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Did we learn anything from Ramadhan?

Wow it’s amazing how time flies. It is difficult to believe that within a day or two Muslims the world over will be finishing their fasting in the Holy month of Ramadhan.

In this blessed month of Ramadan, we have now come to the grand finale – the last ten days of Ramadan that are even regarded as very special. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which Allah has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.

The last ten days of fasting which are considered special days because amongst them is a night called Lailatul Qadr – ‘the Night of Power’. It was on this very night that the Quran was sent down. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said; ‘seek the night of power (praying, performing night prayers and doing noble deeds during the last ten days of Ramadan’. He further said: ‘the night of power is better than thousand months’. Therefore we believe that any good actions / deeds / prayers that we do during this time will be Blessed by a thousand times. Hence Muslims make special efforts to ‘find’ the night of those special blessings.

Ramadhan gives Muslims the opportunity ‘to recharge their spiritual batteries’. Just like a car needs regular servicing, the month of Ramadan is that time when Muslims recharge their spiritual self and taking this as a month for transformation, unleashing the potential within by taking control of ourselves, our thoughts and our actions and to take lessons from and to change for the better.

Fasting is not about merely abstaining from eating and drinking from pre-dawn to sunset. Its real purpose is spiritual cleansing and becoming a good human being. It is a month dedicated to burning sins rather than burning calories.

As Muslims we must look back and honestly ask ourselves; have we fulfilled the requirements of God consciousness and graduated from the intensive training of the School of Ramadan with the ‘diploma of piousness and closeness to Allah’: and, have we renewed our commitment and re-established our relationship and drawn closer to our Lord? Have we fought our earthly desires and wants and put them to rest or even defeated them, or will we return to our love for our worldly pleasures, desires, passions, and return to them immediately the month is over?

Remember change has to come from within us: “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:  11)

This month gave us the opportunity for lifestyle changes that bring us closer to our Lord and Creator. We showed commitment and dedication by observing our five daily prayers, many of us have taken up and read every chapter, verse and page of the Quran from the beginning to end. We were in a state of righteous consciousness in our daily behaviour and actions. We refrained from our usual earthly, vain and immoral past times, forbidden and indecent behaviour; of lying, backbiting, of vulgar speech and crude behaviour; living with jealousy and hatred for others and other human frailties.

Regrettably for some of us will run short of steam in our dedication and commitment that we showed during that month; slowly we start going downhill in many ways, including: neglecting after having diligently observed our obligatory five times daily prayers during the entire month and returning to our old ways.

Nightly prayers

Besides the obligatory five daily prayers, Muslims will try to make time during the night in engaging in additional voluntary prayers known as Tahajjud. Waking up in the middle of the night for prayer is mentioned in the Quran, “Verily, getting up at night is the most potent means of governing the soul most effective in respect of words of prayer” (Quran 73:6)

Recitation of the Quran

Individually completing the recitation of the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan is a regular practice that Muslims will have followed. During this time we should ponder over the message of the Quran by reciting it “and recite the Quran in slow measured rhythmic tones” (Quran 73: 4). Reciting the Quran daily is a desirable practice.

Retreat in the Mosque (Itikaf)

Some Muslims retreat into the Mosques during the entire last ten days of Ramadan in total seclusion (Itikaf), away from their families and work. The purpose of Itikaf is to disassociate oneself from worldly life and daily chores altogether for a specified period of time and devote oneself completely to the pursuit of God.

The Night of Destiny

However even though the countdown has begun the last ten days have already arrived and are almost over. These days are very special to Muslims because these last ten days of Ramadan have a particular significance in the Islamic tradition.

During these last ten days of Ramadan, Muslims will seek the night of destiny, which is mentioned in the Quran in these words: “And what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? ……The Night of Power is better than a thousand months” (97: 2-3).

This means that a single night in which one recognizes his/her Creator is better than a lifetime that is spent in ignorance. This is also the night that the first verse of the Quran was revealed. It is believed that the night falls on one of the odd numbered nights.

Therefore we spend the last ten days in earnest prayer, seeking forgiveness and praying for Blessings with the wish that we get the Blessings of that night. But as the month draws to a close many Muslims will not only look forward to it returning next year feeling happy because there is an oasis of peace that has refreshed our soul.

Will we leave this glorious month that was filled with the regular reading of the Qur’an, God consciousness / piety, patience, inner struggle, mercy, forgiveness and inner peace? We need to honestly interrogate ourselves did we learn anything from the month of Ramadan?

We should be grateful to the Almighty for having given us this life changing opportunity to cleanse our hearts, spirit and soul, and we should continue to with all the righteous deeds and actions that were our daily companions throughout the month of fasting. ‘If you are grateful, I will surely add more favours to you. But if you show ingratitude My punishment is terrible indeed’. (Quran 14: 7).

With end of Ramadan the message is clear, a Muslim must be in a constant state of obedience to Allah, firm upon following His Law, steadfast upon His belief, so that we are not of those who worship Allah only during this one month.

We must remember that righteous actions and good deeds are for all times and all places, and not only reserved for Ramadan, so we must continue to strive. As they say – Aluta Continua – ‘let the battle continue’. So let us be wary of laziness and we should not fall behind in our religious obligations nor delay them. Neither should we fall into those forbidden and sinful actions and behaviour that we avoided for the whole month.

Let me wish all Muslim brothers and sisters a joyous and peaceful day, and I pray that Almighty Allah accept all our efforts to sincerely fast and to forgive us if we may have erred in any way. I pray too that may we all live with the revived spiritual awareness that this Holy month brought to us. Eid Mubarak!

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Government Should Restrict State Lottery Participation To Citizens

30th June 2020

The announcement on June 5 that Botswana finally had a national lottery was received with a fair amount of fanfare. There was no frenzied fist pumping or some such joyous acclamation or ululation but the mood of anticipatory excitement was palpable, more so on social media.

The euphoria, albeit a muted one, is understandable: we have at long last come to the party too, when many of our fellow African countries have had state lotteries for decades now. Zambia’s, for example, has been in existence since the early 70s. As the all-too-familiar but counter-productive adage goes, there’s no hurry in Botswana, with some people adding the rather hollow and vainglorious boast, “We are very rich”, which certainly is a side-splitting stretch of the truth.

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Moses was Joseph’s Grandson

30th June 2020

… and he was not encountered on a water course

Exactly how did Joseph (Yuya to the Egyptians) look like, General Atiku? The answer is not a difficult one as his well-preserved mummy, along with that of his wife Tuya, was found in a tomb of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1905.

He does not remotely look like the Egyptians of the day, General, who were Negroid, but comes across as a white Jew. One description characterises him thus: “He was a person of commanding presence, whose powerful character showed itself in his face.

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The case against COVID-19 mass community testing

30th June 2020

There is a school of thought which holds the view that mass community testing is a necessity if we are to win the war against the COVID-19 pandemic. Another holds the view that targeted testing is sufficient. I subscribe to the latter view for reasons I shall discuss herein.

First is the issue of the cost of the tests as opposed to their value. Unfortunately, I am not aware of the cost per test in Botswana. I shall use the case of South Africa for two reasons.

Firstly, at the beginning of the pandemic, our samples were taken there for testing. Secondly, though the Botswana Pula is stronger than the South African Rand, the cost of the COVID-19 test is unlikely to vary much because of the proximity of the two countries.

According to Dr. Nathi Mdladla, Associate Professor and Head of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sefako Makgatho University, the cost of a COVID-19 test in South Africa per capita is ZAR 1 200.00. This is equivalent to BWP 811.63.

To put the issue of cost into perspective, we need to consider Botswana’s COVID-19 statistics. As at 23rd June 2020, Botswana had 33919 tests performed and resulted; 33830 negative cases; 89 confirmed cases; 10 new confirmed cases; 1 death and 25 recoveries.

If we use the amount of BWP 811.63 per test, it means we spent BWP 27, 529,677.97 on tests out of which there were only 89 confirmed cases and the rest were negative. From these 89 confirmed cases, only 1 died.

If we had been conducting mass community testing as some people suggest, we could have tested, say, 120,000 people by now at a staggering cost of BWP 97, 395,600.00.

According to Dr. Mdladla, when embarking on a medical test of any sort regard must be had to, inter alia, the indication of the test, that is is there any value derived from testing? Here, the question is: are you testing for a particular value or you are testing for the sake of testing?

It is common cause that COVID-19 neither has a vaccine nor a cure. If you take HIV/AIDS for instance, though it has no cure, it has treatment in the form of Anti-Retroviral (ARVs) drugs.

So, if there were to be mass community testing for HIV/AIDS, for instance, one of the values of such tests would be to enrol those who test positive on ARV treatment.

The fact is, due to resource constraints, the hundreds or thousands who may test positive for COVID-19 from mass community testing cannot even all be put in quarantine or isolation even if they are symptomatic. No country can have such capacity.

In my view, the only benefit that can be derived from mass community testing is awareness of the prevalence of the pandemic, and perhaps the most affected areas. The question is: what further value can be derived from that?

Proponents of mass community testing argue that this information is useful for the country to decide on its allocation of resources for procurement of ventilators, PPE equipment and hospital beds.

In my view, a country does not need to spend millions in mass community testing for such a purpose. The same result can be achieved through scenario planning and modelling, something which all countries have done or ought to have done.

In my view, instead of spending millions in mass community testing, the country should assume the worst-case scenario and use such money to procure ventilators, PPE equipment and hospital beds. In any case, even if the worst case scenario does not materialise, such resources can be used for future medical eventualities.

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is accuracy of a test . That is, the test must have a high specificity and high sensitivity. It must have very low false negatives and low false positives.

In early April, the President, Vice President, some cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament and some journalists were put in quarantine following a case involving a nurse who had contact with them, which some argue may have been a false positive.

About one week ago, the Greater Gaborone COVID-19 zone was put on lock down because of false positive results at a private hospital.

In my view, given the possible false COVID-19 results, it would not be prudent to conduct mass community testing. Imagine if the tests return thousands of false positives!

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is that the test must be meaningful for wide-spread use, for instance, if a cure exists and where knowing the status has impact on disease/population management then the test is useful.

We have already argued that since COVID-19 has no cure, mass community testing would be of little value, if any. Dr. Mdladla argues that knowing that one’s status is positive does not change anything for the majority of patients who are not sick as the disease is self-limiting, but it is useful in those presenting with moderate to severe symptoms.

He also argues that even if one tests negative there is a possibility that this could be wrong and one need not drop their guard. In his view, therefore, it is better to assume that everyone is positive and to test only those who are symptomatic for focused management. I agree.

He posits the question: if 80% of the population has mild disease that does not require admission, what is the value of knowing that people are positive when they can’t be treated, especially in the face of high false negatives?

In his view, it would be cost effective to assume that everyone is positive and continue practices aimed at limiting the spread of the virus. I agree. This is where our resources should go to, not to mass community testing.

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is that they must be cheap and easy to perform and interpret.

In my view, if a single COVID-19 test can cost about BWP 811.63, it is not cheap. Some people earn that much as a monthly salary which takes care of an entire household. The fact that the test is so costly suggests that it is not easy to perform and interpret.

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is that they should require minimal expertise in the remote population settings.

Clearly, considering the cost of a COVID-19 test, and the fact that the tests can only be conducted by experts using specialised equipment, it can be safely concluded that the test requires high expertise, making it difficult to conduct in remote population settings.

It is common cause that Botswana’s population is mainly based in rural and remote arears, posing a challenge for mass community testing if it were ever to be government policy.

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is that they should be less invasive, giving an example of a pregnancy test which one can conduct on their own. It appears to me that the COVID-19 test fails this test since it must be conducted by an expert.

The other consideration which Dr. Mdladla says should be taken into account when conducting medical tests is that they should entail short processing time to allow an appropriate intervention in the shortest time.

It appears to me that the COVID-19 test passes this test since the results can be available within 48 hours though a second test must be made about two days apart to confirm the initial result.

In view of the aforegoing, I conclude that government of Botswana’s decision to conduct targeted COVID-19 testing as opposed to mass community testing is well advised.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or anmorima@gmail.com

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