The Ehtaram-e-Ramazan Ordinance has become really controversial, of late, with many criticizing the way its implementation is being carried out. They say it disrespects the essence of tolerance and mutual respect that the month of Ramazan preaches anyway. So we’re trying to decipher what really is so controversial about this legislation.
While it has become controversial fairly recently, the Ehtaram-e-Ramazan Ordinance was first adopted in 1981. The ordinance was adopted on June 25, 1981.
The preamble of the ordinance says:
“In view of the tenets of Islam, it is necessary to provide for measures to observe the sanctity of the month of Ramazan.”
In a country which declared itself an Islamic Republic, wanting to retain the essence of Ramazan is not a crime. However it is a bit confusing as to what version of faith these tenets are based upon. There is no denying that Pakistan is home to different sects and each holds varying beliefs and practices. There is no guideline on which sect will be followed. This makes the implementation of the law extremely difficult.
The essence of the month is more than just not eating and drinking in the public and extends more to how you are as a person
But if our authorities choose to have a narrow scope of reference and do not have the “time” to make amends, let’s give them the benefit of doubt that this is the best that the brilliant policymakers can come up with.
At the same time, one might point out that the ordinance just assumes that the entire country is Muslim and wants to implement their beliefs. This goes against the belief of accommodating the minorities in the country and forcing them to observe rules that don’t fall in line with their belief system. It is one thing to respect the sentiments of Muslims during the month, but it is another to force them to abide by the same rules and regulations.
Another factor to notice here is that religion and its abidance is a personal choice. So forcing Muslims to fast is essentially not the go to option.
The ordinance prohibits the following people from eating
“No person who, according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast shall eat, drink or smoke in a public place during fasting hours in the month of Ramazan.”
According to this clause, it is only permissible to eat in a public space if you are not obligated to fast according to the religion of Islam. This means that all individuals who, out of genuine reasons, cannot fast can eat in the public if required.
This means that the following incidents should not be taking place
It is still a little unclear as to who is going to enforce these rules and who is going to decide whether or not a person is obligated to fast. These rules cannot be applied countrywide without the formation of a force dedicated especially to the cause, but then again which teachings do they follow?
Food cannot be served to the following people in public places
“No proprietor, manager, servant, or other person in charge of a hotel, restaurant or canteen, or other public place, shall knowingly and willfully offers or serve or cause to be offered or served any eatable during fasting hours in the month of Ramazan to any person who, according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast.”
This means that restaurants and other public places do not have to shut down during the hours of the fast. They can remain open for people who, according to the tenets of Islam, are not obliged to fast. One can contemplate why restaurants remain closed and it’s probably the fear of the mob mentality in Pakistan. This then affects their businesses as well because they cannot serve people who are not fasting.
Here is what the ordinance says about cinema houses and theatres
“All cinema-houses, theatres and similar other establishments or institutions shall remain closed during the month of Ramazan from the time of sunset to the expiration of three hours thereafter.”
This means that cinema houses and theatres can remain open during the day and three hours after iftari.
The ordinance also offers exemptions to these rules
The rules mentioned above do not apply to
- A canteen or kitchen maintained in a hospital for serving food to patient
- A restaurant, or canteen, stall or wheel-barrow, or the holder of vending contract, within the premises of a railway station or in a train or a restaurant or canteen within the premises of an airport, seaport, or bus stand or in an aircraft
- A kitchen or dining-car of a train
- A kitchen or canteen meant for children within the premises of a primary school
Recently, an amendment was made in the ordinance
Senator Tanveer Khan introduced an amendment bill in the Senate on January 16, 2017. It was unanimously adopted under which monetary penalty has been hiked from Rs500 to Rs25000 for hotel owners who would violate Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance, 1981.
Under the amended bill, anyone who will eat openly in public places during Ramzan hours would be imprisoned for three-months and pay a fine of Rs500.
Likewise, media outlets or cinema houses will pay a minimum fine of Rs500,000 upon violation of law.
The biggest problem regarding this ordinance is its implementation, which is next to impossible
The wording of the ordinance is such that it creates uncertainties. For instance, who gets to define the tenets of Islam and according to which sect? Why is the state assuming that the entire nation is constituted of Muslims? Despite the fact that restaurants and public spaces are ordered to remain open to serve those who are not fasting, the case is the opposite. Why has no one ever bothered to change that? Why is the mob mentality allowed to prevail?
This goes to show the lack of understanding people have of the laws of the country and the lack of interest of the authorities to get them to implement these laws in their right sense. At this point, the law only accommodates the extremists who are seeking a reason to attack someone and ridicule them for their belief and treat them as subhuman for not holding the same religious beliefs as theirs.