Soon, the holy month of Ramadan will come to an end, and Eid al-Fitr will be welcomed. Having observed the month-long fast and other religious activities, one might wonder how to measure their success. The answer lies in fulfilling the obligations of fasting for the entire month, except for those who are sick or unable to fast, and continuing with other mandatory worship, such as daily prayers, sunnah worship such as Tarawih, and paying zakat. This measure of success is based on the framework of fiqh, or the Islamic law. Adhering to all the obligations and striving to fulfill the suggested acts is the foundation of the religion, including fasting during the month of Ramadan.
However, this answer does not consider the social or muamalah aspect of fasting. Simply abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk does not make a fast complete or of good quality. The fast itself may be valid, not invalidated, but of very minimal quality, only passing a passing grade.
Verse 183 of Surah Al-Baqarah says, '...it is obligatory upon you all to fast, as it was obligatory upon those before you, so that you may become pious people'. The last sentence, 'to become a pious people' is the interpretation that can be very contextual. This interpretation of piety goes beyond the limitations of time and space.
Being pious means obeying all the commands of Allah and refraining from all prohibitions. In the social interpretation, fulfilling all religious obligations does not only involve ritualistic practices like prayer, fasting, and zakat, which are related to the individual's relationship with Allah. It also includes following orders that involve human relations or muamalah. Therefore, to become pious, Muslims must fulfill not only their basic worship but also their social worship or muamalah. This interpretation of social worship extends beyond the limitations of time and space.
Ramadan and social problems
Social worship or muamalah refers to the application of religious principles to various social activities concerning fellow human beings. In the context of law, religion mandates the promotion of justice and upholding of it. For instance, a judge presiding over a case must deliver a verdict that is accurate in accordance with the law, fair, and not influenced by dominant parties pressuring them.
Those responsible for drafting new laws must attentively listen to the desires of all stakeholders and be open to receiving feedback and criticism from various societal groups. The legislature members responsible for discussing and approving the draft laws must genuinely prioritize the desires and welfare of the people rather than being tempted by those seeking to exploit legal loopholes for their business interests alone.
Currently, we are witnessing signs of decreasing self-awareness, which results in contradictory news being circulated every day. This includes reports of celebrities and officials flaunting their wealth and luxurious lifestyles on social media, a mysterious financial scandal worth Rp. 349 trillion in a ministry, which was exposed by the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law, and Security, Mahfud MD, and the arrests of officials in the KPK's operation. These incidents all revolve around greed, breaking the law to accumulate wealth, and proudly showing it off to the public without feeling any discomfort, all of which are far from religious values.
However, at the same time, we are also exposed to news about suffering, such as the high number of children suffering from stunting, the continued prevalence of communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, and an increasing trend of catastrophic illnesses that drain the health insurance fund. Moreover, news about the wave of factory worker dismissals, rising unemployment rates, and insufficient medical facilities in certain areas also continue to plague the poor. These are the ongoing sufferings of the less fortunate.
Displaying wealth or involvement in financial scandals is rooted in greed and luxury, whereas the problem of stunted children is a result of poverty and hunger faced by less affluent families. It is highly likely that families with stunted children are those who cannot afford nutritious food. When the basic needs are not sufficiently met, fulfilling secondary needs like education and medical treatment for sickness also becomes a struggle. This is the true problem faced by many of our fellow citizens.
Every day, even during the blessed month of Ramadan, we see two contrasting phenomena. This is due to the innate nature of humans. When ethical and moral boundaries are transgressed and the community does not impose any sanctions, the transgressions become normalized and perpetuated. This perpetuation is part of a chain of moral atrocity.
This is not only our country's problem, but a worldwide one faced by many countries in Africa and Asia that are devastated by civil wars and rebellions for decades, giving rise to endless waves of refugees, with the risk of sinking many immigrant ships.
On the one hand, there is the global issues include the perpetual suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli apartheid, high numbers of TB and HIV/AIDS sufferers, the lack of progress in reducing world emissions due to the European-US war against Russia in Ukraine, famines in refugee camps, which are largely managed by the United Nations, the growing debt of poor countries due to the fiscal policies of rich countries, high food and energy prices, while on the other hand there is the ever-increasing wealth of weapons manufacturers benefiting from war. This is only a sample of the many human problems that exist. As Ramadan draws to a close, how should we contemplate this human crisis?
Ramadan and social change
All of this makes us ask: fasting and other acts of worship during Ramadan, when we exercise more self-restraint, control our passions, and contemplate in silence praying to God, do they have an impact on improving various human problems as mentioned above?
After a month of trying to control our passions in Ramadan, can we change to become better human beings? This is where the essence of Ramadan is then questioned: to what extent can this Ramadan worship affect social change? Does our Ramadan worship succeed in resisting the temptation to violate ethics and laws?
The traditional problem with worship is that it is often performed as a mere ritual activity without delving into the mission or essence. It is undoubtedly a positive thing to fast during Ramadan as an obligation and perform supporting practices. However, it would be more perfect (kaffah) if Ramadan fasting could also bring about changes in behavior, moving from bad to better, from good to excellence, and so on, in accordance with the wise saying 'today must be better than yesterday and tomorrow must be better than today, so that it can be close to perfection.' This includes moving from unfair behavior to being more just, from self-centered egoism to being more compassionate towards the deprived surrounding community, and from planning corruption to cancelling such plans.
If all Indonesian Muslims fasted successfully and perfectly, it would certainly have an impact on improving the social conditions of the country. Corruption would decrease, the economy would improve, law enforcement officers would become more just, and ultimately, the people would be safer and more prosperous. Thus, Ramadan fasting can bring about better social change effects, benefitting and bringing goodness to all people.
If we follow this path, we will end Ramadan by expressing our thankfullness to Allah and longing for the next one. We will happily welcome Eid al-Fitr because we are confident and optimistic that we can move towards a more positive direction, both individually and socially.
We can humbly ask for forgiveness for our own errors and be willing to pardon others with sincerity. This is our aspiration, may Allah acknowledge our devotion during Ramadan and grant us his blessings as we receive Eid al-Fitr with gratitude, Alhamdulillah.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, walillahilhamd.
Nephrologist, Professor at Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Airlangga
Chairman of Health Department, Indonesian Council of Ulama, East Java
“Berkah Idul Fitri dan Perubahan Sosial”
Media Indonesia, 17 April 2023