The essence of Ramazan

Published: June 18, 2015
The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

What is it about Ramazan that causes the hardest of hearts to go soft? Ramazan — a month that changed the course of human history through the revelation of the Holy Quran — is much more than an exercise in staying hungry and thirsty long enough to make all the fried food at iftar taste even more delicious. Ramazan is a month that can transform our lives unlike virtually anything else we have on offer.

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom in my personal life. If I had to use a car accident as an analogy, the wreck was a total loss. I went into free fall. Close friends tried to rescue me from damaging myself further. Parents rose to the occasion with unconditional love. Acquaintances made the most of my weakness and strangers showed kindness in ways I didn’t believe possible before. But nothing seemed to make me hungry for life again. I lost my purpose. I lost my way. I was scared.

Just when I thought I couldn’t fall any lower, I did. Then, Ramazan approached last year. Every negative habit loop or self-destructive thought that I felt I couldn’t defeat on a normal day, I left in Ramazan. Suddenly, all the excuses I was using as crutches not to pull my life back together were exposed as just that: excuses. For example, I felt my imaan was at an all-time low heading into Ramazan last year. Then I started fasting 18-hour-long days (living outside Pakistan at the time) and realised that our imaan is far more resilient than we give it credit for. No one stays hungry for 18 hours without a good reason. Ramazan was God’s way of giving me a second chance. It was God’s way of reminding me that I was still firmly in control of my body, my thoughts and my actions. If we can become better human beings or Muslims for 30 days, there’s no good reason to behave like a moron or victim for the rest of the year.

This year, as Ramazan approaches, I’m grateful for my second chance. There’s still a long way to go and many battles to win but I’m hungry for life once again. This got me thinking about those not fortunate enough to get second chances, or even a first chance. Educated Pakistanis like me and you take our education for granted. We forget that even in the hardest of times, our education gifts us the ability to reinvent ourselves, to renew ourselves and allows us to live a meaningful life in the day no matter how stormy our nights get.

My story is not unique. All of us have benefited from second chances, some that we deserve. And some that we don’t. This Ramazan, I would like to encourage you to give children a second chance. There are many worthy causes to donate your charity in this blessed month but I would encourage you to think about donating to The Citizens Foundation (TCF), an indigenous Pakistani institution trying to bring about a social revolution by educating underprivileged children with quality and dignity. In the interest of full disclosure, I sit on the board of TCF’s Switzerland chapter but don’t receive any financial or non-financial compensation from it. This is why I shared a personal story today. I know the difference a second chance can make. By educating just one child, you can give a family a second chance for generations to come.

Today, our debates on Ramazan revolve around which day the moon is sighted in which province, whether Ramazan should be spelt with a ‘z’ or ‘d’ (in English!) or which sect chooses to open their fast at what time. While these debates are important, I believe we can do better. Instead of focusing on debates that divide us, we should spend our energy and time trying to realise the transformative power of Ramazan. This month can turn our lives around as individuals and collectively as a society. The rules of the game are simple.

First, we strive to become better human beings and Muslims this month. Second, we make the intention to keep these good habits, even when Ramazan ends. Third, we try to give those less fortunate than us a second chance. It’s the best way to thank family, friends and strangers who gave us a second chance when we needed it the most.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Toticalling
    Jun 18, 2015 - 11:40AM

    Things happen, good and bad and Ramadan has nothing to do with that. Millions pray for the freedom of Kashmir or Palestine and nothing happens. Many like me who do not fast have difficulty in meeting friends as everybody is busy either with breaking fast or preparing for it. A friend asked me come and eat with him in Ramadan. I had to refuse the invitation. In Europe sun sets at 22.00 and if you eat at midnight, you have difficulty getting back to have a good sleep.
    I am writing this knowing well that these words won’t see the light in a Pakistani paper, but no harm in trying.
    The question: What is it about Ramazan that causes the hardest of hearts to go soft? I would not like to answer.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 18, 2015 - 6:32PM


    In Europe sun sets at 22.00 and if you eat at midnight, you have difficulty getting back to have a good sleep.

    And in some countries even at night the sun refuses to set; the sleep comes to people any way even when the noose is around their neck. I would advise the author to go to the community mosque and thank the Imam for reminding the people to ‘fast’ during the Ramazan period if they can.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Yogi Bear
    Jun 18, 2015 - 8:14PM

    I fully agree with the author. I am a Hindu and have resolved to keep at least 1 fast this Ramzan. I truly believe that if all Hindus started keeping Ramzan fasts and all Muslims started practicing Yoga, the world would be a much healthier place. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Jun 19, 2015 - 12:08AM

    Let us see how many people are killed in the name of religion during this month……..if it is less than last year, then we have made progress…….sad but true. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 19, 2015 - 5:52AM

    @Yogi Bear:
    if all Muslims started practicing Yoga.

    Muslims who pray five times a day make yoga practice superfluous.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Saad Amanullah Khan
    Jun 19, 2015 - 3:44PM

    Excellent article Bilal. You have very boldly highlighted the true essence of Ramadan. To me Ramadan has multiple benefits including self-control, get a feel of what the less-privalage face daily, time to think and contemplate, BUT NOT eating from Iftar to Sahoor, not stuffing yourself with food but keep a balanced diet, maybe even losing some unwanted fat. Your other points of dwindling in minor issues, we need to rise above and be good human being first before we can become good Muslims.Recommend

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