Once again this year I read the news that China had banned Muslim civil servants, students and teachers in Xinjiang province from fasting. I do not understand the reasoning behind it and I don’t think I ever will. If people want to fast they should be allowed to do so, as long as it is not standing in the way of other people’s rights.
The argument goes the other way as well. Those who do not want to fast for any reason should not be asked to do so either. Forcing people not to eat or drink is against the very basic fundamental human rights. Enter Pakistan. We have the Ehteram-e-Ramazan (Respect for Ramazan) Ordinance, which has been in force since 1981, the good old days of Ziaul Haq and his Islamic martial law. The law stipulates that during the month of Ramazan, eating or drinking in public, by people who are under obligation to do so, is unlawful.
This is yet another atrocity against human rights in this country and more so because it goes to the lowest common denominator. Stopping people from food and water. Why should the state be allowed to make a law like this? If there is not compulsion in religion, then whether a Muslim fasts or not should not be monitored by the state, or anyone else for that matter. More importantly, what about the non-Muslims, the old and infirm? You can very well say that they can eat and drink at home, but for those people who spend a large part of the day working, this is quite a ridiculous option. As per the law, all eateries are closed, offices stop providing tea etc. And to be honest people are just too scared to go against this incase they are harassed or even reported to the powers that be.
What I find fascinating is that no political party that came after Zia ever made the effort of abolishing this rather insane and pointless law, even while many of them talked about bringing back democracy. Also, even Musharraf, who spoke about “enlightened moderation” did not have the guts to do so. The reason for this is the same as the reason for many other ailments this country faces. The mullah rules, and the state is powerless to do anything about it. So the rest of us have to live with this because we have no choice.
Enforcing “respect” for religions cannot and must not come at the cost of not respecting human rights. This isn’t about respect. It is about forcing people to follow one ideology and it is time that we left such ideas behind.
If there is no compulsion in religion, then this law must be done away with. The state must have no authority to force people to follow religious injunctions. And the rest of the populace has no right to disapprove of people for not doing so either.
For religion should remain a personal matter and one’s eating and drinking in public should not be a matter of concern for anyone. A large number of Muslims live in countries where there is no place for such laws. They seem to be doing fine as far as I can see. I am sure the good people of Pakistan, will also be able to go through the month without losing their faith if they see someone eating.
If there is no compulsion in religion, then don’t compel people to do something that they don’t want to do in its name. You and your faith will be respected more for it.