Muslims all over the world are marking the beginning of the holy month of Ramzan. It's a month not only of fasting, but also introspection.
The interpretation of Ramzan's philosophy varies between individuals. However, most will agree it's a time to reflect about the conditions of those less fortunate and to be on one's best behaviour (so that hopefully better behaviour sticks for the rest of the year).
Zakat, another one of the five compulsory pillars of Islam, is typically paid on the first day of Ramzan. Simply put, zakat is a form of alms paid annually by Muslims amounting of 2.5% of an individual's net assets. (The place of zakat in modern societies which use taxation to redistribute wealth among citizens is a subject for another post.)
Ramzan is also the time when most predominantly Muslim societies 'slow down,' often courtesy of sympathetic legislation. Entire populations become nocturnal species for this one month!
Restaurants open around Iftar (sunset) time and don't close until the early morning hours. Shops, too, adjust timings to reflect the night time nature of their buyers. Courtesy of their respective central banks, financial institutions have reduced working hours – even those banks indulging in un-Islamic interest based banking enjoy shorter working hours!
Foreign businessmen with dealings with the Islamic world tend to 'write off' the month, similar to the Christmas season in most parts of the Western world. They try not to 'disturb' their Muslim clients during Ramzan.
In Singapore, where one is on the periphery of the Islamic world, the Ramzan spirit is available to those who seek it. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) redoubles its fund raising efforts; the Azan is heard in certain food courts at iftar time; and, as we get closer to Eid, Geylang will start to wear a more festive look.
Singaporean Muslims may be subject to Sharia intrusions into their private lives in inheritance and marriage matters. Thankfully, however, the incursions don't extend to mandatory fasting. Muslims who choose not to fast will be held accountable only in God's court – not the local branch of a Sharia court.
Ramzan mubarik to all my Muslim readers – fasters, feasters and half-Muslims included!