by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 3, Ramadan, 1441)
The Pakistani elite are a breed apart. Gluttonous, pompous, extremely arrogant and obnoxious to the dot. All these traits are on full display during the month of Ramadan. Why in Ramadan, one might ask?
Ramadan offers an opportunity to have ‘iftar parties’ for 29 or 30 days. No such opportunity affords itself even during the wedding season that begins in November and lasts until the end of February. During these months, the simmering heat abates and the weather is pleasant. But how many weddings can they attend in a four-month period? May be, three or four?
Come Ramadan and it is a different ballgame. There are ‘iftar parties’ every night. Major hotels advertise special offers: ‘Eat as much as you can’ from a huge variety of dishes. Long before the start of Ramadan, major hotels are fully booked.
This year would have been no exception except that COVID-19 rained on the elite’s Ramadan feasts. Maintaining ‘social distancing’ has meant no ‘iftar parties’. Some would still find a way around it but it won’t be the same as in earlier years. They might even get some maulvi to issue a fatwa—there is no shortage of such maulvis to do the elite’s bidding for appropriate bakhsheesh—to declare that iftar is an “essential” part of Ramadan.
The ulama in Pakistan have already issued a declaration that they will not abide by the lockdown for congregational prayers in mosques. This applies both to the mandatory Jumuah prayers as well as the optional Taraweeh prayers that are performed in Ramadan.
This has placed the government in a quandary. How does it enforce the lockdown without antagonizing religious groups that can create much trouble at a time when the government is already grappling with multiple crises including the one created by the pandemic? Most mosques across the country have continued to hold Jumuah prayers.
Let us, however, return to the issue of the elite’s ‘iftar parties’. Iftar literally means breaking of the fast. To have iftar, one must have fasted. With minor exceptions, the elite do not fast but that does not prevent them from participating in ‘iftar parties’! If asked whether they fast, their standard answer is: ‘this is between me and Allah’. If they had fasted, their answer would be different.
Similarly, they do not pray. The few that do pray after breaking their fast, are looked upon with disdain. They are viewed as primitive and contemptuously called ‘maulvis’ for delaying their ‘iftar’ consumption.
It would be useful to review the entire procedure of what takes place at these ‘iftar parties’. The elite arrive in chauffeur-driven cars. The drivers are from poor families that are required to wait outside while the boss and his bulging but heavily-manicured wife go inside the hotel to have ‘iftar’. The poor driver is fasting but he is not allowed to go inside the hotel. That would be an insult to the pompous elite’s ‘honour’.
Even while not fasting, the elite wait until the Maghrib adhan is called so that they can ‘break’ their non-fast fast with dates. This is the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and they must follow it faithfully. Next they tuck into samosas, pakoras and papri chart. There is no Sunnah there but they have to have starters otherwise the sky would fall.
It is the attack on the food table that is a real spectacle. Pigs at a trough would display more refined manners. Many of them stand at the food table and grab food as quickly as they can as if they have never had a meal in their entire life. They throw the bones right there, not even bothering to put them in the plate. Obviously, someone else will clean their mess.
The serving staff, again from poor families, have to wait until the elite have stuffed their huge bellies with food before they are able to eat. In-between replenishing dishes, the waiters may get a chance to break their fast in the kitchen but they do not have time to eat even though they are the ones that fasted the whole day. Once the elite have had their bellies full and there is no more room for food, the poor waiters get a chance to eat.
The true spirit of Ramadan is to go hungry from before dawn till after sunset for a whole month so that we may develop empathy for those that have to go without food most of their life. It is certainly not intended as an opportunity to over-indulge in the evening. That defeats the very purpose of Ramadan. What should one make of people that do not fast yet throw ‘iftar parties’ at five-star hotels and others that partake of them?
In a perverse way, we can thank COVID-19 for checking the gluttonous behaviour of the Pakistani elite during this Ramadan but for how long? Next year, they will be back to their old ways: over-eating and flouting their ill-gotten wealth. There is no limit to greed and injustice but for now, we can be grateful for even small mercies.