Today is the 21st of July 2012 and for Muslims in Malaysia, it is the first day of the Blessed Month of Ramadhan. The blessed month when we Muslims are not only required to abstain from any worldly pleasures (food, water, sex, smoking etc etc etc) and fast from the break of dawn until the sun sets at about the prayer time of Maghrib, for a whole lunar month, but to also enhance and enrich our respective lives through prayers, as well as to perform other acts of goodness and benevolence, to the betterment of oneself, the family unit and the community at large.
With so much significance attached to fasting in the Blessed Month of Ramadhan, it is of no wonder that it is included as one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith. The general rule of fasting from sunrise to sunset applies all over the world, no matter where you may be, and should you be in a country where they enjoy the four seasons and located somewhere in the northern hemisphere this year, then that would mean a starting time of about 3am – 4 am in the morning and a breaking of fast at sometime about 9pm – 10pm.
That’s a tough ask BUT not an impossible one, and having spent time in Europe when summertime and Ramadhan coincided, if you could fulfill that requirement for the whole month of Ramadhan, then my hats off to you, for you are made of sterner stuff than I am.
The fasting hours in the southern hemisphere would be shorter this time of the year but then again, being cold and hungry present another but different set of challenges. In Malaysia, however, you can expect a much easier time as fasting times generally tend to begin at around 6 am (thereabouts) and breaking of fast times at around 7-7.30pm, depending where you are in Malaysia.
For non-Muslims, they may not comprehend what is the big a deal about the Blessed Month of Ramadhan? Others of different faiths fast too and there’s no denying that. However, from the Muslims’ viewpoint, Muslims have to fast in the manner prescribed in the Holy Quran and that means when we fast, we have to TOTALLY abstain from any worldly pleasures, be it food, water, sex, tobacco etc etc etc BESIDES the usual demands that Muslims refrain from doing anything that is harmful or detrimental to oneself, the family and the community, and INSTEAD find ways to better oneself, the family and the community, spiritually and physically.
But in so saying, I must qualify myself as I am no theologian nor am I a learned and experienced scholar of the Holy Quran. My knowledge is based on what I have learnt of my faith through the passage of time from my parents, mentors and teachers and reinforced by life’s experiences as well as my own curiosity. As all of us know very well, life’s experiences differ from one to another and as such, one should not judge another by one’s yardstick.
Today as parents, we trained our young to fast, starting at an age when they can stand the rigours of fasting and even that, it is done gradually. But the young being the young, what the elders do, they will want to emulate and impress, and as such, training children to fast is not as difficult as one would think. In training the young to fast, we draw from our own experiences when we were going through the same, (and speak softly now) even to the tricks that children play when fasting or more accurately, when pretending to fast.
Experience has taught us that when fasting, thirst and dehydration is a major problem especially for those fasting for the first time. And as such, when its time to break fast, children will make for the drinks first and most often than not, will get bloated within a few minutes of breaking fast EXCEPT those pretending to be fasting. It’s a dead giveaway but since they are still children and still in training, it’s not a problem and becomes instead a story to be narrated in later years, especially when the child is no more a child but instead has a child of his own.
One of the most interesting and awaited features of the Blessed Month of Ramadhan in Malaysia is the Ramadhan Bazaar. The Ramadhan Bazaar is held only during the holy month and is where you will find some of the most delectable and mouth-watering cakes and dishes that would otherwise not make an appearance anywhere for that matter.
It’s also a time for the local economy to pick up as people would take the opportunity to earn additional income by selling food or drinks, in preparation for the breaking of fast especially for those working folks who work late and could not prepare their own dishes in time to break fast with. And from what is mentioned, most of the traders, licensed and health inspected et al, in the Ramadhan Bazaar do make a neat and tidy profit every year, if not all.
So convenient is the feature of the Ramadhan Bazaar is that it would not be surprising that on weekdays, most people would break fast with food and drinks bought at the many and different Ramadhan Bazaars. The Ramadhan Bazaar has become a such a fixture during the Blessed Month of Ramadhan with a bazaar at different neighbourhoods, that people do find it odd when there isn’t one. It has become such an enjoyable routine that even non-Muslims also take the opportunity to visit these bazaars and buy their own favourite foods, thus making the composition of visitors to the bazaars very multi racial.
Another feature that only happens during the month of Ramadhan are the Terawikh and Witr prayers. It is now common knowledge that Muslims are to pray five times a day but it is only in Ramadhan that are we also encouraged to perform the non-obligatory Terawikh and Witr prayers.
Performed at night after the Isya’ prayers, it is also a time when families and the community bond together as the elders trained the young on how to perform the prayers, and when neighbours and friends meet and greet each other at the many mosques and suraus around the country. And after the prayers, the congregation is even served food prepared by the members of the congregation itself.
It is often remarked that the amount of food wasted and thrown away during the Blessed Month of Ramadhan defeats the purpose of Ramadhan. But the thing is, we Muslims are encouraged to perform good deeds during this blessed month, and to share our food with the poor and the needy and with those who are performing religious obligations, is one of the easiest of the many good deeds that a Muslim can do.
It is a sign of decadence when food is thrown away especially when its food meant for the rich, but when its is food considered as normal food eaten by normal people, then the issue is not of over indulging but rather more of management, as the problem is knowing when the food prepared is more than enough and when is the food prepared not enough?
To negate the problem of food going to waste, some suraus and mosques roll out schedules to the surrounding neighbourhoods of who should contribute what and when. However, some people do not subscribe to this method as they believe good deeds eg sharing food, should be spontaneous in nature, but it is a method nonetheless.
The problem persists in most suraus as they are confined to the neighbourhoods. But in the mosques, there will be a schedule of people who will be footing the bill for the breaking of fast, some for a day and some for the whole month. The congregation usually number in the hundreds, but some mosques cater for the thousands, and all in the name of a good deed.
The fasting month of Ramadhan will come to an end, as it always does every year, and it will reappear a year later. It is a Muslim’s sincere hope that his or her life and that of their loved ones, enriched by their Ramadhan experience of the years before, will be further enriched by the Ramadhan of this year and will continue to be enriched by the Ramadhan of next year and of the years to come for sincerely, it is an experience to be treasured.