The moment that the Ramazan moon is sighted, Pakistanis are gripped by a religious fervour that translates into extended taraweehs, tasbeehs and sajdahs. Once empty mosques are suddenly overflowing with people as Muslims go out of their way to give the outward appearance of being 'practicing Muslims'.
But Ramazan is more about the hidden intentions, it is about feeling the pain of those who starve throughout the year.
Rather than understanding that, the entire nation participates in collective hypocrisy each year during the month of Ramazan. Society is caught in a vicious cycle of greed and capitalism whereby the rich continue to hoard during the month of Ramazan and the poor continue to starve. Such blatant paradoxes are visible throughout various industries.
Firstly, the advertising industry goes out of its way to capitalise on the increased need for spending in Ramazan. The large amount that goes into advertising on billboards, television and magazines pushes up prices for most basic commodities. Even though people fast throughout the day, they end up consuming more than they would otherwise since they take a lot of pains to have a lavish iftari.
Secondly, the expenditure per household increases considerably due to the increased frequency with which people eat out in Ramazan. Restaurants lure customers with the tempting ‘Ramazan only’ discounted deals and the ‘all you can eat’ option at iftar and sehri.
Even though the white collar workers put in less hours in their air conditioned offices during Ramazan, the working conditions of the manual labour remain dismal. They have to put in long hours in the scorching heat and then, at the end of the day, they may still have to go hungry because their daily wage is too small an amount to afford them basic necessities.
Most house help does not get the opportunity to fast because their working hours increase since their mistresses need help with preparing the iftari and cleaning up after. Even if they do fast, they often do not have food to break their fasts and/or may even have to go to work on the day of Eid, an official holiday throughout the country.
Despite the active participation of Pakistanis in this combined capitalist hypocrisy, Pakistan is considered to be a very generous nation world over. Well-known author, Bina Shah, in her article in the New York Times lauded the persistent charitable efforts of Pakistanis. She refuted the notion that Pakistan relies on foreign aid by claiming that it has a strong civil society that actively participates in charitable endeavors. Domestic donors sponsor the education of two million students.
According to the Charities Aid Foundation data from the 2013 World Giving Index, 38% of people had donated money in the last month alone. It is an eye opening fact that even though Pakistan is ranked 105 according to its Gross National Product, it makes the rank of 40 when it comes to donating which is better than many wealthy societies including Belgium and Spain.
A report by John Hopkins University cited that Pakistan has more than 45,000 non-profit organisations that employ greater than 300,000 individuals. These statistics tell an alarming story about a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line.
Several individual entities and large companies have come up with special Ramazan initiatives to ease the plight of the poor. An example of such a program is Coke’s ‘Bottle of Change’ initiative. It has partnered with Edhi foundation this time around and intends to double all donations reaching an upper bound of Rs 25 million. It will distribute Coke bottles in all Edhi centers which will be used to collect donations. It has also launched a parallel awareness program by its very poignant TV advertisement that influences the audience to think of others this Ramazan.
Secondly, Yayvo had introduced the ‘box of happiness’ initiative in collaboration with Saylani Trust. It allows the people to donate those things that are not being used currently to those who are in need. This can range from items like stationary to clothes.
Thirdly, a small student run NGO organisation called Rizq has collaborated with Ufone this time around to muster the required capital needed to run the Ramazan dastarkhwans that Rizq’s team does every year. It runs two to three dastarkhwans during the iftar time at different locations through which it feeds on average 250 people each day. They intend to increase this figure to 2000 people to each day in the coming years.
Fourthly, Surf Excel has come up with ‘Naiki Aik Ibadat Hai’ program in collaboration with two NGOs, Akhuwat and Karachi Relief Trust. This is a clothes donation drive that is accompanied by a pickup service in order to make the entire process simpler for the donators. Individuals can simply have the donations picked from their doorstep. This campaign is made more effective by the emotional advertisement by Surf Excel that went viral on social media to communicate the message of celebrating the true spirit of Ramazan and encouraging ‘naiki’ in this holy month.
Such charitable gestures are not limited to Pakistan as there are multiple organisations around the world that are striving to have a positive impact on the lives of the poor this Ramazan.
du practices their Mawaed Al Rahman initiative every year in Dubai and northern Emirates each year. It uses the donations collected from people to distribute boxes of basic ingredients to thousands of needy families. Dubai’s community mall, Arabian Center launches the Tree of Life which encourages the shoppers to be generous in their donations the same way that they generous when shopping for themselves. Al Maryah Island has initiated the toys and clothes drive that is Ramazan. Donators will give new toys, clothes and other basic necessities to children below the age of 12 years.