Ramadan has begun. Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting. During Ramadan, from dawn to dusk, Muslims “refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds” (Wikipedia). Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The time of Ramadan is set by moons rather than a fixed date so it moves about 10 days forward each year. Because Jakarta is so close to the equator, the length between dawn and dusk does not vary much; dawn to dusk is always about 12 hours. In other parts of the world, however, the variance in the length of days varies greatly—from a few hours when Ramadan falls in winter up to 20 in summer. It is one thing to not eat or drink for 12 hours—many of us have done that—But 15? 18? 20? While working? And in the middle of summer????
“Refrain… from indulging in anything” includes thoughts, and here in predominately Muslim Jakarta, everyone is encouraged to do everything they can to help keep everyone else’s mind pure. This means do not speak, wear, or behave in anyway that might induce inappropriate thoughts in another; don’t let anyone see you eating or drinking because they might be tempted, or think about being tempted; don’t play music or programs that might stimulate inappropriate thoughts. This is a difficult task to charge anyone with—let alone an entire population.
The Indonesian Government takes charge of making sure everyone is “thinking right". Restaurants and night clubs—any place serving alcohol or encouraging “non-modest” activities such as drinking, dancing and karaoke are shut down for the first few days when “slips” might happen because people aren't used to being good, yet; hours of operation are restricted, too. Restaurants are not supposed to serve alcohol at all during Ramadan. Others, following the adage what you don’t see can’t hurt you, “sneak it” by serving wine and spirits in coffee cups. (As a concession to visitors/tourists after the first couple of days, hotels are excluded from this “no alcohol” policy.)
I can’t say how Ramadan is observed in other places; I can only speak for Jakarta. Each day, around 2 am, woman all over Jakarta wake up to prepare a meal. When it is ready, they rouse their families so they can eat before dawn prayers. Those with time before work and school, return to bed for a little extra shut eye. Everyone from the age of around 7 and up (excepting the ill and very old) try to fast. Exceptions are made for those who are traveling, fall ill, and women who are in their moon or pregnant.
Each evening at dusk, is buka puasa “break fast.” The day-long fast is usually broken by drinking fruit-flavored syrup mixed with water, or for some, real fruit juice, coconut juice, sweet tea, etc. Carts filled with bags of blue, red, pink, and orange sweet drinks and fruit line the busy streets ready to serve those who find themselves stuck in traffic at buka puasa. After dark, everyone celebrates. Families and friends hold buka puasa parties; they shoot off fireworks, dance, sing, make merry. As you might imagine, these festivities coupled with dehydration, fasting followed by bingeing, little and at best interrupted sleep, takes a toll. Everything: work, activities, production, expectations slow…gradually…comes…to…a…halt by Idul Fitri, when everyone who can returns to their villages for the end of Ramadan celebration.
What I admire about Ramadan is that at its heart, its core, Ramadan is about seeking forgiveness. It is a time of reflection, reconnection, recommitment to living mindfully. Prior to Ramadan, families gather at cemeteries to honor their ancestors, clean the graves and ask forgiveness. Co-workers seek out one another. “Mahon dan Maaf” they say, “forgive me and I’m sorry”— For anything I may have done or said to you, both know and unknown, “forgive me and I’m sorry.”
Whether we fast or not, whether we are Muslim or not, taking time to consider our actions, what effect they may have had and how they may have affected others seems like a worthwhile endeavor.
Mahon dan Maaf.