Many well-intentioned people, like Jacinda Arden wearing the hijab, often say ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. Unfortunately, like the hijab, the month of Ramadan is becoming a source of minority oppression and suffering. During Ramadan, many Muslim countries ban eating in public, shut down restaurants and some even lock public fountains. Yes, well-meaning Westerners might support the religious celebrations of others, but they obviously don’t know much about Ramadan. I am hoping I can change that.
In 2018, nearly 1500 people died in Pakistan during Ramadan. A “heat wave” was blamed, largely because no one dared attribute this immense, yet perfectly avoidable, human suffering to the “no-eating and drinking” practice enforced during this dreaded month. I do not have a lot to say to people who voluntarily refrain from drinking and eating due to their religious beliefs, other than how silly it seems to not eat normally for a month. However, I can’t help but wonder how many of those victims were “weak Muslims” who did not want to fast in the first place?
In Pakistan, there is a piece of law called the “Respect for Ramadan Ordinance”, which forbids people eating or drinking in public during Ramadan under the threat of heavy fines or even jail. You might be wondering, what about secretly drinking or eating? It is easier said than done. A lot of ex-Muslim students and office workers have told me how hard this actually is because there is always someone watching. The worst part is the threat of angry mobs. In 2016, a Hindu man was brutally beaten by an angry mob for eating during fasting hours. Yesterday, an armed mob entered a facility treating heatstroke victims and warned helpers not to give anyone water, and to “respect” Ramadan.
The most someone can do is:
1: Take the whole month off from study or work, then they only have to deal with disgruntled family members; or
2: Secretly smuggle a lunchbox into the bathroom, hoping that other people in the room can only smell obnoxious toilet smells and not biryani, or that their nose is blocked.
You can clearly see that both options are unreasonable and cause needless suffering, and that is just the white-collar workers. What about the blue-collar labourers who work in relentless heat while their boss, sitting in his air-conditioned car, watches over them? The 1500 victims in 2018 were mostly blue-collar workers who, because of peer pressure, were left with no choice but to fast.
This happened in Pakistan, which is principally democratic and a lot better than theocratic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran or even Dubai. In Dubai, Muslims and non-Muslims alike face fines of up to AED 2000 (AUD $777) or jail time for breaking the fast. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, you can receive physical punishments like lashings.
Yes, luckily these are the problems of third-world or theocratic countries, and they don’t happen in Western countries like Australia. You might think that I’m relieved that Australian Muslims don’t enforce these archaic ordinances. While I do believe that if Western Muslims could introduce this kind of law here, they would (look at the Sharia courts in England), as they can’t, I won’t go into it. The bigger problem is celebrating a terrible, archaic ritual, and the belief that celebrating and supporting Ramadan, like supporting the hijab, is a sign of solidarity.
If I told you that, every June, some tribe sacrificed their youngest child to their god, would you be appalled and reject that practice, no matter how integral it was to their belief system? If so, then why would you endorse Ramadan? Ramadan doesn’t seem that extreme, but the principle is the same, and we should draw a line at suffering. You wouldn’t say “Happy sacrifice day” to the tribe, because that would be endorsing child sacrifice. Following that thought, saying “Happy Ramadan” is basically saying “Happy making minorities suffer month”. Anything that shows even the slightest hint of human suffering and abuse should be avoided. We should respect people in that they can hold their beliefs, no matter how ridiculous they are, but why must we support them? Just like the hijab is a symbol of oppression for women, Ramadan has become a symbol of oppression for minorities. And while you might mean well, every time you wish someone “Happy Ramadan” you are spitting in the faces of religious minorities in these Muslim countries, and supporting government-enforced human rights abuse.