By Noor Umar
Perhaps, an oversimplified understanding of Ramadan is that of the month in which Muslims fast. This means no food or drink (yes, not even water!) is permitted from sunrise to sunset. A month more commonly known for this physical act of fasting, is more often than not, a lot more spiritual and enriching than its widespread conception. As we approach the halfway mark of this year’s Ramadan, I find myself having a lot of introspection. As I’ve grown older it has become clear to me that the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to grow your sense of empathy and compassion, to purify your heart and to realign your priorities. Let’s discuss what this means exactly.
In order to contextualise the importance of the month let’s go over the basic facts. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims believe it is in this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him; PBUH). During this month we take on more religious activities in an effort to grow our connection with God. We believe that fasting is an abstention at both a physical and spiritual level, hence its advantages are also both physical and spiritual. The practical benefits of fasting include increased discipline, self-restraint and the detoxification of health. However, for many Muslims this alone is not their motivation. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul from harmful impurities. Consequently, you may feel more connected to God, Islam, and in some senses, yourself. Amongst these I find that the most important lesson learnt from the month of Ramadan is that of gratitude. By establishing a verstehen for those living in poverty, areas of conflict or in famine, we gain an added sense of empathy for those less fortunate than ourselves. Let me tell you – it is very humbling. With over 690 million of the world’s population not having enough to eat, now is as good a time as any to feel compassion.
This theme of compassion is not exclusive to Ramadan. Islam places a heavy emphasis on the importance of charity and solidarity. Waqf (charity) can be thought of in two ways: Sadaqah (voluntary charity), and Zakat (obligatory charity). Sadaqah is not bound to financial or physical charity work but can also pertain to any and all acts of righteousness. For example, something as simple as smiling at a stranger or giving someone directions can be considered Sadaqah. Contrastingly, Zakat (directly translated as ‘almsgiving’), is the fifth and final pillar of Islam whereby Muslims are obligated to donate 2.5% of their savings to a worthy cause. The types of causes are detailed as follows: to those who are stranded with limited supplies, those in debt, those in bondage, the needy and poor, new Muslims and lastly, for the cause of Allah e.g. a Madrasah. It is due to these aspects of the faith that Muslims have become a vital contributor to international development.
Whilst Muslims are encouraged to give Sadaqah all year round, we take the opportunity to do more during the holy month for the sake of multiplied return. During Ramadan any and all good deeds are guaranteed to have a multiplied return in the hereafter. We are not told exactly by how much this reward is amplified, as ultimately this is at God’s discretion, but it can be imagined that rewards may be multiplied by tens, hundreds and even thousands. So, as you can imagine this becomes a huge motivation for Muslims to increase their participation in charitable causes. As stated before, these acts of charity do not have to be financial. Sadqah can be claimed in the simplest of things – helping the elderly cross the road, cleaning the mosque, even giving way to another car while driving. All of these simple tasks that we do on a daily basis and may not even register or account for, are considered in Islam as reward worthy good deeds. For myself, and I imagine for many other Muslims, there is an incredible comfort in knowing this. Knowing that our religion preaches and rewards us for being good, helpful and compassionate people whilst recognising that not everyone is able to make great big donations.
Having established the non-financial charity undertaken by Muslims, let’s discuss Zakat and its effect on international development. Whilst it is not necessary for Muslims to give Zakat during Ramadan, many Muslims take the opportunity in order to avail the multiplied good returns given during this holy month. In 2015, the World Bank estimated the annual global Zakat contribution was worth between £152 billion and £763 billion. To put that in context, the entire UK charity sector annual income is about £50 billion – and to think this Zakat alone, not including other optional charity! In 2016, UK Muslims were reported to have donated £100 million to charity – that is £36 per second. Granted this total is not entirely derived by the means of Zakat, this is still a staggering amount. More recently, in 2020, it’s been estimated that UK Muslims gave a record breaking £150 million and predictions for this year’s Ramadan predicting the UK Muslim charity giving of zakat donations is likely to exceed £150m. These donations are given locally and globally to any of the causes mentioned above.
My own experiences have shown me the outpouring generosity shown during this month. For example, just last night I had a conversation with my father in which he shared about his recent trip to the mosque. He told me that in the last three nights alone, the mosque had raised £40,000 for their local homeless community, refugee families and humanitarian aid for Yemen. This is an example of one mosque and in one town, over the course of three nights. Hence, the contribution and the effect Muslims and ultimately the month of Ramadan has on international development is undeniable.
As I’ve mentioned, I find that this month is an opportunity for introspection. As I’ve grown older, the beauty of Ramadan has become clearer and clearer. So, when asked ‘not even water?,’ I often struggle to put into words just how much Ramadan means to me and to Muslims all around the globe. Ramadan serves as a reminder of a life unbound by greed, one that does not require constant consumption to experience satisfaction.
If you take one thing from this blog, I hope it is a heightened urge to go for those good deeds. Even for non-Muslims, I hope that Ramadan serves as a reminder that there is good in doing good and being good. Actions you can take this month – a donation to a current cause or your favourite charity, but beyond the financial contributions, as detailed in the blog there are everyday ways to give back to our communities. You can also do your part by emailing your MP on issues that you feel strongly about, signing that petition that’s been sitting in your mailbox, or spreading awareness on your social media about worthy causes. These campaigning methods that don’t cost a penny are equally worthy contributions to international development. We hope that with upcoming Results campaigns this year you can relate back to these teachings of Islam, and feel inspired to do your part however big or small.