by Zia Ur Rehman
June 29, 2015
Besides being a time of worship and devotion, the holy month of Ramazan also creates a special ambiance of joy and caring and it is in this very spirit that many non-Muslims in Pakistan too are fasting.
John Sadiq, a young Christian, works at a pharmaceutical company in Korangi. This Ramazan, inspired by his colleagues, he fasted for a day.
“I fasted to experience Ramazan. It’s really hard to fast in these hot summer days,” Sadiq told The News.
There are several examples of interfaith harmony during the holy month. Some non-Muslims host iftar parties for their Muslim friends. Likewise, Muslims send pakoras and fruit to their non-Muslim neighbours.
Michael Javed, a Christian leader, along with Hindu and Sikh leaders, took iftar to the PIB police station and nearby Rangers check-posts on Saturday to promote interfaith harmony.
Sardar Ramesh Singh, the head of the Pakistan Sikh Council who participated in iftar with his Muslim friends, said such efforts allow people of different faiths to better understand each other’s religion.
“The majority of non-Muslims don’t eat or drink outside their homes during Ramazan to show their respect for others’ religion, culture and community,” he added.
Not easy for non-Muslims
Despite this atmosphere of interfaith harmony, it is not easy for non-Muslims during Ramazan.
Non-Muslim children in schools and colleges particularly face problems during the holy month.
“As Muslim children are fasting in Ramazan, the canteens at most schools are closed”, said a Christian trader, whose two children go to a school where there are only 10 non-Muslims students of the total of around 1,500.
“Muslim canteen owners don’t serve the small minority of non-Muslim children in schools during Ramazan,” he added.
“Out of respect as well as because of the insecure atmosphere, non-Muslim children generally don’t eat in the presence of Muslim children.”
Non-Muslim activists say that many of their community members have been beaten up for drinking water or eating during daytime in Ramazan in the past.
Sanjay Kumar, a diabetic Hindu who works at a garment factory, said he had to take a month’s leave in Ramazan.
“I need to drink water after every half an hour and that isn’t possible at the factory during Ramazan,” he added.
A few years ago, TV presenters in their special Ramazan programmes, converted non-Muslims to Islam.
Activists staged protests against these programmes saying that such material was ‘offensive’ to other faiths.
“It was a common practice in Urdu newspapers to glorify conversions, but then it started on TV channels,” said Javed.
However, he added that after severe criticism by the social society and non-Muslim organisations, TV channels had removed this practice from their shows during Ramazan.
Activists say that before the enforcement of the Ehteram-e-Ramazan Ordinance by Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime in the 1980s, the spirit of the holy month existed in its true sense.
But after promulgation of the law, situation became uneasy as it prohibited eating in public during the holy month and imposed a penalty for it. It made non-Muslims more vulnerable during Ramazan.
According to the ordinance, it is forbidden for any person who “according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast” to eat, drink or smoke in public places. Activists claim that the vagueness in the law and hence in its implementation leaves it open, making non-Muslims vulnerable.
“We had not seen intolerance before the promulgation of this black law,” said Akhter Hussain Baloch, a leader of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
“Non-Muslim activists and civil society organisations had opposed this law at that time,” he added. “Before it was enacted, canteens and shops at railway stations, filling stations pumps and other public places remained open during Ramazan. It affects both Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Though law enforcers do not keep a vigil on people eating during daytime at public places during daytime in Ramazan, Javed said, “We regularly receive complaints from non-Muslim-populated neighbourhoods about police forcing restaurants to shut down.”