Irrfan Khan's views on Ramzan are sad and ignorant
It was a controversy that the Bollywood actor could well have avoided.
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Actor Irrfan Khan has courted controversy by suggesting that Muslims should rather introspect than fast during Ramzan. He also said that Muharram was for mourning, not bringing out processions, and slaughtering goats was not real sacrifice, adding, "We have lost the relevance of such religious activities and perform these rituals without knowing the meaning of them."
Irrfan also said, "Why are Muslims silent against the issue of terrorism? People should also question the politicians over this issue."
Irrfan is flatly wrong on the issue of terrorism and is clearly playing to the gallery in spreading propaganda against Muslims.
He may be partly right that the essence of sacrifice seems to have been lost with the slaughtering of animals and turning Muharram into processions. However, if Irrfan finds time from acting and holding press conferences, he would realise that the holy month of Ramzan, in essence, is all about introspection.
While the Bollywood star is surely entitled to his views; but he advising on religious practices is like Gajendra Chauhan giving lectures on the art of filmmaking at the FTII.
The actor had, in the past, made it clear that he wanted to be known only as Irrfan and has "taken out Khan" from his name. "I do not want to be known by my religion, surname or lineage," he said in 2012.
For him then to comment on keeping fasts or the issue of terrorism, that too before his film Madaari is slated to be released, was an avoidable controversy.
Irrfan is certainly one of the best actors that Indian cinema has produced. I am a big fan of his acting. I particularly respect the fact that he has struggled hard to reach this height in his career. But for him to speak on religious issues just before the release of his film was a controversy that he could have avoided.
What is Ramzan and message it gives
Like prayers five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramzan is mandatory for healthy adult Muslim men and women, except those on journey or who are sick. Elderly or sick people, and pregnant or menstruating women are exempted, provided they feed the poor in compensation or perform a fast later in the year.The more pious ones among us devote the whole month of Ramzan to prayers.
Muslims fast to attain taqwa or "consciousness of god", but it also makes us realise the pangs of hunger and is perhaps god's way of keeping us grounded. Fasting in this day and age, especially for privileged people who do not do a lot of physically strenuous work, is quite easy, compared to the billions who do not have the luxury; the maids at our home, the workers in factories.
For our mothers the day starts quite early. She is the first one to wake up in the morning to prepare sehri or food to eat before dawn. In the afternoon she has to make iftari, or the evening meal to break the fast. And then there is dinner.
When we are hungry ourselves, we realise the importance of food or how millions sleep hungry owing to poverty. It is hence incumbent upon Muslims to offer zakat, a type of religious tax on their wealth. Accordingly, 2.5 per cent of their wealth are to be offered to the poor and needy. Most of them give it during this month, besides several other forms of charity.
The more pious ones among us devote the whole month to prayers, which get more rigorous as days pass. Some even sit in Itaqaf in mosques for the last ten days of the month, which means forsaking every worldly thing and spending the whole time in prayers with the hope of pleasing god.
For ordinary Muslims like us, it is a usual day at work, the only difference being we don't eat during the day and try to offer as many prayers in between.
This beautiful new commercial advertisement of Big Bazar shows how a Muslim doctor balances her work and religious practice, calling it #NekiKaMahina and in the process giving a lovely message of coexistence and harmony that we seem to be forgetting.
There are countries where Muslims fast for more than 20 hours and there are places where Muslims have been fasting in the scorching sun, with temperatures hovering at 40 degree celsius. And yet, no one seems to be complaining.
What Ramzan means to me
I don't really remember the year when I kept my first Roza or day-long fast that Muslims world over keep during the ninth month of Islamic Hijri calendar, Ramzan. I remember faintly though that I was feeling very hungry and thirsty by afternoon and both my grandmother and mother were concerned.
They had unsuccessfully also tried to coax me to eat something: "For kids it is only half-day roza, now you can break the fast in the afternoon."
Most of us Muslim children start keeping one or two roza - generally the first and last, to begin with - even before we are required to do, that is when we attain puberty.
Yet, by the time we grow to become an adult, the month of Ramzan attains a special meaning for all of us. The holy month has some spiritual force that can perhaps never be explained in words. It can only be experienced.
Although I would like to call myself a believing Muslim, somehow, I am not very religious either.
Ramzan, however, holds special meaning to me, like it does for most Muslims. I feel spiritually more connected to god during this month. For more than 15 years now, I have kept fasts during the month and I try to pray as many times as I can.
This year, at the beginning of the month, I had decided - like every year - to revise the full Quran in Arabic and its translations in English. So far, I have completed only two-and-a-half chapters out of the 30. It is amazing how many Muslims, particularly young students, read the Holy Quran in Arabic twice or thrice in the whole month.
The month also gives me an opportunity to showcase our cultural practices to non-Muslims and it has been my habit since hostel days to invite them for iftar. In the middle of the month this year, I had shifted back to Kolkata after 11 years in Delhi, and have been treating myself to Kolkata's famous haleem from different eateries, but also with the best recipe that ammi has, during iftari.
Thus while for many the month is all about food walks, political iftar parties or debating the correct spelling/pronunciation of Ramzan versus Ramadan, for practising Muslims the month is a spiritual journey that changes the lives of many, even though only temporarily at times.
Like everything in Islam these days, controversy doesn't spare the holy month of Ramzan as well.
Many may ask what is the point of all this if you continue to lie, cheat and do all sorts of evil things as soon the month gets over. But a pacifist like me would rather argue that if someone is being honest even for a day, he should be given a chance.
Religious belief is very personal and hence questioning once religiosity or its degree, or mocking it in the name of freedom of opinion should be discouraged in a rational world that prides itself in democratic values and religious freedom. That does not mean though that religious practice or belief cannot be critiqued for even within Islam the fact that there are so many fiqs or schools of thought points to a vibrant culture of differences.
For health issues we consult doctors, for legal matters we go to lawyers and to untangle the web of taxation we seek suggestions of chartered accountants or financial experts. But when it comes to religion, almost everyone is ready with an opinion.
We may deride clerics for their ill-conceived fatwas, but none of us miss an opportunity to play into that image of Muslims as ill-mannered, semi-barbaric people who somewhere sympathise with extremism and does not condemn terrorism.