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The Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance, 1981 – Implementation vs. Practice September 29, 2006

Posted by Bolshevik in Socio-Political Crap.

The Ehteram-e-Ramadan (reverence of Fasting) Ordinance, issued in 1981, provided that complete sanctity be observed during Ramadan—eating, drinking and smoking were banned in public places during fasting hours, and cinema houses were to remain closed for three hours after the Maghrib (sunset) prayers. According to Section 3 of the Ordinance, a person liable to fast under Islamic principles was not to be found eating, drinking or smoking in “a public place.” Section 2 of the Ordinance defined “public places” as follows: hotels, restaurants, rooms, tents, streets, bridges, or any other places accessible to the general public.

We conducted a survey to gauge general awareness about this law, and the ensuing police proceedings.

“I was caught smoking outside by a police-wala during Ramadan two years ago,” Faheem Haqqani, an alumnus of the University of Karachi, said. “He (the policeman) asked for a cigarette in return for not booking me. I gave him one, and we all lived happily ever after.”

Similar sentiments were shared by others interviewed, and no one that we know has ever been booked for eating, drinking or smoking in public places during Ramadan.

“Share whatever you’re eating or drinking with them (the policemen), and they’ll let you go,” said Sharmeen, a copyrighter at a local advertising agency.

It’s a good thing, though, that our law enforcement agencies are generally lax about the matter. Official punishments include prison sentences that may range from anything between seven days to a month, along with fines that may vary according to the whim of the magistrate trying the case.

Despite this leniency, however, police stations officially report booking a number of cases wherein people have been caught eating, drinking or smoking in public places during fasting hours every year.

“We booked around five people last Ramadan under this act,” a hawaldaar at a local police station admitted after much cajoling. “But no one has been brought in yet this year.” When asked about the reason why no one had been booked yet, he replied, “People have probably become better Muslims now.” Right!

Under Article 31 of the constitution of the Republic of Pakistan 1973, it is the responsibility of the state to take steps for the observance of Islamic moral standards in the country. Interpretations of this Article resulted in the so-called “Islamization” of the country during General Ziaul Haq’s regime.

By 1986 the Shariah Court had found portions of 55 federal laws (out of 512 examined) and 212 provincial laws (out of 999 examined) to be contrary to the Shari’ah. These were mostly family and fiscal laws, but also included a whole range of constitutional, criminal and civil laws. In 1979 a number of Hudood Ordinances were put into effect. This was followed by legislation concerning the Islamic punishment of whipping, the payment by Muslims of Zakah (compulsory alms) and ‘Ushr (tithes), and the enforcement of the Ramadan fast.

 Our survey, however, raised questions about the importance of the Ehteram-e-Ramadan Ordinance of 1981: How strictly is it enforced? Is it actually accomplishing the initial goal of “maintaining the sanctity of Ramadan,” or has this law too, like so many others, become a victim of the “thaana culture” and degenerated into a means of earning-on-the-side for corrupt elements?