Ramadan creates a feeling of empathy and a sense of social responsibility in us. As we experience hunger and thirst while fasting, it reminds us of others who live in hard economic, financial, or social situations.
The Role of Ramadan in Social Engineering
On the Islamic Calendar, Ramadan is the month of fasting – obligatory fasting. While fasting, a Muslim is not allowed to eat, drink or to have spousal intercourse during the daytime, let alone commission of any sinful acts. Of course, to monitor that he/she is not doing such things, there is no human mechanism. It is between him/her and Allah (God). It is part of his/her faith (imaan) that Allah is seeing, hearing and knowing him/her at all times.
This faith-based feeling is the monitor for him/her, which is known in Islam as Taqwa (Awareness of Allah). In my previous article, I talked about Ramadan’s role as a trainer in Taqwa, which is a spiritual element. Today, I would like to reflect on how Ramadan can help us create a good society by way of creating, through fasting, a feeling of empathy for mankind – which involves sharing foods and drinks with others and distributing wealth among the needy.
Creating a Sense of Empathy for Mankind
According to one Hadith, Ramadan is the month of sympathy (Khan, n.d.). It creates a feeling of empathy and a sense of social responsibility in us, which we should practice during and beyond the month of Ramadan. As we experience hunger and thirst while fasting, it reminds us of others who live in hard economic, financial, or social situations.
As such, we should help and assist our fellow human brothers and sisters, Muslim and non-Muslim alike who are in need (Doi 1994, 427-429), unless there is a likelihood of their spending the money for wrongful purposes like gambling (Al-Munajjid, 2000). However, it should be noted that because of their unity of faith, Muslims have better rights (Sahih al-Bukhari 6011; Sahih Muslim 2586).
We can also see examples of universal love and kindness in our beloved Prophet’s life (PBUH). Once, there was a severe famine in Makkah due to drought. Upon request by the disbelievers who were his arch-enemies, the Prophet (PBUH) prayed for rain. It rained excessively. Then, he prayed for a cessation of rain (Elshinawy and Suleiman 2017). On another occasion of a famine, the Prophet (PBUH) sent some silver to help the less fortunate despite their disbelief and enmity (Ahmad 2013). This is why Allah confers him the title of Prophet of the humanity (Qur’an, 7:158; 34:28) and the Mercy for the worlds (Qur’an, 21:107).
Sharing Foods and Drinks
Providing food or drink to a fasting person to break his/her fast (Iftar) is religiously meritorious and socially beneficial. When a person is fasting and keeping himself/herself away from sinful acts only to please Allah, He (Allah) likes it so much that even the bad odour that may come out of his/her mouth (because of the emptiness of the stomach) is dear with Allah more than the fragrance of musk (Sunan an-Nasa’i 2212).
That is why if anybody hosts such a beloved servant of Allah with Iftar (breaking fast at the end of the day) even with a piece of date, a drink of water or a sip of milk, angels will pray for him/her (Ibn Ibban in Rahim 2020). And he/she will receive the same reward of the fasting person and the latter’s reward will not diminish (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Nasai cited in Rahim 2020). It is even said that such a person will be emancipated from Hell-Fire (Alamgiri cited in Islamic Foundation 1979).
This is the religious aspect of hosting Iftar. At the same time, it has tremendous social impacts with great rewards. It creates and fortifies social bonds, and mutual love and affection. We can understand the expanse of the benefits if we read the above together with the general advice of the Prophet (PBUH) for feeding the hungry, hosting guests, and visiting the sick, which may be practiced both in Ramadan and beyond.
To quote the Prophet (PBUH): “Free the captives, feed the hungry and pay a visit to the sick” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3046). At another place, he (PBUH) says: “(All of you) worship Ar-Rahman (Allah), feed others, spread the (greeting of) Salam (peace), then you will enter Paradise in security” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1855).
Putting this into a broader context, these two Hadiths advise us to wish people good (regardless of religion) and not to harm in any manner, and rather spend on them and do good to them in different ways like feeding, giving gifts, making donations and charities, helping with good counseling and actions, etc. In this respect, it may be noted, relatives and neighbours should also receive special treatment.
About keeping ties with relatives, the Prophet (PBUH) says: “Whoever loves that he be granted more wealth and that his lease of life be prolonged, then he should keep good relations with his kith and kin” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5986). The importance of keeping good relations with neighbours may be understood from the following Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH): “Jibra’il (Gabriel) kept enjoining good treatment of neighbours until I thought that he would make neigbours heirs” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3673).
At another place, he (PBUH) admonishes that “A man is not a (true) believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 112). He further warns, “He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct” (Sahih Muslim 46). The term, “neighbour”, for an individual’s context, includes “the forty houses in front a person, the forty houses behind him, the forty houses on his right and the forty houses on his left” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 109).
Giving towards Charity
In Islam, one of the characteristics of a Muslim is that he/she spends in the path of Allah (Qur’an, 2:3), which mainly includes, after spending on his/her own family, obligatory charity (Zakah) and optional charity (sadaqah).
The whole purpose is to prohibit hoarding and to erase the love for worldly possessions. To give charity, the Prophet (PBUH) encourages us to the extent that he says: “Save yourself from Hell-fire even by giving half a date-fruit in charity” (Sahih al-Bukhari 1417). He calls Ramadan charity the “best” (of charities) (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 663) and sets himself as an example of “more generous…than the blowing wind” in this month .
However, the charity in this month may be of various types. It may be the zakat al-mal. As it is best to make charity in Ramadan, many Muslims choose this month to pay their zakat al-mal. Actually, they should pay as and when it is due and should not wait until Ramadan.
The second type of charity is zakat al-fitr which is payable for one who has fasted for the month to cleanse himself/herself from any indecent act or speech and for the purpose of providing food for the needy (Sunan Abi Dawud 1609). In fact, this is also payable for minor children by the guardian (Islamic Foundation, 1979 ) . As such, the common purpose of payment of zakat al-fitr (for one who has fasted and one who has not fasted because of underage) is to help the poor and needy.
The third type of charity is fidiya (ransom) for him/her who has missed fasting because of infirmity by age or severe ailment with no hope of recovery (Shafi 1998). Apart from these few types of charity, there is always an option open to give freely. It may be noted here again that for making charity, the priority of poor relatives and neighbours should also be kept in mind .
To conclude, fasting in Islam is not just a ritual. It is one of the pillars upon which the edifice of Islam is erected. Like the other four pillars, it regulates an orderly way of Muslim life with deep spiritual, social, and economic impacts.
- The Holy Qur’an
- Hadith Collections: Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Jami’ atTirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan Ibn Majah, Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim 2586, and Sunan an-Nasa’i
Websites: Sunnah Adab
 Sunnah Muslim
 Sunnah Nasai and Sunnah Muslim
- Ahmad, M.B. (2013), The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets. Islamabad: Islam International Publications Ltd, Volume II.
- Alamgiri (Fatwa).
- Al-Munajjid, M.S. (2000), ‘Giving sadaqah (charity) to non-Muslims’ at https://islamqa.info/en/answers/3854/giving-sadaqah-charity-to-non-muslims accessed on 21 April 2020.
- Doi, A.R,I. (1994). Shaei’ah: The Islamic Law. London: Ta Ha Publishers.
- Elshinawy, M. and Suleiman, O. (January13, 2017), ‘How the Prophet Muhammad Rose Above Enmity and Insult’ at https://yaqeeninstitute.org/mohammad-elshinawy/how-the-prophet-muhammad-rose-above-enmity-and-insult/ accessed on 18 April 2020.
- Islamic Foundation (1979). Dainandin Ziboney Islam (in Bangla) (Islam in Daily Life). Dhaka: Islamic Foundation.
- Khan, W., ‘Ramadan: The Month of Fasting’ at https://www.cpsglobal.org/content/ramadan-month-fasting-1 accessed on 18 April 2020.
- Rahim, M.A. (2020). Hadeeth Shareef (in Bangla). Dhaka: Khairun Publishers, vol. 2.
- Shafi, M. (1998), Ma’riful Qur’an, (New Delhi: Idara Isha’at-E-Diniyat (P) Ltd., 1998), vol. 1.