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     Volume 8 Issue 85 | September 4, 2009 |

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One Off

Ruminating on Sermons

Aly Zaker

I was in my village home on the night of this Shab-e-Barat. This is a very important night for the Muslims of this sub-continent. I was once told by an Arab friend that there was no such thing as Lailatul Barat in any part of the Arab world. What is Shab-e-Barat in Persian is Lailatul Barat in Arabic. Well I have not been to many Arab countries so I could not check on the validity of my friend's statement.

Whether Shab-e-Barat is or is not a done thing in Arabia is immaterial to me. For as far back as my memory would travel I have known about this auspicious night observed all over in my own country. On this night people pray, some times through the night, visit the graves of the members of the family and serve sweets to the friends and relatives. It is said that on this auspicious night God listens to you and grants your wishes for both material and spiritual desires. Usually special prayers are held in the mosques and milads are held in mosques and houses.

In my village on this night this year I was sitting in my open veranda listening to the waaz or religious sermons given by the maulanas from various mosques. Sometimes the words came to me loud and clear, some times they became muffled because of the distance. Most of what was said is what we usually hear in any religious congregation. They speak about this life being inconsequential, the need to prepare yourself for the life here after, the harsh punishments that would be meted out to you for the sins you have committed by not being a performing Muslim in this world. They also talk about the beheshth or the heaven of which there are various kinds, the ultimate in terms of luxury there, the abundance of food and drinks, the things that you have always wished you had but could never have. They speak about salat, zakqat, hajj and roja as the compulsory deeds for every Muslim. And in each of these they add their own little spice. This improvisation depends on the kind of audience they are invited to address. They try and bring the sermons to as close a proximity to comprehension by common people as possible. Therefore, a lot of anecdotes are added copiously to make their lectures spellbinding. So, I was listening to these sermons coming from various directions, thanks to the invention of the loud speaker. All on a sudden, it dawned on me that I have always been hearing the same sermons from the same group of people for years on end. I don't think the poor and simple people of our country have become lesser Muslims lately. Nor have their faith in Allah receded a wee bit over the period of time. What they are intrigued about and what they would long to get from these religious leaders is a sense of direction in these days of increasing restlessness fraught with danger. Our people, and I am not including the urbanite and well off “us” in this, know very well or at least are in a position to guess who are behind the misdemeanours that have made our society unliveable. Why don't the <>maulanas<> speak up?

Now is the month of Ramadan. A lot of heat is being generated about the prices of food items. The prices have indeed gone up manifold. A huge crowd can be seen running around frantically just before the iftar to buy there favourite fare. Some are running after jilapies, yet others are running for halim. The makeshift shops are doing brisk business. We are still far from being satisfied. The lord or the lady of the house is thinking, 'how could I have missed out the Kebab from my list for Iftar marketing, and the Butter Nan? The shopkeeper is thinking, goodness me I have run out of my whole stock half an hour before the iftar. So the roja shopping spree is on. And the prices go on a steep climb. It is said by religious leaders that this is the month of practising frugality short of abstinence from physical indulgences. This is the month of restraint of concerted meditation. If that be so why such lavishness with food? We should indeed use discretion with our everyday consumption. Instead of that we consume double if not triple the daily consumption of a normal day in the month of Ramadan. The people in this business are not bothered. The more they sell the better. They want all shops should be open all night during this month. Our sermons do not include the practise of restraint in them. The business goes on unabated.

Every society has a set of rules, values and ideals. We have grown up with these values. These were told to us by our parents, they, by their parents, and so on. These, in some cases, have been watered down to conform to the demand of time. Our religious beliefs and these values have never been conflict with each other. In fact, our religion has contributed to these ideals phenomenally and has made these obligatory for us as believers. These are as simple and mundane as, not telling lies, not stealing, not intimidating others' societal rights, not usurping others' properties, not taking recourse to corruption, not hurting people's sentiment etc. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that “breaking some one's heart is tantamount to destroying a mosque”.

The lists I have mentioned here contain only a few that comes readily to my mind. Recording them all could convert this column in to a lexicon of values. Pray, why don't we hear such indispensable and religiously fundamental values included in the sermons of many of our present day religious leaders any more? They have the microphones in their hands. A crowd of people willing to listen to what ever they are told. Then why do they refrain from speaking on the most crucial things that are tearing our society apart, materially and morally?

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