June 4, 2015 By Shameer K.S

Fasting: Is it abstention or Starving?


I have been witness to a conversation passed off between two train passengers who so shrewdly modulated their voice as to be overheard.  Here is my attempt not to be fictitious in its reproduction.

A: your Ramadan fasting is around the corner. And you are going to starve us Hindoos, aren’t you?

B: why starve you all by abstaining from eating? We don’t force it on others?

A: But you people don’t openrestaurants, do you? So like hartals, which are not enforced on people, there is a subliminal message that you must join the crowd.

B. Can’t you go to restaurants run by non-Muslims?

A. Of course, you have choices, say, in a railway station or a in a metropolis. But what about a Muslim majority locality? You had better be fasting while you go there. Ask for a glass of water. They will deny it citing they are fasting.

B. I don’t think there are such areas where all restaurants are closed all together. There are some Muslim hoteliers or at least those who man cool drinks kiosks who don’t mind the taboo.

A. A friend of mine used to teach in such a locality. He was lodged atop an eatery run by his landowner. The landowner was a pleasant, well-mannered man. One whole month he closed the eatery, the only one in the whole area. He met the man on road and asked him why he had not opened the restaurant for a few days. ‘I am fasting,’ he said rudely as if the teacher had touched on his sensibility.  There are those special dishes we are habitually attuned to like the beef biriyani at Rahmat. Is it good that they tantalise you with their ad for eleven months and deny you the pleasure for one whole month.

B. Why are you so illiberal in denying them their right to close their business at will? They bear the loss thereof. You are also free to choose not going there. I will guide you to a restaurant run by a non-Muslim in Calicut where excellent beef dish is served.

C, who has been a silent spectator all the while, joined the talk, saying

I agree it is their freedom to open and close at will and we are free to protest the one-month closure by collectively deigning to go there after they are reopened.  I have a doubt. Is it a kosher in your religion that you don’t serve food in the same way that you don’t eat. But you serve food at home to children, sick, needy, elder ones etc. you do cook food at home, too. Especially your womenfolk are doing exactly the same.

B. Why womenfolk. We men too cook.

C. Is that not exactly what restaurants do? They cook food and serve it to those who are not supposed to fast.

D joined with an answer.

D. It is not kosher to serve food to those who don’t fast. Some scholars say you are not prohibited to summarily taste it to check whether the salt and other ingredients are properly mixed. That is the minimum that a cook requires. I am also against restaurants and cool bars being closed the whole month. But beyond the do’s and don’ts of religion, people have taboos which is born of the conditions and contexts of law in the Medieval time when there was not the question of restaurants and several communities relying on one another for eating out. But we are stuck in the liberal democratic condition where we can’t force them to open the restaurants. They are free, as well.

A. So what is the alternative?

D. There are two alternatives. A, convince the hotelier that it is not kosher to open restaurants during Ramadan and it is sense of civic propriety to open them given the lavish food that most Muslims eat and serve after Iftar. B, democratically respect the choice of thehotelier and find an alternative in the form of parcels collected from elsewhere or self-cooking for one month. Some restaurants in Kozhikode run by Hindus are closed during Vishu and Onam festivals. We don’t insist on their reopen. We had better not make a mountain out of a molehill and leave things as they are. Anyway, no one has been starved to death by the closure of eateries for a limited period of time.

The discussion, like the train, met a red signal and got halted all in a sudden.

I don’t know whether this discussion can be the review of a book on Ramadan fasting released in Kerala on 21st May this year. The book titled “The Reality of Fasting” argues that the Ramzan fasting is anti-Quranic. The book is written by Dr Abdul Jaleel Puttekkadu, the Kerala State Vice President of Quran-Sunnat society, founded by the late Chekannur Maulavi, a controversial religious clerk murdered allegedly by the Sunni militants. The crux of the argument of the book is that while there is not a single verse in the Quran which stipulates starving for the sake of God, Muslims starve not only themselves, their children, and non-Muslims. The argument is that Quran envisages a world order where no one is starving, but every one eats to their full. The book takes on fasting in other religions as well and argues that fasting in all religions is a skewed fabrication of the clergy.
I have not yet read the book and am waiting to read it. I am eager to know what theoretical acrobatics is it that the author makes to skirt around the Quranic verse 2:183 which prescribes fasting to believers. Also, I am waiting to read the medical data that the author presents to prove that fasting is harmful to health contrary to medical data which some believers present to prove that it is wholesome.
Secondly, reading the press release which the publisher distributed to boost the stales, I don’t believe that the word ‘to starve’ signifies the process of abstaining from food during the time period when it is prescribed. Fasting, contrary to starving, is an equilibrium set to control the intake of food and water at a prescribed time and a stipulated duration. It is a practice said to be prescribed for social well-being (those who eat too must know what hunger is so as to aim and work for a hunger free world), spiritual well-being (not only food and water are controlled, but all actions and reflections are trained and attuned) and economic well-being (the stipulated zakat and voluntary sadaqat taxes are collected and equitably distributed in the month). Also, the argument that fasting will adversely affect our struggle for an equitable world order where everyone has food, which the Quran aims, is untenable and is obviously ridiculous. Fasting is a universally accepted ritual across religions, which aims to throw sharp questions on richness, poverty, satisfaction, hunger etc., and a spiritual mode of training to live in abstention.