trapping our own selves.

Australia and Egypt Worthy of Emulating

It is heartening to learn that BUIST has embarked on a project to produce soap and sanitisers in a bid to help ward off the onset of Covid-19. The initiative is projected to entail savings of up to P520 million of the import bill.

The University of Botswana has also designed and developed a face shield for the plucky people at the forefront of the battle the medics who tend to Covid-19 patients.

Imagine if these reputed institutions of higher learning made a habit of coming up with such innovations practically in real time every time a challenge of the sort arose or simply loomed large!

Whereas these initiatives are commendable, theres scope to do more in view of precious other imperatives which as a nation we are not that galvanised to act upon. Examples of the areas in which we have failed dismally short in this connection are legion but I will restrict myself to only one.

In a country with some of the most abundant sunlight on earth, were still well behind in the harnessing of solar energy to generate electric power.

Last year, Australia added 2.2 GW to rooftop solar energy. In Egypt, the Benban swath of photovoltaic solar panels project boosts the off-grid national output by 1.5 GW. The project has brought down the price of solar energy, drawn in dozens of companies, and given Egypts south an economic boost.

Even little Rwanda, with its relatively mild sunlight compared to Botswana, in 2018 embarked on a project to develop a 30 MW solar power plant. In Germany, there has been a systematic phasing-out of nuclear and coal power plants in favour of the solar option, which is expected to create 50,000 jobs by the year 2030.

Groundbreaking Project in LA

This year, effective from April 1, BPC hiked tariffs by 22 percent as Government substantially curtailed its vast yearly subsidy to the loss-prone corporation, without which it would have long ceased to be a viable going-concern.

The bottom line implications for business entities, particularly those who form the core of the hospitality and other industries, are profound, if not dire. An operation I know of has seen its monthly power outlay rocket from P200,000 to approximately P244,000 a month (annual increase P528 000) and this is just one expenditure item amongst a clutch of overheads routinely incurred in the business . In the perennially depressed economic climate of our day, to just breakeven would be some herculean feat heavily taxing of the mental faculties of the operations executive team.

True, coal-powered energy, the kind that presently sustains Botswana, does not come cheap. It is by far dearer compared to hydro-electric power though it is less-susceptible to the vagaries of weather. But were in an age where countries are moving away from ecologically harmful energy-generation processes to a stop-gap blending of energy sources and finally to absolutely clean capacity.

A case in point is the situation now obtaining in Los Angeles, California, where a utility company known as 8-Minute Solar Energy last year laid on a solar-battery power-generation project with an energy mix of 200 MW of solar capacity and at least 100 MW of battery capacity, thus offering a preview of what the medium term future of energy will look like. The project was touted as the lowest solar photovoltaic price in the US, and the largest and lowest-cost combined solar and high-capacity battery energy storage in the US.

Need to Harness Those Plentiful Resources

What is happening in California Botswana too can replicate as we have the resources to rise to the occasion too. In 2014, the Department of Geological Survey informed us that there was 30 to 40 trillion cubic feet (TF3) of coal-bed methane gas at a depth of about 200 meters in our crust.

In such a geological setting, the rocks are characterised by low permeability, which renders the extraction process more complex and therefore pricey, with one estimate putting the drilling costs at a whopping $2 million per shaft.

But the steep tab can easily be recouped given a readily available export market of 11 members of the Southern African Power Pool. Time-adjusted pricing of the combined solar-gas powered electricity in the course of the day would make consumers use it as much avidly as prudently.

And at those times of the day when there is a substantial diminution in solar energy, such as in the early mornings and at the onset of dusk, the big-storage batteries would be counted upon to bring on-stream the solar power they hoarded during the day.

As a spokesperson of 8-Minute Solar Energy put it, the solar batteries would absorb excess solar generated during the day, and discharge it through the late afternoon and evening to bolster the drop-off in solar generation, combined with the steep rise in customer demand for electricity as people come home from work.

As the sun goes down, for the other 1,000 megawatts of solar we have without batteries, the gas-fired generation and hydro have to compensate for that.

We Must Be a Do-Do Nation

In view of the forgoing, it follows, therefore, that in Botswana, we should not be talking of producing only 200 MW of solar energy, which is a pittance compared to the practically seamless solar energy potential with which were naturally endowed, and virtually resign ourselves to importing 52 percent of the locally distributed power. Our projection horizons should be of the order of about 1000 MW, with 650 MW for our own consumption (to enable us grow our economy, a prospect only tenable with sufficient and reasonably priced power supply) and the remainder for exporting.

It is said the early bird catches the worm, and that one should make hay while the sun shines. If we walked much more than we talked, the rollout of solar power would have been in third or fourth gear as we speak

The future offers very tantalising prospects for producing power much more cheaply and sustainably than fossil fuels. As such, we have to be more driven and ambitious than we presently are in relation to coming aboard the bandwagon.

The plausibility of what is known as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), which uses a special kind of solar-powered mirrors to melt salt and use the power that emanates forth to generate electricity is yet another exciting prospect for us in that we have substantial salt deposits at Sowa Town and Makgadikgadi.

South Africa and Mozambique have long indicated that they sit on reserves of 400 TF3 of shale gas and 120 TF3 of natural gas respectively. If we persist in foot-dragging, we could find ourselves saddled with excess capacity with no extra takers outside Botswana at the time we get into the full swing of production. Its time we graduated from a jaw-jaw nation to a do-do nation.

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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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