For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of reflection. We are encouraged to enrich our knowledge of the faith in this Holy Month. In observing my 6th Ramadan as a balik-Islam, allow me to share my reflections on the faith and current issues that confront our world.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar when the Qur’an was believed to be revealed. In this month, fasting was commanded among believers for them to feel the material condition of poverty. The end of Ramadan is marked by the day of breaking of fast known in Arabic as Eid’l Fitr. Fasting is instrumental in encouraging the believers to perform the next pillar of Islam – Zakat or charity. (READ: Feast of Ramadan ends but not lessons of fasting)
These pillars of Islam highlight the central goal of the Qur’an to establish an ethical, egalitarian social order. Therefore, when the objective of the Qur’an has already been realized, Ramadan and Zakat should cease to exist. To accomplish the message that “wealth should not circulate only among the rich” (Surah Al Hashr 59:7), Zakat as a form of tax was then levied. It was imposed to fund the activities of a state. The main purpose of Zakat is to ensure equal distribution of wealth – the materialization of the Qur’an’s economic policy. Yet today, it seems that this higher purpose was forgotten as Zakatcame to be narrowly understood as a parochial tradition of alms-giving.
Economic equality in the age of austerity
Prophet Muhammad reportedly said that one cannot be a believer unless he wants for his fellow what he wants for himself. Like other faith traditions, the embeddedness of the self in society cannot be more emphasized in Islam. Human action and piety (taqwā) then becomes meaningful only within a social context. This makes it incumbent upon believers to look at the present conditions in the exercise of their belief. A friend who grew up in the Middle East once shared that one cannot compare the spirit of giving in Saudi during the time of Ramadan.
Which led me to ask, after about a millennium and a half of practice, how near have we gone in closing the gap between the rich and the poor?
Zakat must not be seen only within the confines of giving food and cash to the homeless down the streets, but believers must go beyond and inquire on the structures that perpetuate such conditions and exercise collective piousness to eliminate these structures. How do states today perform their job in distributing resources and wealth to the people? A look into the current political and economic situation of the world must guide our conscience in performing Zakat today. The recent furor on the Greek debt crisis and the austerity measures imposed on the Greek people reminds us of the situation of most of the countries in the world.