This post introduces an campaign template for promoting spirituality and poverty alleviation through controlled consumption. There is quite a number of Muslim jargon so a Muslim is more likely to understand the side comments, but all are likely to get the gist.
Shortcomings of Ramadan
Ramadan is auspicious in holy texts, books and even the media does not shy from romanticizing about Ramadan. But the Ramadan we know is the limping, stern, strict, rule-ridden, inspirer of mechanistic and unsustainable “good deeds”. This is the Ramadan we create and cultivate for posterity. This Ramadan is severely deficient of spirituality.
A typical fast day is simply a day where a Muslim perhaps wakes up early for Suhur, perhaps prays Fajr prayer on time unlike most days, does not eat during the day, nor have sex, and FORCES themselves to read a few pages of the Qur’an, or goes to a mosque to listen to Tafseer, perhaps prepares a lot of food to be given out at a nearby mosque for Sadaqah during Iftar… and at night eats food with a vengeance, which is regretted during Taraweeh or Tahajjud prayers. The “smart” Muslims who do Taraweeh prayers eat light before Taraweeh, then more after Taraweeh. This is the typical fasting day, where being “smart” puts you ahead in the race for Ajar (heavenly rewards).
It could be argued that a pet can be made to fast. How? Simply follow the “basic” rules of fasting; no food during the day, no sex etc. after all animals don’t need to do Salat to worship God (Muslims know animals praise God). The stumbling block to this argument is that Niyyah is necessary. Good. Finally, spirituality! But you have to “make” the Niyyah before going to bed, or is it before waking up for Sahur, or is it before Fajr prayer? Niyyah is surrounded by so many rules it is difficult to see it as anything but another rule.
Ramadan is approaching, by the corner, but have you seen Spirituality?!
Spirituality in the Muslim sense is basically Taqwa; God Consciousness. Taqwa is keeping God in the foreground of your thoughts, not in the background. One does not need Sufi training to be spiritual. Spirituality is quite simple: staying in tune with your conscience; having a conscience for that matter; seeing the interconnectedness of all (selfless); thinking of God before performing an act, perhaps even invoking a prayer; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to your community; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to other communities; upholding of basic Muslim ideals like justice and equity etc.
At the core of Muslim Spirituality (Taqwa) is an inner dialogue that goes on in a person. It is that voice that asks you to examine if what you are about to do is just. It is about having that voice. It is about remembering to say basmalah before eating. It is about reciting a prayer before going into the toilet. It is about saying a prayer going-in and coming-out of the Mosque. It is about taking an obstacle off the road, and understanding that neither the obstacles nor the roads have to be physical.
The hope is that the campaign Living Below Your Line may get us to be spiritual; by having an accompanying voice in our heads to sustain the dialogue, without making us cuckoo.
Living Below THE Line
Living Below the Line is a campaign pioneered by two anti-poverty organizations; Global Poverty Project and Oaktree Foundation. The campaign typically runs for five consecutive days annually. The aim of Living Below the Line is basically three goals: Empathy, Awareness and Poverty Alleviation. The “Line” refers to the global poverty line which is usually determined by the World Bank. Regardless of what that amount translates to in your local currency, it is still little by any standard. Over 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and it is likely that less than 5% of the population control 70% of the wealth.
Living Below the Line basically encourages people, like you and I, who live above the poverty line, to live their days without spending more than what the statistical poor person lives on. In essence, it is putting oneself in the shoes of the poor. However, all that is not spent during this period, which would have been spent, is saved. Now back to the goals of Living Below the Line. Empathy is achieved by putting yourself in the shoes of the statistical “poor man”, Awareness is achieved by sharing the idea with others just as you have come to hear about it, Poverty Alleviation is achieved on a micro scale by putting together the saved funds towards a program that would empower real poor people economically.
However, given our situation in Nigeria, and the crowd that are likely to hear about this, Living Below the Line is not very convenient, because it is typically applied to food expenses. One reason is that accounting for food spending may be difficult in Nigeria. Many buy food in bulk, including grocery which makes accounting for daily food spending daunting. Many also live with their parents, and can hardly account for purchase of food. However my people spend money in the other ways; Food and Snacks, Transport, Telecoms Recharge Cards, Entertainment. These discrepancies with the assumptions of the original idea of Living Below THE Line has lead to formulation of something more friendly for Nigeria which is dubbed Living Below YOUR Line.
Living Below YOUR Line
“Line” here means your standard of living. Living Below YOUR Line is more holistic than the Living Below THE Line, and goes beyond simply food. The import of this is in the spirit of Ramadan, which is a holistic discipline, and perhaps to help correct that misconception about Ramadan through this awareness.
Funds raised through Living Below YOUR Line could be targeted at raising the Line of someone else i.e. it could be harnessed as capital to a worthy “poor man”. The worthy “poor man” is the entrepreneurial who is able to invest that capital and perhaps improve their economic potentials; hence their Line.
Our daily expenses can be broadly categorized into the following groups:
1. Food and Snacks
For some of us that are not living with their parents (or are responsible for purchasing food for our parents), this does not involve the bulk purchases of food. It involves the breakfast, lunch or dinner that is purchased as a meal outside of home. As for those who live with their parents and get free food, this mostly entails all snacks that are purchased (Suya, Ice Cream and Shawarma comes to mind).
This includes all money spent on taxis and other commercial transport, with the exception of that spent to-and-fro work or school. For those who own cars and fuel it, it involves fueling expenses.
3. Telecoms Recharge Cards
This does not involve monthly subscriptions to telecom services (BB Service, weekly or Monthly Data Plans). It involves purchases of phone credits for voice calls and SMS. We shall review the part on data plans if there is a creative suggestion.
This involves expenses on purchasing DVDs, on going to the cinema, on parks and rides. Perhaps on sewing new clothes (which are not meant for work or school) and on contributions to celebrations (weddings and naming ceremonies).
First do the following exercise in getting prepared, in three steps: (Assuming it runs for 5-7 days)
1. First, decide on what percentage will you be living at. E.g. if you decide to live at 40%, then you will only spend 40% of your normal expenses and 60% will be saved for the cause.
2. Second, write yourself a letter of undertaking on a sheet of paper (or type and print) saying: God willing, you shall live at the percentage you have chosen for the week. If this sounds cheesy to you, I get it… then simply make a commitment (Niyya) to self.
3. Third, get and envelop, or purse, or plastic bag… or any container where you will remit the saved funds, DAILY before going to bed. Alternatively, have a notepad to keep record, such that sums are calculated daily. What is important is DAILY.
Two major approaches:
1. If you are the type that plans their entire week, and how much would be spent (approximately) before hand, then it is simply a matter of taking out that percentage that would be saved and managing within the remaining percentage.
2. If however, you don’t plan your weekly expenses before hand, then First you take a (serious) Niyyah: that you will cut down your expenses according to your committed percentage. For example, you might feel like getting yourself a Shawarma which costs N1000. Then you remember that you have committed to live at 50% of your normal expenses. At this point you have two options: Go buy two meat pies (at N250 each); or save yourself N500 for another day when you would crave Shawarma again. In any case, remember to remit that 50% to the cause/campaign.
Back to Spirituality
How does Living Below Your Line get one spiritual? It is through the constant reminder that one is not simply to fulfill their whims to full extent (100%) but to deliberately reduce it (by a certain percent). It is important that Living Below Your Line touches on several aspects (Food, Transport, Communication and Entertainment) because it means decisions to “regulate” spending will be at the fore of one’s thoughts.
Therefore the primary focus of Living Below Your Line is having a feel of the spirituality that comes with it; raising funds is a secondary benefit. There is also the effect of caring how that fund is spent. The fund could be used to raise another person’s Line, as earlier suggested, or whatever way seems proper. In a country where citizens have been systematically dismembered from ownership of government spending, the feeling of having a stake in how some fund is spent is hopefully the start of an attitude that may have nation-wide and global effect from the grass-root.
Living Below YOUR Line could be an ongoing event running say four times a year, each for a duration of a week. It could be a preparation for Ramadan. It could be a panacea to the overwhelming consumer culture we live in. Its simply a template for a tool, use it how you see fit.