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Friday, 19 April 2024

Let Us Answer to the Rajoelina Call

Columns

If there’s one sobering lesson Africa can draw from the Covid-19-engendered, multifaceted rough patch we are currently treading, it is that it is time we became self-reliant to the extent possible in every aspect of human endeavour.
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The tendency on our part hitherto has been to leave every major breakthrough to the fairer-skinned peoples of the Western world in the main. We have every raw material imaginable to produce everything we need, but we scarcely do so and are instead resigned to exporting the raw materials for a pittance at a price sadistically barked at us.

The unscrupulously rapacious Westerners then process the same raw material we sell them into utilitarian products which they re-export to us at a profit multiple times over, insisting that we pay them not in our own currencies but in theirs because ours are not “hard currencies”, whatever that means, but frindge, basically useless pieces of paper.

Come to think of it folks, we have diamonds, but we cannot turn them into jewellery, where the real money resides; we have cocoa, but we cannot translate that to chocolates; we have a rich herbal flora with all sorts of medicinal properties, but we cannot extract from these life-saving drugs, something at which our ancestors were particularly adept.

What on earth is wrong with us Africans, who incidentally are the template from which every other race emerged?

If we manufacture, forge, fabricate, synthesise, or assemble anything worthwhile at all, it is invariably under license from some Western-domiciled, patent-holding business concern.

We are privileged to be denizens of the planet’s most lavishly resourced land mass but our socio-economic plight is the sorriest on the globe! It is ironic that we are rock-bottom in the socio-economic strata when we have a sizeable share of sons and daughters who flaunt degrees from the same, Ivy-Leagues-status Western citadels of learning.

Why can’t they invent or innovate to help bring about a revolutionary transformation of our dismally static and even back-pedalling economies?

OUR “BACKWARDNESS” IS SELF-INFLICTED

Those of our learned ranks who at the very least make a point of taking the lead in helping remove the blinkers from our eyes as Africans are few and far between.

The other day, I watched a  Sierra Leonean woman called Mallence Bart-Williams, a  writer, filmmaker, diamantaire  and fashion designer and who is as brilliant as she is beautiful, on a video clip that was doing the rounds on social media titled Africa and the World.

Addressing a largely lily-white audience in some auditorium across the Atlantic, Mallence wondered aloud thus: “One thing that keeps me puzzled despite having studied finance and  economics at the world’s best universities is this: why is it that 1 unit of your currency is worth 5000 units of our currency when we’re the ones with the actual gold reserves?”

Mallence set down a whole gamut of economic injustices visited on Africa by the unflappably self-seeking West. What she omitted to own up to, sadly, notwithstanding her professorial tirade, was that if the West took fiendish delight in exploiting us, it was partly, if not fundamentally, of our own making thanks to our inborn diffidence.

We set so much store by what Westerners do or make and disdain practically everything that is associated with our own race. Our mindset, tragically, is that to drive ourselves to equal and even outdo the Westerners’ creative mettle is an exercise in futility.

COVID-19 VACCINE COULD BE DONKEYS’ YEARS AWAY

At the time I was penning this article, the world had reportedly suffered 293,000 Covid-19-related deaths out of 4.3 million infections. Africa’s share was 69,450 infections and 2,395 deaths.

There is as yet no cure or vaccine on-stream, although according to The New York Times, there are at least 254 therapies and 95 vaccines being explored by close to 100 research groups as we speak, with up to $8 billion pledged to that effect by the moneyed members of the international community.

However, for a vaccine to have a good chance of efficacy, it has to go through several trial phases, said to be four in all, and this process  invariably takes years. We should be wary, therefore, that  we do not read too much into the postulations of Anthony Fauchi, the top infectious disease expert on the Trump administration’s coronavirus Task Force, who reckons that a vaccine may be in place in 12 to 18 months’ time.

As implausibly so is the announcement by Oxford University that a vaccine for emergency use might be available by September this very year, which in the grand scheme of things amounts, in a manner of speaking, to virtually  overnight.

As far as I am concerned, all the projected vaccine timescales are little more than wishful-thinking, rose-tinted  forecasts. The grim truth, to begin with, is that even coronaviruses that predate the incumbent one, the novel coronavirus, by almost 20 years are still without a vaccine.

Equally instructive is the debacle with HIV, the most vexing virus we have faced, which does not at all augur well for viral vaccines. Scientists have feverishly been trying to come up with a workable HIV vaccine for 40 years now and what have they accomplished?  “A few Phase 3 clinical trials, one of which actually made the disease worse, and another with a success rate of just 30 percent” in the words of  the authoritative New York Times.

The fastest pace for the development of a viable vaccine on record is 4 years, though with the technology presently on hand, that record can be bettered.

In any case, even in the event that the vaccine finally emerges, there is no guarantee that it will reach every corner of the globe there and then. Priority will naturally be given to the citizenry of the country and region in which it was developed.

My own conservative estimate therefore is that it could be another two to five years before the peripheral us – Africans – benefit from it.

MIRACLE TONIC IN MADAGASCAR

Meanwhile, something about which Africans ought to ordinarily dance a jig is cooking in Madagascar.  The country has come up with a herbal concoction which according to rave reports in the international media is said to both cure and safeguard against Covid-19.

The herbal tonic, which goes by the name Covid Organics, is derived from Artemisia Annua (commonly known as Sweet Wormwood), reputed to be a very powerful anti-viral plant, and several other related plants, of which Madagascar has the world’s largest supply.

According to Bionnex, one of the country’s leading drug manufacturers, Madagascar each year produces 25 tonnes of Artemisinin (Artemisia’s medicinal active ingredient), equivalent to 10 percent of the global market.

The legend behind the drug is in fact a Congolese doctor called Jerome Munyangi, who has been based in Malagasy under the auspices of the WHO since 2011. It was Munyangi, who is affiliated to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA), which specialises in the study of medicinal plants, who drafted a protocol which led to the manufacture of Covid Organics.

Munyangi had been working on an alternative malaria treatment based on Artemisia when he by trial and error discovered that it could also treat Covid-19 and spectacularly at that.

The bottled herb was officially introduced by Madagascar’s president Andry Rajoelina, who touted it as a veritable cure for Covid-19, though IMRA’s Director-General Dr Charles Andrianjara rather accentuated its preventative properties as a bow to Hippocratic Oath caution.

Andrianjara, however, observed in no uncertain terms that clinical trials had shown “a trend towards its effectiveness as a curative remedy”. According to a BBC report, the drug was tested on 20 people over a period of three weeks with mesmerising, mouth-watering results.

WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO BE SPECTATORS?

Yet as far as the WHO, who instituted a global research for drugs to treat Covid-19 patients in March this year, is concerned, the Madagascar drug still resides in the realm of hoaxes until it is ultimately given the seal of approval by the same global health regulator.

Both Madagascar and the countries whose appetite Covid Organics has whetted have been told point blank to tread carefully in their embrace of the drug. One wonders whether the WHO would have insisted on the same hands-off gesture had the drug arisen out of a Western country.

“If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt?” President Rajoelina wondered aloud in an interview with the French news channel France 24 this past week.  “I don’t think so.”

At the time I was writing this article, on Wednesday May 12, 2020, Madagascar had registered a total of 169 Covid-19 cases, with 101 fully recovered and zero deaths! That is demonstrable enough testimony that their tea infusion remedy is a medical slam dunk.

To the WHO, however, for as long as its laid down procedures in the ultimate certification of a universally consumable drug are not followed to the letter, however impressive the empirical evidence witnessed to date counts for naught!

Sadly, our health authorities here in Botswana seem to have blindly heeded   the WHO, even when Rajoelina reportedly personally pitched the drug to his counterparts in an online meeting and for starters offered to subsidise its cost in full.

STAMPEDE BY OTHER COUNTRIES

Contrast that with other African leaders who are already tripping over each other to get their hands on the wonder drug. They include Benin, Chad, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

A fervidly galvanised DRC president even dispatched a plane to fetch the country’s own son of the soil, Dr Munyangi, so that he could be fully apprised on the wonders of the drug by its pioneering researcher.

According to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, South Africa has even consented to partner Madagascar in validating and helping investigate the scientific basis on which the drug could be used at the request of its president.

A spokesman from La Maison de l’Artemisia, a humanitarian organisation with a presence in 23 African countries, says his organisation has written to just about every health minister on the continent of Africa imploring them to conduct clinical trials on the drug without dragging their feet. About ten countries, who unfortunately do not include Botswana, have already given assent.

Elsewhere outside Africa, scientific studies are already underway, with Germany’s Max Planck Institute, which has received 18 Nobel prizes since 1948 and publishes 15,000 papers each year, launching in-vitro trials on April 8, in collaboration with the US company ArtemiLife and Danish researchers.

Incidentally, the therapeutic potency of   African medicine is not entirely unknown in the West. Devil’s Claw, for instance, which is indigenous to south and south-west Africa, has proved to be a popular prescription in Germany and France in particular for arthritic, inflammatory and a whole range of other chronic ailments.

This is what an online encyclopaedia says on the subject:

“Knowledge of the medicinal applications of Devil’s Claw in the west can be traced back to the German colonial soldier and latterly farmer, GH Mehnert, who learned about the plant from a local healer during the Herero and Hottentot uprisings of 1904 and 1906.

“Devil’s Claw was introduced into Europe for the first time in 1953 by OH Volk and was used to treat metabolic diseases in particular. Scientists soon established that it was especially effective for arthritis.”

LET’S GO FOR IT

If in the past we had side-lined herbology in supine deference to the Western-inspired narrative that African medicine is “primitive”, “demonic”, or simply a cleverly disguised form of witchcraft as early missionaries used to din into our minds, that creed has to be thrown out the window. It is time our “conventionally” trained pharmacologists reached out and made overtures to our traditional medicine buffs.

The one African country that has already set a compelling example in this regard is Togo,   where traditional medicine researchers are pushing for collaboration with modern researchers to find ways through which traditional medicine can also be integrated into the treatment of COVID-19.

“This disease has shown us that we are very vulnerable and that it is not enough to be a researcher in your corner; you need collaboration,” a Togolese researcher was quoted as saying. “And here today, we have conventional researchers, traditional researchers, and clinicians.”

It is said Covid Organics is easy to make as it does not require a full-fledged production chain. It would not inflict that much of a dent to our fiscal ramparts. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 curve may have somewhat flattened in much of Africa but it could resurge all of a sudden and this time around cut a swath through the continent with a vengeance as medical “seers”   from the West aver.

The WHO in fact has warned that up to 190,000 people could die from the coronavirus in Africa and as many as 44 million could become infected. Covid-19 thus remains a work-in-progress: it is not giving up the ghost soon. Let us go for Covid Organics before a unheralded rebound of the disease catches us napping with catastrophic results.

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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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