Social significance of Roza

M A Islahi | Aug 30, 2011, 12.00AM IST
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After sighting the Ramadan moon, Muslims all over the world observe fasting and refrain from eating, drinking and other physical pleasures from dawn to dusk. This practice continues till the sighting of the new moon. Allah ordains the believer not to take any food or drink throughout the day. However, says the Prophet, roza or fasting becomes worthless if the person observing it continues to engage in negative activity like back-biting and harbours feelings of hatred, jealousy, deceit and corruption.

Elaborating on the significance of the Ramadan fast, the
Prophet once said, "Roza is a shield" that protects us from misfortune, malaise and untoward happenings. After describing roza as a shield, the Prophet explained the use of this shield by saying that whenever anyone proceeds towards you with nefarious intentions, you should tell him, "I am observing roza." During my tenure in Kashmir University, i did just that when some rowdy elements came in my way and started using unsavoury and indecent language, calling me names, including that of "traitor". Initially, i tried my best to pacify them, but all my efforts fell on deaf ears. They raised their voices and started abusing me further. Given the situation i said calmly, "I am on roza." I repeatedly said this and remained cool and quiet.

They left me, saying that they would teach me a lesson. The incident left me perturbed for a long time. Since the Valley was in turmoil following the murder of the Kashmir University vice-chancellor, Prof Mushirul Haque, i resolved not to lose heart, and remained busy with my usual work, trying all the while to remain calm.

A month or so after the said incident, a few of those rowdy elements came to meet me. Seeing them, i thought perhaps some new developments had taken place. This is why they were there. However, i remained calm and composed. One of them broke the silence and told me that they had come to apologise for their past action because they had behaved badly with me thinking i was someone else. It was a case of mistaken identity.

They were extremely sorry for being harsh and unkind towards me. In fact, i had tolerated their misdemeanour because of roza, the shield. The whole process of roza teaches us not only to control our physical desires; it also helps us curtail our anger, haughtiness and obstinacy. In other words, fasting empowers us spiritually. It provides us greater opportunity for meditation.

Fasting inculcates in us a sense of sharing and, therefore, we feel compassion for all beings. One who observes roza becomes kind-hearted and avoids crudeness while dealing with others. There is greater understanding.

If only we could extend or prolong the feeling of compassion and oneness that fasting infuses in us, it would make the world a very pleasant place to live in. Hasn't this been the long cherished hope and prayer of every prophet, reformer and social activist? Roza assists us in fostering a sense of universal brotherhood and this is perhaps why Prophet Mohammed had given roza a special status among all the tenets of Islam by quoting Divine words wherein God says, "Roza is mine, and I will personally award those who observe fast." These Divine words, unequivocally, reflect the role of roza in attaining spiritual sublimity.

The writer is professor of Arabic and chair-person of the Centre of Arabic and African Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.