For quite a while now, the month of Ramadan comes handy for me as the Holy month of “grounding” at home or for “rootlessness” with the communities, as Farid Esack, the South African Muslim Scholar and former Commissioner for Gender Equality under Nelson Mandela’s government puts it in his thought-for-food book entitled: On Being A Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today (1999).
Here, I define spiritual grounding at home as grounding in Kaduna, Ilorin and in Mecca (in-that-order) during the month of mercy. For over a decade now, Ramadan offers an ample “flight” from work- overload, a kind of un-official holiday from the endless erratic distractive work schedules that toss one from one part of the world to the other. It might be good to be over-employed in the age of massive unemployment and underemployment. But are we living to work or working to live and worship? I think we need both to live well here and have the mercy of Allah hereafter.
Even at that, it’s been a battle to harmonize my spiritual calendar with religion-blind work schedules. I recall that last year, I started 2019 Ramadan in Brussels where I attended IndustriALL Congress Working Group and Executive Board Meetings from 19th May to 23rd May 2019 at ITUC Trade Union House. The then Nigerian Ambassador, (Alhaji Ahmed Inusa) to Belgium hosted me and other Nigerian Muslim brothers to Iftar at his Brussels residence. I had enjoined countless generous Nigeria’s consular services abroad. I barely finished agonizing about the prospects of Ramadan coming to an end, making oneself again to sever from the month of piety and serenity to the cult of matter, gluttony, noise making and work, I again hit the road to witnessing the opening session of the ILO 108 centenary Conference as IndustriALL global union delegate between 8th of June and 11th of June. I deliberately refused to attend ILO conference every year, as the calendar of the UN agency increasingly falls into Ramadan. Managing the spiritual and the secular had been my lot in the last three decades of work without rest.
The point cannot be overstated that our world is (or should be) both spiritual and secular. Any attempt to separate the two pushes us further into the abyss of ruination, material and spiritual poverty. Certainly not at times like this. COVID: 19 pandemic, which has hit 4 million mark cases with 277,000 deaths worldwide, tasks our imagination for both spiritual and scientific reflections.
For once religion, spirituality and science, rationality and epistemology become two sides of same existential coin! The pandemic theme runs through many Ramadan messages by religious and temporal leaders. President Muhammadu Buhari had congratulated all Muslims who witness this challenging year’s Ramadan fast. Some have died, some are in isolation centers, some have recovered. No thanks to the pandemic. The President was on point in urging for measured socializing to avoid risking “spreading the Coronavirus” during the Holy month.
The real significance of Ramadan however is in its intrinsic values that include forbearances, discipline, mercy, forgiveness and sacrifice. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam. First it is obligatory with defined exceptions and the discipline it imposes.
Muslims certainly don’t need sermons again on the imperative of personal hygiene (washing of hands) which we are enjoined to do before all prayers. Am often reminded of-the Islam’s pragmatism. It makes Ramadan fasting a loud social compulsion as distinct from a private affair. And think about it . How difficult it would have been for individuals to live “their spiritual doors open”, by abstaining from food, drink, sex from dawn to sunset for a full moon” month while others keep their “spiritual doors shut” and neck and body deep in indulgence. Muslims live in a world of diverse faiths but it is remarkable that even at best of times, Muslims and non-Muslim alike (who are under no spiritual obligation to fast) still respect this spiritual/ social month long compulsion. With over 4000 reported cases and 128 deaths, and almost nation- wide lock down of human movements and businesses, COVID-19 has paradoxically made this year’s Ramadan a kind of universal compulsion in Nigeria.
All spiritual and temporal doors are widely open in the effort to overcome the challenge of the pandemic. The undercurrent lesson of Ramadan at the time of pandemic is the need for communal solidarity to cement our collective Allah consciousness so as to tame the spread of the Virus through prayers and wearing of face masks. Regardless of faiths, race, we are all united in the struggle for survival in the wake of rampaging unseen Virus. A Virus is defined as an ubiquitous “ piece of parasitic DNA”.
A cupful of seawater is said to contain more viruses than the entire human population of 8 billion. Just imagine how many viruses would fill a bucket or in a sea!. Interestingly, out of the multitude, God empowers only 219 viruses to target humans. And if one Virus could put the whole world on a tenterhooks just within four months as Coronavirus is audaciously rampaging, it’s better imagine if additional one Virus is on the loose. ‘We have revealed the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan’ says Allah in the Qur’an, ‘a guidance for humankind.
Thus let those who witness the month fast. As for others who may be ill or travelling, let them complete it some other time. Allah desires ease for you and not difficulty or discomfort’ (Q. 2:185) Kindly note that the Quran’s injunction addresses point-blank humankind not race, tribe or class and the injunction is all inclusive. The exclusion is on the compassionate practical and verifiable grounds of illness and travelling and not our artificially created purchasable status of first class or VIPs or distinguished or Honourables. I bear witness that throughout this month the difference was not as clear between the hitherto visible rich and the obviously miserable poor before the Ramadan. We are daily erecting class society as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Does it down on us that the rampaging Virus is also class and race blind? We are at liberty to keep on agonizing about the unproved conspiracy theory of its causes. We can even fuel unhelpful controversies over its cures.
What is undeniable is it’s indiscriminate borderless spread. COVID-19 has exposed the futility of our “fortress mentality” expressed in thousands of artificially contrived walls. In 2018, Tim Marshall wrote a thought provoking book entitled DIVIDED: WHY WE’ RE LIVING IN AN AGE OF WALLS. He certainly would not have imagined that two years later without dynamites all walls would be shattered into a smithereens by an umbiquitous Virus that would compel a global trade mark of face mask and global protocols of physical distancing. The mosques and churches are rightly under lock and keys. But days and nights men and women of faiths especially during the last ten days of Ramadan, are seeking extra bonus from Allah’s bagful of mercies to forgive our shortcomings and make us overcome the present afflictions. Ramadan Kareem.
Issa Aremu mni