By Dr Wan Puspa Melati Wan Abdul Halim
Ramadan, as viewed by Muslims, is a holy and blessed month. Through fasting, Qur’an reading, and charitable activities, Ramadan provides the opportunity for Muslims to engage in ibadah, self-introspection, soul purification, and good deeds. Of course, these engagements can and should be carried out throughout the year, but the association of holiness to this month often serves as a reminder for individuals to start doing or do more.
Many would go the extra mile to try reaping the advantages and hope for the best rewards that await them in this life or hereafter. I have been asked this many times, especially among my non-Muslim friends, “Why are there more charities and activities with the orphans during Ramadan than other times?” Some were also perplexed about the choice of lavish breaking fast initiatives often organised with the orphans and the poor instead of other charitable activities.
For those who are not that familiar, Ramadan is a sacred month as it is the month that the Qur'an was first revealed (Qur’an 2:185) and the night of Al-Qadr is within this month (Qur’an, 2:183). Some hadiths highlight the reminder of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. on the reward of doing good deeds during Ramadan, including providing food for those who break fasts. One known hadith was narrated from Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Whoever gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will have a reward like theirs, without that detracting from their reward in the slightest.” In addition, there are numerous mentions about caring for the orphans and the rewards that have been promised both in the Qur’an and the hadiths.
Hence it is not surprising to observe the lavish breaking fast sessions with orphans during Ramadan, including giving away 'duit raya’ and beautiful clothing for their Eid celebration. May all the deeds and well intentions by the benevolent individuals indeed receive the highest reward.
As a Muslim clinical sociologist, Ramadan often gets me thinking about the charitable deeds that we strive to do. As much as we want to ‘give’ the best and hope that the beneficiaries enjoy them, to what extent do we put much thought into this gesture and its impact? Have we spent time learning what the beneficiaries need and want, or are we stuck in our superiority bubble thinking about what is good for them using our lens and standards?
I have encountered feedback from receiving institutions about the moral and social dilemma they at times faced amidst the well-intended charitable offers. Of course, they are thankful for the caring and generous individuals, but they mentioned the lack of discussion on what the recipients need and want. As a result, the recipients may experience exhaustion during the Ramadan and may have more than they need. For example, there are more offers for breaking fast and Qiamulail (prayers in the middle of the night) sessions than the institutions can slot in for, or more beautiful shoes and clothing than suitable events that they can wear them to.
The institutions, at times, do feel obliged to accept invitations and items as they do not want to deny anyone the opportunity to be rewarded well or for the recipients to receive what was intended for them. Some also feel that it is not their place to voice recommendations as though they are making ‘demands’ and taking advantage of the donors, as reflected in a local proverb, "diberi betis, minta peha.” But is this truly what we want for the recipients in our effort to do good?
Perhaps this Ramadan, we can start engaging in more meaningful and impactful initiatives. We can curate charitable initiatives by having a conversation with the chosen institution and, if possible, with the recipients to learn their needs and wants. We may also want to find other organisations that have not been widely selected as beneficiaries, allowing more widespread distribution of goodness throughout the nation.
Consideration can also be made for a 'less popular' group of beneficiaries, such as the senior citizens and the disabled communities, as they too would appreciate good deeds and initiatives. It is hoped that our initiatives will be more meaningful and rewarding for us and the beneficiaries with this realisation and conscious effort.
Dr Wan Puspa Melati Wan Abdul Halim is Senior Lecturer at School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Taylor’s University.