This year, Ramadan falls at the height of summer in some parts of the world.
Due to the longer days, fasting Muslims in the West refrain from eating and drinking for up to 19 hours a day, about six hours more than the duration of the fast in Malaysia.
We are right to think that we are blessed with a somewhat uniformed weather pattern throughout the year.
But in the sight of God, it does not matter whether you fast 13 or 20 hours, for it is not He who benefits from your fast or your prayer or any of the other pious rituals you perform.
What matters is whether an act is powered by faith. Indeed, the Quran curses those who make a show of their rituals. “So woe to the worshippers; who are neglectful of their prayers; those who (want but) to be seen (of men); but refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.” (107:4-7).
How many in Malaysia, with all its laws to control Muslims, actually perform their religious rituals out of faith? Do you wear hijab because your colleagues do? Do you make your little school going child wear hijab because she stands to gain some marks for her Islamic Studies by showing up in Islamic dress? Do you fast out of fear of the authorities?
There is a greater chance that Muslims in the West and in other secular countries, where control of their faith is absent, are actually performing their Islamic obligations out of faith. M Bakri Musa, the US-based analyst of Malaysian politics, made that observation in a 2013 address to a Muslim gathering in Morgan Hill, California.
Bakri spoke of how far Muslims in Malaysia had deviated from a faith-based Islam to one that has all the elements that the Quran condemns in the verses cited above.
“In Malaysia, the moral squads are out in full force during Ramadan,” he said. “If you are caught not fasting, you will be paraded around town in a hearse, quite apart from being fined, jailed or even whipped.
“Never mind that you may be a diabetic or had just stepped off a trans-Pacific flight. This cruel punitive streak, alas far too common, is the antithesis of the Ramadan spirit.
“Malaysians must fast; it is the law and not as it should be, a matter of faith and personal conviction. Consequently, the spiritual value is often missed, or worse, corrupted, as manifested by culinary extravaganzas and ostentatious piety.
“Malaysians simply rearrange their gluttony from daytime to night time. Ramadan’s spirit of restraint is conspicuous by its absence, and its replacement with exuberant excesses.
“Fasting in America poses its own challenges. Your co-workers having their usual lunches and the ubiquitous tantalizing food commercials aside, there is the matter of the seasons.
“When in Canada and Ramadan was in midsummer (nearly 24 hours of daylight), I wrote to my father of my theological dilemma. He gently reminded me that fasting is not Allah’s torture test and that if it is too stressful then I should follow Malaysian time. My late father grasped intuitively the essence of Ramadan. May Allah bless his soul for that wise and practical counsel.
“Obsessed with the rituals, Malaysians have reduced fasting to a series of acts to accumulate religious Brownie points. Fasting is more than a ritual; it is a process.
“As important as fasting is, the greater import is where it would take us. It should take us to heightened faith and greater compassion. It should take us deeper into the revelation of the Quran, for it was during this holy month that our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., first received his revelation from Allah.
“Fasting is good not because the Quran says so; rather, fasting is good and that is why the Quran exhorts us to observe Ramadan.”