[Interview with Jamilah Samian by Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal of The New Straits Times. The article below appeared in print and online on 29 June 2014. Find the link here ]
There’s no better time to nourish the soul and tighten relationships than during Ramadan, writes Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal.
I GUESS I’m fairly lucky. Despite the advent of technology and everyone in the family having a rather “full” daily life, my husband and I, and our three children still have time to sit down together for most meals, to engage in meaningful and productive conversation and activities, and to chuckle over bad TV, most nights. Unlike some of my friends’ children, my children (or husband) don’t seem to feel the need to be glued to their gadgets and connected 24/7 to the virtual world.
But there are families out there who aren’t so lucky. A good friend of mine is constantly sighing that she never has enough time in the day to bond with her growing children, let alone indulge in meaningful activities. Her working hours are erratic, as too her husband’s. But whenever the opportunity does arise, the children, she laments, seem to find greater solace in their iPads or PC games. Much to her chagrin. This Ramadan, she has vowed to work on nourishing and tightening the family bond — no matter how challenging it might be.
Most of us live generally harassed lives. Parents work hard so that the family can have a comfortable life. The children, meanwhile, have to contend with their own respective stresses — of school, friendships, responsibilities and so on. The advent of technology, most complain, has not seemed to help matters. Suffice to say, the family bond doesn’t seem to be as tight as it used to be in the past. And with less time to spend with each other, there’s also little opportunity to take some time out and engage in activities and actions that help towards nourishing the soul.
“We all seek meaning in our lives, whether we realise it or not,” says parenting expert and author, Jamilah Samian. “We want to feel and believe that what we do is contributing something to humanity. It’s a noble intention but in the process of achieving what we seek, sometimes it becomes something else. We get side-tracked by lots of things.”
Technology, adds the soft-spoken mother-of-six, is supposed to make us all more effective — personally and professionally. “It’s supposed to help us complete work on time, if not earlier, thus creating more time for ourselves and therefore, time for family. But along with the advent of technology, expectations have risen.”
Employers, she points out, now expect their staff to be contactable or available all day. Meanwhile, the Internet, online games, social chatrooms, Facebook and the likes, beckon and tempt us to “get connected” to our bosses, colleagues, friends as well as the outside world.
But it is possible to not let technology rule our lives, says Jamilah, adding: “I know people who use technology to their advantage. They’re no less connected to the outside world but they don’t allow it to control their lives. To achieve this, you need clarity in how you run your life every day and what you’re trying to achieve.”
With Ramadan, comes the inevitable slowing down of life, as we know it. The work schedule is less hectic and many Muslims use the opportunity to return home in time for the breaking of fast together with the family and friends. Doesn’t this make the holy month a great time to rekindle relationships and strive towards focusing on the more productive and nourishing things in life?
“We need a clear idea of what Ramadan is about so we can focus on the right things,” says Jamilah, emphatically. “This month isn’t just about staying away from food, drink or sexual relations. It’s actually about changing for the better in two areas — knowledge and action.”
As parents, we need to ensure that our children get the right vibes of what this holy month is all about, she stresses. “Do we associate it with tiredness and unproductivity? Overeating or overspending on food? Endless shop-till-we-drop-so-we-have-looks that could kill for Raya? Or do we link it with compassion, humility, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, extra effort to connect with our Creator as well as reading, reflecting and understanding the Quran better?”
There are a lot of things that the family can undertake together during Ramadan that will go a long way towards nourishing the soul. Some people volunteer themselves to do “street dakwah”, points out Jamilah. “They give away free food and drinks to people they meet at road intersections, toll booths, bus terminals and stations.”
Jamilah’s own family is working on a Ramadan Free Gift Pack, which comes with some basic information about Ramadan.
Confides the affable motivator, eyes lighting up under her glasses: “It’s a small effort but something we really want to do. I’ve prepared the text in English and Malay. A friend has translated it into Korean and hopefully I can get it translated into Mandarin.”
Her neighbourhood surau, meanwhile, will be inviting non-Muslims to join the Muslims for the breaking of fast. “There are giant banners placed around the compound to welcome passers-by, no matter what religion you are.”
There are so many ideas you can follow through within your family and community to make the month of Ramadan a more productive, meaningful and exciting period in the year, believes Jamilah. “Give yourself the licence to do something positively, differently. Look around you and see how you can translate the values you want to get into, together with your family. It doesn’t have to be big.
“We live in a multiracial, multi-ethnic society and I see a huge need for better relations between everyone.”
There are plenty of lessons from this holy month that the family as a whole can tap into. “What kind of experiences do you want your family to remember?” asks Jamilah. “Ramadan is super short. Before you know it, it’s over. Grab the opportunity to do as much good as you can before it’s gone. Part of your legacy as a parent is the moments you spent with your family during Ramadan.