Home Religion & Spirituality Imbibing Compassion and Empathy in Ramadan: A Path to our Collective Success

Imbibing Compassion and Empathy in Ramadan: A Path to our Collective Success

Empathy is defined as understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. It is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings of others. It is a trait that improves with time, and the more you develop this trait, the more it will benefit your life. The first step is to make the intention to try to “walk in the shoes'' of others. The purpose of having empathy is to improve your life along with the lives of others, by spreading compassion, care, and comfort.

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Ramadan is observed as one of the most important and special months in the Islamic calendar, when Muslims all around the world fast from dawn (Fajr) to dusk (Maghrib). In the evening, Muslims break their fast by eating meals, known as Iftar, with family or friends. It is believed that by refraining from food and water throughout the day, one understands the pain and suffering of other people and gets closer to the almighty Allah. However, Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and drink; it’s also about developing empathy and compassion towards others. 

What is empathy? Is it similar to Sympathy?

Sympathy is a feeling of concern or compassion resulting from an awareness of the suffering or sorrow of another. It is just like when someone is in pain or has a strong feeling, and you try to connect with them on that. But empathy is where you can step into their shoes and feel as they feel. It’s stronger than just sympathy. Empathy is defined as understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. It is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings of others. “You lost your loved one; I’m sorry.” That’s sympathy. Empathy is when you’re right there with them, sharing that emotion. It’s a crucial step towards imbibing the quality of compassion.

In the 21st century, the decline in the empathetic ratio is becoming a matter of concern. The decline in empathy is not just anecdotal. A University of Michigan study (May 2010) of American students published in Personality and Social Psychology Review revealed that levels of empathy in this demographic fell by 48 percent between 1979 and 2009. Possible causes of the growing empathy gap include increasing materialism, changing parenting methods, and the digital echo chamber, in which people anchor themselves in close-knit groups of like-minded people. Such echo chamber effects aren’t always as obvious as those seen on social media. For example, researchers have found that the matching processes used on social media platforms can also weaken social bonds. It was really shocking to discover that today’s kids are growing up to be far less caring and compassionate than any previous generation. Dr. Michele Borba is an educational psychologist who referred to this trend of declining empathy as “selfie syndrome.” The American Psychiatric Association named this disorder “selfitis,” which included the rise of celebrity culture, hyper-competitive parenting, and an overemphasis on testing in schools, an increasingly materialistic ethos, and the disappearance of playtime.

Empathy in Islam

Is empathy encouraged in Islam? Absolutely! Consider this Qur’anic verse about our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PUBH)

“There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind and merciful.” [Qur’an: Chapter 9, Verse 128]

The empathetic nature of Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) is one of the most praised things by Allah. Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) himself also encouraged us to feel empathy for each other, he (PUBH) was reported to have said:

“The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 6011]

The Qur’an describes believers as those who practice compassion, which is a form of empathy that moves one to help others.

Social Change and Empathy

Empathy plays an important role, and it’s also a significant transformative trait that can be used successfully to bring about positive social change.  It enhances all areas of your life, including your personal well-being, family life, and work relationships. Not many people know the power of empathy in enhancing their own personal well-being as well as in changing the way they interact with and feel about the world around them. It’s a revolutionary trait with respect to social change.  It transforms your social relationships because it gives you a more accurate and deeper understanding of issues and conflicts.  It is a key trait to becoming a better spouse, parent, teacher, friend, and so on.

Empathy is not new to the toolkit of social change or education, and it continues to be a common trope of encouragement. It will enable us to become more collaborative and respond more thoughtfully to social issues. We can cultivate and teach empathy—with intentionality or willed effort, not diminishing its power—and we can encourage empathy without requiring action or agreement. But before empathy can achieve its full impact in our lives and in positive social change, we must cultivate internal awareness to understand our own context in the world. The need for empathy in social change is two-pronged. Social change calls for systemic and collaborative action, which inherently requires empathy. Finally, we can affirm that empathy is a protagonist element in caring and prosocial behaviour. By participating, not only do young people incorporate new skills and experiences but also undergo psychological empowerment as they contribute to their community, and therefore, work towards social change.

Empathy through Connection: Building Bridges during Ramadan

Ramadan is a time when Muslim Ummah is encouraged for self-introspection and to focus on their spirituality or reflect on their actions. Fasting during this month is considered a form of worshipping Allah which helps in the development of self-discipline, self-control, and patience but it is also an opportunity to feel the hunger and thirst that Many people around the world experience on a daily basis.

The act of fasting and self-control during Ramadan is the most appropriate way to develop empathy toward others who are less fortunate. Feeling hunger and thirst helps us to understand and experience their struggle. It also helps us to appreciate and consider the blessings that we have in our lives.

During this month, Muslims are encouraged to perform charity and help those who are in need. This charitable act is known as Zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat can be defined as the percentage of wealth which is required to be donated annually to those who come from a very weak financial background and are less fortunate. This act (Zakat) can help to develop empathy towards those who are struggling financially and can also help to alleviate poverty.

Ramadan is also a time when people are encouraged to forgive and seek forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of empathy as it allows us to let go of anger and resentment and focus on understanding the perspective of others. Forgiveness can also help to repair relationships and promote healing.

Breaking fast together with friends and families would likely create a sense of unity, and ultimately it will develop empathy. These acts of kindness can help to develop empathy as well as to create a sense of community and solidarity.

The Significance of Empathy

Empathy is a trait that improves with time, and the more you develop this trait, the more it will benefit your life. The first step is to make the intention to try to “walk in the shoes” of others. The purpose of having empathy is to improve your life along with the lives of others, by spreading compassion, care, and comfort. Today, the discussion of emotions is taking a radical turn, however, we know positive emotions enhance well-being, personal strengths, and relationships. As the world is talking about “Global Village”, empathy assumes a special role as the key emotion critical for seven-plus billion people to live in harmony and cooperative relationships.

To conclude Ramadan is a time when ummah is emphasized to reflect on their actions to make betterment in their lives. This includes building a strong relationship with the Qur’an, praying more, and performing acts of kindness towards others. These betterments are helpful in the development of empathy as well as personal growth. Ramadan and the concept of empathy go hand-in-hand.

The Author is a 2nd Year Student of pharmacy at the Institute of Pharmacy Akola, Maharashtra

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