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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Living Surah Al Fatihah During This Ramadan

 Living Surah Al Fatihah During This Ramadan


M. Bakri Musa


[Excerpts from my memoir, Cast From The Herd, will resume after Ramadan]


First of Eight Parts:  Beyond Fasting


As Muslims begin our Ramadan this Saturday April 2, 2022, let us, as my Imam Ilyas reminded our congregation last Friday, be thankful that we can fast while remembering those who cannot. Ramadan is not Allah’s torture test upon Muslims. So let us garner the maximal benefits beyond merely enduring our hunger pangs.


Ramadan goes beyond fasting. It is a season to be generous and forbearing of others.


As for generosity, it is said that the Gates to Heaven would remain open during Ramadan. Allah in His Generosity first revealed the Qur’an over 14 centuries ago during Ramadan to Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him) to guide us. Muslims give zakat (tithe) during this month. Communal “breaking of the fast” (iftar) with friends, neighbors, and colleagues is a treasured tradition.


Those notwithstanding, I have yet to see Muslim nations grant clemency to their citizens during Ramadan. A few weeks before this Ramadan, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and center of the faith, executed 81 prisoners. Little generosity there, and what a way to welcome this blessed month. For that matter, no Muslim country has any formal pardon and amnesty program during Ramadan.


As for zakat, the generosity component aside, that implies wealth creation. You have to have wealth in order to give zakat. Islam is spared the theology of ennobling poverty, as with the biblical “The poor shall inherit the earth,” or the eastern practice of sending monks to beg in the streets.


Yet the seeking of wealth is denigrated by Muslims today. That reflects the extent to which our faith has been debased, comparable to the Saudis executing their citizens on the eve of Ramadan. 


Far more important but less acknowledged is that we should be generous of our time and talent. Early in my career I was called to the Emergency Room (ER) deep in the night during one Ramadan. Having your sleep interrupted, especially after a day of fasting, has a way of putting you in a foul mood, more so if you expect the case to be what we private physicians politely refer to as “uncompensated care.” I must have made quite a ruckus in preparing to leave for the hospital, enough to wake up my wife. Upon finding out the cause of my frustration, she got up to hug me.


“Bakri, this is Ramadan!” she soothed me. “A blessed month,” she continued, “a time to be generous!”


Those words calmed me. From then on, I learned to take my ER calls in stride, treating them as my commitment and contribution to my adopted community that had been so generous to me and my family. 


            We may not always be able to be generous with our time, talent, or wealth, but we can be more accepting and tolerant of the faults and failings of others, as well as of our own. Often that is the most precious and meaningful. I remember how tolerant my parents were during Ramadan. While red marks on school assignments ordinarily triggered blistering lectures on the importance of being diligent, during Ramadan I would instead get a comforting “try harder and do your best!” Likewise with our Ramadan iftars; those would be extra special.


Fasting in its infinite variations is practiced in many faiths. Today it is embraced by health enthusiasts. Together with caloric reduction and ketogenic diets (high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate), fasting is drawing greater medical attention for its many health benefits. “We are what we eat!” is just as crucial as “When we eat.” Fasting in itself is not a novelty for our body; we do it when we sleep. The added element to Ramadan is the associated disruption of our diurnal rhythm. 


Shift workers have similar altered diurnal rhythm and they also do not eat during daylight hours because they have to sleep. They however, experience significant adverse health consequences as with depression and high blood pressure. What gives? 


            Studies show that ketone bodies play a major role in the brain (and elsewhere) beyond being an alternate source of metabolic fuel. Ketogenic diet was once the mainstay to reduce children’s seizures. Ketones affect the excitability of brain cells as well as the levels of certain neurotransmitters. Hence the calmness of marathon runners and the heightened spirituality among Muslims during Ramadan. Ramadan, and day-time fasting generally, induces nutritional ketosis, but only if we were to continue engaging in our normal daytime activities.


            The Qur’an looks with great disfavor (makruf) upon those who “sleep off their fast” and then overindulge gastronomically at nighttime. Then we would be no different, metabolic-wise, than shift workers and suffer the associated adverse health consequences. Instead, we are to maintain our regular day activities and enhance our charitable deeds during Ramadan. I find the common practice in Muslim countries of curtailed official and business hours a perversity, and against the spirit of Ramadan. We should be expanding our hours to accommodate our customers as now we would have no need for lunch breaks. That is one way to be generous with our time and services.


            There are hosts of other issues with fasting, such as the optimal pattern, its effects on the young and adolescents, and impact on productivity. Muslim societies provide the ideal “experiments of nature” for answering these and other queries. It is again a perversity that much of the current health insights on fasting emanates from the West.


            To me, Ramadan is more this spirit of generosity and forgiveness, less the health and other consequences. The latter benefits only the person; the former, society. May this Ramadan heighten our spirit of giving, and may we be generous not only to others but also to ourselves.


Next:  Second of Eight Parts :  Exploring Surah Al Fatihah



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