The holy month of Ramadan is coming to an end. Many travel home for Eid, to the villages and towns where they come from, or where other loved ones live. Others have taken leave from work before Eid, so that they can be free during the actual feast.

I am always impressed by how smoothly and dignified life goes on as usual during Ramadan. Yet, the holy month is not a usual month, it is a special month, and much of what takes place is special; the things related to fasting, Iftar meals and shopping, but also the prayers in mosques and at home, the quiet reflections, repentance and hope for living better lives, closer to God, and doing good in everyday life. The latter includes giving Zakat and helping the poor in other ways. In Pakistan, it is estimated that more than half of all Zakat is offered during Ramadan. It is an important way of helping the needy. However, charity cannot take the place of transfer from rich to poor through government systems; it can only add to it, and Zakat reminds people of the duty of giving, whether it is from abundance or limited assets. We all have something to give.

Ramadan is also a month of creating unity and joy, as Eid indeed is. We often forget to talk about the lighter sides of the holy month because we want to focus on the deeper religious aspects and purpose. But we must always remember that in everyday life there must be a balance between the serious and sacred, the religious and secular. We become better people if there is joy and happiness around us.

For all those who are interested in cricket, this year’s Ramadan had a fair amount of the lighter side of life since the International Cricket Council (ICC) Championship took place in England this month. I say that cricket is a light activity; many would say it is very serious. I can also see the importance of cricket, especially this year when Pakistan won the ICC Championships Trophy. Congratulations to the players, the fans, and the country!

On top of it, it was an extra nerve racking pleasure that the final was between Pakistan and India, and Pakistan winning so clearly. That was extra sweet – as it is for sportsmen and women in my home country Norway to beat neighbouring Sweden, especially in football. I should hasten to add, though, that although the Scandinavians like to be better than their neighbours, in sports, business and development generally – and have we had many serious conflicts in earlier centuries – the Scandinavians are today very close. I wish that could happen with other countries, too, indeed between India and Pakistan. The Scandinavians do well in this field; and recent history of the former Czechoslovakia can be an excellent example, too; the country went for a self-determined split into two states in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet, the two countries maintain very friendly relations. A few days ago, EU Ambassador to Pakistan, Jean-Francois Cautain said: “Reconciliation and friendship between former long-standing enemy countries is possible.” Eventually, I too believe that India and Pakistan will rich there, and Afghanistan, too. It will benefit all.

But I don’t want to leave the happiness that came out of the cricket event just yet. I said it was actually important to Pakistan – although it was just winning a sports game. But then sports, too, can help in creating some happiness and joy for the sportspeople, fans and country (until next match and tournament). It may be important in creating optimism and hope, and even some positive pride, all of which important for us in our lives and when we struggle and strive to do better and achieve more – in more serious and important fields than sports.

I believe that in Pakistan, people need to feel happier about themselves, not always listen to foreign media reports about all that is wrong. Local politicians, in position or opposition, also need to ration criticism so that it doesn’t lead to pessimism, and upper class people, rich businessmen who want to earn more and quicker, also need to think positively, and ordinary, young people, with or without university degrees looking for jobs, and finding them, should be thankful for what they have, not only what they do not have. During Ramadan, we should reflect on these aspects so that we can build better from what we actually already have. True, we should also point out wrongs and injustices in society.

After the terrible fire in the London high rise apartment block of Grenfell Tower last week, the head of the minority Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, made remarks to this effect in an interview on BBC World. He wanted people to be angry and point out faults, but he did not want people to show hate and contribute to divide. Instead he said people should build back better in positive ways. It may be a tall order, but we also know it is the right thing to do. There were many Muslims living in the building that burnt, and several have said the same in interviews. Since the fire began at midnight, many Muslims were up preparing for Sehri before dawn when the day’s fast would begin. They realised that the fire was outrageous, hurriedly knocking on doors, waking up neighbours and saving lives.

Needless to say, there was no colour of creed, no difference on religious affiliation or faith; everyone was concerned about relatives, friends and neighbours. Testimonies on TV showed that we are all the same, immigrant or local. Well, in this case, maybe except for the obvious class differences; most of the residents in the block were lower class people, including immigrants, while the authorities and owners of the block came to be seen as upper class, or authorities, not bothering about those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. There seems to have been many breeches in building rules, fire escape measures and much more. That might not have been allowed if the residents had been wealthy people, as most of the community otherwise consist of. Sadly, but unrelated, a few days after the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, a British terrorist rammed into Muslims gathered outside a mosque in the same area, killing one person and injuring many. This happened after the terrible fire, where I must say all should be proud of the statements and actions by everyone, indeed the Muslims and immigrants. Based on TV reports and some private contacts, it is evident that good people were indeed good to each other, and they cared about everyone in their community. They showed the true spirit of Ramadan – even without referring to it, as it came so natural to them.

I began my article today by saying a few things about what Ramadan is and why it is important. The holy month is a deeply religious month, but it is also a month when we should be joyful and celebrate the good and lighter things with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues – and we can certainly also be allowed to celebrate those great cricket scores!

I believe that if we feel good about ourselves, we become kinder and better human beings. In the midst of the tragic events in London recently, there were many people who showed greatness in the way they were helping and comforting others, and grieving with them. Many were Muslims, others were not. People’s true humanity and faith were universal and above denomination and association. May that spirit, that gift from God, be with the Londoners, Pakistanis and all of us, always. Dear reader, I wish you Eid Mubarak.


n             The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.