Iftar time is a time for family reunion, a time for a feast, a time of enjoyment. Alas! Only for those that can afford it.
There is inflation in the land. Everyone knows that. Everyone, that is, except the government. So far, Nigerians have not heard any tangible explanation for the incessant, if not hyper, inflation, especially of essential commodities, and most especially staple food items. No explanation, no appeal for ‘understanding’.
All the ‘accessories’ to Iftar are now beyond the reach of the common woman. Egg has become more expensive (costing, it is said, about Thirty Naira apiece! In the laywoman’s language, a crate is beyond-reachable). So has the price of sugar. And of rice. And even millet, the precursor of kunu. Not to talk of cooking gas and kerosene. These are essentials a fasting people would need and want to see the availability, and affordability of, during Ramadan. Alas! These items may be available, but affordable only to a few. Where are we headed? And, to ask a more poignant question, who are the main importers, wholesalers and retailers of rice and sugar in Nigeria?
At the beginning of this Ramadan, many countries lowered the duties on most essential commodities, especially staples. In Bangladesh, for example, the duty on sugar and other essentials were lowered, and the import restrictions eased. This is one of the poorest, most politically-volatile and one of the most physically-challenged countries on earth, yet Bangladesh considered the feelings of its citizens.
Talking about Bangladesh, the Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina last Thursday invited her arch-rival and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia to Iftar, triggering prospects of a political rapprochement in the spirit of Ramadan, so reported United News of Bangladesh (UNB) news agency. These women never see eye-to-eye, literally. But this Ramadan they are having Iftar together. Would that you invite your arch-rival home.
If you can’t invite her (your arch-rival) home to Iftar, any and all charity is encouraged during this holy month. It is reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was naturally the most generous of people, but he used to be more generous than ever in the month of Ramadan. (reported in Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 126).
Whatever Allah the Exalted has given us in the way of sustenance during this Ramadan, we should try to give generously. Every time a servant of Allah gives something in charity, Allah eases his physical, spiritual and mental conditions. He expands for him His sustenance. Sadaqah, charity, does not only have to be monetary. It can also be a good deed, such as helping another person for the sake of Allah and without expecting any reward from the person.
The Prophet, upon whom be peace, has said: “This is the month of charity in which believer’s sustenance is increased. Whosoever feeds a fasting person or gives a fasting person a single date [dabino] or a sip of water to break the fast, for him there shall be forgiveness of his sins and he will be saved from the fire of hell, and for him shall be the same reward as for him (whom he fed), without diminishing the reward of him who fasted”. (Tirmidhi Hadith 1965).
Ramadan should reinforce in us the spirit of giving and mutual help in society. Many of us do not remember the old woman down the road; she who had been the good friend of our long-departed grandmother, until it is Ramadan. We remember her during Ramadan, and we give her some sugar and some rice, and perhaps a piece of atamfa. Wallahi this is a good thing. But for Ramadan, many of us may have forgotten all about her.
Ramadan inspires love and tightens links among the family, both near and far. Happily, during Ramadan our attitudes change automatically, and the family members meet more than they used to do. Charity and mutual help occupy a remarkable place, and brotherhood and equality triumph. Allah says: “For those who spend their wealth in the cause of God, and do not follow up their gifts with reminders or with injury, their reward is with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Qur’an 2:262).
Allah explains that the money we spend in His Cause will be doubled and multiplied for us, and that this will be profitable for us both now and in the hereafter. The only condition, however, that Allah sets for the attainment of this reward is that the benefactor should not remind those who receive his support of his benefaction to them. Because of the great reward for feeding a fasting person, in many places Iftar is served in mosques, with the food donated or brought by individuals to share. This contact between the various levels of society helps to create a real bond of brotherhood in the community. The rich are obliged to come in contact with the poor, and the poor with the even less fortunate. Even if one cannot afford to give something tangible, even a smile is considered charity in Islam. Recall this ‘anecdote of the smile’ from our indefatigable Mullah Nasruddin:
“The Sultan had grown very fond of Mullah Nasruddin and often took him along on his travels. Once, while on a journey, the Royal caravan approached a small nondescript town in the desert. On a whim, the Sultan said to the Mullah: ‘I wonder if people would know me in this small place. Let us stop my entourage here and enter the town on foot, and then we’ll know if they can recognise me as Emperor’.
“Accordingly, they dismounted and walked down the main road of the town. The Sultan was surprised to see that many people smiled at Nasruddin but ignored him completely. Irritated and a trifle angry, the Sultan said, ‘I see that the people here know you but they don’t know me!’ ‘They don’t know me either, Your Highness’, replied the Mullah. ‘Then why did they smile at you only, and not at me?’ questioned the Sultan. ‘Because I smiled at them first.’ said Nasruddin, smiling.”
A sha ruwa lafiya!