(File pix) The aim of fasting is to achieve ‘taqwa’ (piety) and to control the ‘nafs’ (self) by breaking one’s desires. Pix by Mohamad Yatim Latip

IT is that time of year again, the time when practising Muslims fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam, which is to fast during Ramadan.

While it all sounds rather enlightening, and it is, Ramadan in Malaysia can certainly turn into a month of overindulgence.

Ramadan sales, early Hari Raya promotions, mouthwatering buffets — need I say more?

Over the years, I have formed a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the holy month.

When I was younger, and to be quite frank, rather ignorant of the spiritual dimensions of Islam, fasting was just something I did like praying five times a day.

I did not question it much, nor was I even aware that the purpose of fasting went far beyond empathising with those who were less fortunate.

Whenever you ask Muslims on why they fast, it is common for them to say that it is to know how the poor feels.

Feeling an increase in compassion is certainly one of the positive changes one feels when mindfully observing the fasting month. To me, the biggest lesson I have learnt from past Ramadan is mindfulness.

One of the aims of fasting is to achieve taqwa (piety) and to control the nafs (self) by breaking one’s desires. You are only able to achieve this by being conscious of your thoughts as your thoughts influence your actions.

If you can control your most basic desire, which is to eat, not to mention the tendency to overeat, you can certainly learn to curb other unhealthy habits and start forming better ones.

The act of fasting itself is not limited to abstinence from food and water during daytime.

Fasting extends to all aspects of one’s life. It is to abstain from unhealthy, excessive habits that not only have an effect on one’s physical and spiritual self, but may also harm the people around us and the environment that we live in.

If there is ever a perfect time for a Muslim to reflect on all the choices they make everyday, Ramadan would be it.

It is the perfect month for you to start paying less attention to heedless and vulgar speech, abstain from spending excessively on unnecessary items, and avoid wasting time on activities that are not beneficial.

If you are spending an unreasonable amount of money on clothes, take this time to re-evaluate your expenditure. How can you use the money that you earn to enrich someone else’s life instead of your own?

Ramadan provides me with the right conditions to be aware of all my excessive and wasteful practices that I often tend to overlook. You may not realise it, but overindulgence has become second nature to most of us.

We are repetitively conditioned to believe that we need more things to be happy.

Get the latest phone, handbag, lipstick and blouse, and you can smile as widely as the gorgeous lady in that advertisement.

We learn this whenever we pick up a fashion magazine, switch on the television or even as we nonchalantly scroll through the countless photos subtly endorsed by our favourite social media influencers.

Just like many other special occasions, Ramadan is heavily-capitalised. What’s more, an impending Hari Raya makes people go overboard in their cookie orders, buka puasa feasts and new outfits, losing sight of the spiritual aspects of Ramadan.

I have come up with a few easy suggestions on the little things you can do to be mindful of during the holy month, and cut down on surplus consumption.

Avoid food wastage

If you can, stay clear from hotel buffets. There is no point in fasting all day if you plan to overindulge upon breaking fast. Not only that, Ramadan buffets produce 270,000 tonnes of wasted food every year in Kuala Lumpur. So, unless you are planning to pack your three-course-meals and distribute them to the needy, it is best to avoid them.

If you have friends or relatives who are struggling to make ends meet, offer them a seat at your dining table. Many of us have more food than we can eat.

Help the orphans

I know Malaysians are generous and I have been informed by the staff in several orphanages that they get non-stop iftar invitations to the point that the children are stuffed every night.

A better and more lasting way to help orphans is to donate money to the orphanages or sponsor items they need, such as new mattresses and pillows.

However, I do suggest contacting the orphanages before purchasing any items.

Charitable causes

The less fortunate aren’t limited to orphans. There are many non-governmental organisations that are in need of your funds to sustain their good work.

You can choose to help improve the welfare of refugees, struggling single mothers, cancer patients or even the homeless — the possibilities are endless.

Saving the environment

Littering and excess use of plastic and styrofoam boxes are common at Ramadan bazaars, so when you are buying your kuih-muih, bring along your own food containers.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Ramadan full of blessings. May this month bring about great self-improvement and self-discovery.

RAJA SARINA ISKANDAR is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millenial trying to make a difference, starting with herself.

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