Sunday, August 23, 2009
Is Ramadan a Break from Work in Pakistan?
By Nisar Abbas Mirza
We know how the world works. In that we are like the little boy who used to pray to God to give him a bicycle. Very soon he realized that God doesn’t work this way so he stole a bicycle and prayed to God for forgiveness
From the 1st of Ramadan to the 10th of Muharram, that’s about four months in the Islamic calendar. In this period the country is in no mood to work. This is the annual sabbatical when the faithful and the unfaithful pretending to be faithful take a break, a long break, a four-month-long break from work.
Not that we are renowned for work ethics and hard work, but what we accomplish in these four months is so puny and pathetic that it makes us look good in the remaining eight months in the calendar.
In Ramadan the working hours are nine to one. That’s it. And in these four hours work is the last thing on the workers’ mind. Go to any government office during these four hours and you will encounter a grouchy, lazy and sick-of-life person with bad breath (apparently even brushing your teeth in the morning is not kosher if you are fasting). No matter how urgent your work, leave the place and come back after two and a half months in the third week of Muharram. This man is in no mood to do anything. He’d rather go home and watch an Indian movie till he breaks fast.
This person, and millions of others like him, wants the world to be eternally grateful to him for his fasting. The entire humanity is indebted to him for the good religious duty he is fulfilling. Don’t mess with any such person.
It is almost a sin to exhort someone to work during the month of Ramadan because his or her indolence comes with a divine sanction. You may feel like kicking, caning or whipping people to get to work but you dare not try it. Don’t even say anything because you may end up being burned alive or stoned to death or just plain murdered like Najeeb Zafar, the leather factory owner in Muridke. Poor fellow, he just wanted people to get back to work after an ‘overly extended’ Friday prayer break. (RH Note: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claims that the factory clerk played a vital role in deteriorating the situation and told the protesters that Najeeb Zafar had committed blasphemy of the verses of the Holy Quran written on a wall calendar.)
Everything else except work goes on. People get busy with religious and festive activities. Attendance in mosques increases, tarawih, mahafil and dars are daily affairs. Since we are such crooked and corrupt souls during the rest of the year that people go all out in beseeching God’s forgiveness in this month — Ramadan is, after all, the month of maghfirat (repentance).
On the festive side Iftar parties were always in vogue but now Sehr get-togethers are catching up fast with Iftar parties. Restaurants are open all night because people stay up all night. Meet up at a Sehr party and then sleep. Other than that, one line dominates the workplace, “We will see what we can do about it; come after Eid”.
All the overt praying, charity and piety aside, we don’t actually become good during this month. Can’t afford to. We carry on with what we do best: lie, cheat, bribe, rob, extort, etc, but since it is Ramadan, we repent in earnest. We know how the world works. In that we are like the little boy who used to pray to God to give him a bicycle. Very soon he realized that God doesn’t work this way so he stole a bicycle and prayed to God for forgiveness. We are past masters at this and we do it all the time, only more so in Ramzan.
Contrary to the spirit of the month, for us this is a month of indulgence in every sense of the word. Be it religious indulgence, spending indulgence or eating indulgence, we go the whole hog. This is a uniquely Pakistani phenomenon. In ten hours or so people take three meals and none of them is a healthy meal. The three meals comprise only three ingredients: sugar (hence the sugar crisis), wheat (hence the atta crisis) and oil (hence the ghee crisis). All across the Muslim world there is less consumption of eatables and as a result prices come down. Read a newspaper or watch any tv channel to see what is happening in Pakistan these days.
It may be a holy month but our rules of business are clear: God and Mammon have to be served simultaneously. We do it without even a hint of compunction.
Indulgence exerts its ugly head in religious anarchy too. Selling food and eating food are a crime punishable by vigilantes on the spot. The faithful can, and do, disrupt normal course of life anywhere at any time as a matter of right. Airport lounges, aircraft aisles, railway stations or main roads, can all be blocked for, say, prayers. Who is to stop them? Loudspeakers in the mosques? Who can silence them?
To cut the long story short, the first twenty-odd days of Ramadan are spent working three or four hours every day. Towards the end, you may take full time off for umra (if you can afford it), or itikaaf, or both.
At the end of Ramadan the nation takes a seven to ten days holiday. Then slowly people drag themselves to work. It takes a lot of yawning, stretching and scratching for them to get back in the nine to five rhythm but they finally do get back in work mode. A few weeks later it is the Haj and Eid-ul-Azha season. That’s another week off.
The last two holidays in this 110-day sabbatical are the ninth and tenth of Muharram. Interspersed, of course, are our Gregorian calendar holidays — 23rd March, 14th August, 25th December and so on. They too need to be accounted for. All in all, this ends up as a period of extremely low productivity and low efficiency. If you are so inclined, take out the calculator and do the maths yourself. I am too lazy to do that; I am too lethargic to do anything. I am practicing for the days to come.
Source: Daily Times