The school called Ramadan

Like a school where students are enrolled to form a community and learn, based on a given curriculum for a period of time, the month of Ramadan, which started last Monday, has important lessons for individuals and the society at large. Generally known as the month of fasting in which two billion Muslims across the world are engaged in devotion, reflection and spiritual renewal, the significance of fasting cannot be over-emphasised as a course with its credits and a tree with its fruit.

The school system is characterised by duration as every programme has its time frame. There are programmes for three years, four years, five years or more. Schooling is not  forever; likewise, Ramadan is for a period of 30 or 29 days. Within this period, the entire curriculum or the academic content taught in a school or in a particular course or the programme, is covered.

Just as a school typically has a curriculum that guides students’ learning, the curriculum of Ramadan is the Glorious Qur’an that is often read, studied and reflected on. Given that the Qur’an was revealed in the month of Ramadan, it is the responsibility of a fasting Muslim to be at peace with the Qur’an and ensure it is read and digested as many times as possible. Fasting without being guided and inspired by the Qur’an is like attending school and being taught without a curriculum, syllabus or scheme of work.

Meanwhile, as there is no schooling without having teachers, there is no fasting without learning from scholars. These are experts who understand the rudiments of the Qur’an specifically and Islam in general. They devote considerable time to explaining Islamic teachings and Qur’anic values through lectures, sermons and programmes. While it is good to know the curriculum, it is also important to appreciate that without good teachers, education is in peril. Ramadan is never complete without Imams, scholars and teachers, including exegetes, playing their roles in guiding, enlightening and educating those fasting on their obligations and prohibitions.

Also,  just as students have to follow a certain routine and schedule regarding periods, lessons, breaks, and gatherings, fasting goes with the regimen of eating, praying, breaking fast and observing obligatory and supererogatory prayers at specific periods of day and night. There is a sense of routine and togetherness as many things are done in unison.

Besides, discipline is critical in any school as there must be strict obedience to rules and regulations. In this regard, Ramadan instills discipline in those who are fasting because there are many do’s and don’ts failing at which one’s fasting becomes null and void. Therefore, lying, slandering, backbiting, snitching and fighting, which are generally undesirable are expressly disapproved of during fasting. With self-control or discipline comes focus, the essence of fasting, which is consciousness of God.     

In the metaphor of Ramadan being a school, perhaps the most compelling similarity is the lessons. Every day, new lessons are learnt or relearnt in a typical school. The lessons of Ramadan lie in piety, humility, discipline, obedience, contentment, unity, brotherhood, patience and goodness. These lessons are ends in themselves and are also means to an end.   As ends in themselves, they are qualities that make one’s fasting acceptable and for the Ramadan period to be a truly blessed one.

As means to an end, the lessons of Ramadan are to define character and shape attitudes towards others. When the month is over, these lessons should continue to shape everyday life because Ramadan as a school means that it is a training period. The benefit of the training is for the entire year  and one does not go for a training and forget the skills one acquired on leaving the camp. If one trains for six years to be a medical doctor, the training is meant to serve one throughout life as a medical doctor. So the lessons of Ramadan have to gain more resonance when the fasting period is over. 

The goal of every student in school is to attain success and the aim of every fasting Muslim is to attain the pleasure of Allah. The way to success is to be diligent in maximising the gains of Ramadan and allow its spirit to guide individuals and sustain the society.