Insya Allah, this will be my second Ramadhan in Malaysia after five long years of being in Australia.
I have always loved the month of Ramadhan. As a kid, the month of Ramadhan was something exciting and exhilarating. Every day, the kid in me had something to look forward to – mainly, what’s the menu for iftaar, of course. (I was a kid, okay. My shallowness then was allowed, right?)
In Newcastle, I’d learned to love this month with the kind of wild ferocity I had never thought I could feel for anything as mundane as the coming of another new month.
Of course, the food over there was not as abundant as the ones in Malaysia – well, not the halal ones, anyway. And of course, for some inexplicable reason, we would always find ourselves heartily pine for the voice of the ‘Penyimpan Mohor Besar Raja-raja’ on the TV channels. Of course there were times when we just WISH we could go to some sort of bazaar somewhere prior to iftaar (breaking fast).
But you know what, Ramadhan over there was even better than the ones in Malaysia. Wayyy better. It would be fabulous beyond this universe ONLY if I could just bring my whole family to experience Ramadhan over there. To experience the bliss of Ramadhan without the abundance of the food, to experience the greatness of Allah’s blessing without the obsession for the bazaar, to experience the beauty of forgoing our needs for the sake of Allah without the preoccupation for the Eid clothes.
In Newcastle, as a foreigner, we could not be made to forget the real spirit of Ramadhan. We could not be made to forget that the real purpose of Ramadhan is NOT for a lifestyle change of ‘fast and feast’ for 1 month. It is NOT for going hungry during the day and to eat yourself chockablock during the night. It is NOT for going on a diet – the Islamic version of it. It is NOT for empathizing with the poor and the needy.
It is for the purpose of attaining ‘takwa’ ; piety – fear of God.
You see, if you don’t pray, people do notice. I can tell which house officers do not pray and which of them do pray simply because there’s only one prayer room in the ward. Sooner or later, you can tell and you will know. There’s always one or two person you have never come across in the prayer room. Ask other HOs…I am sure they also notice these things…we just never talk about it among each other. After all, we are all adults. Enough said.
But if you don’t fast and secretly eat in the toilet…who would know? Fasting is between you and Allah alone. No one else is privy to it. If you don’t have fear of God – you will eat…and no one will know about it. There’s no societal pressure for you to go hungry. Of course there IS societal pressure for you to pretend that you are fasting. But you can secretly eat – EASILY! – without anyone knowing… Except Allah.
That’s why the real purpose of Ramadhan is to attain piety or fear of God. Nothing else will keep you from eating except for the fear of God. Nothing else.
That’s why Allah said “O you who believe, Observing the fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain piety.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:183)
Allah told us in all his frank wisdom that the real purpose of fasting is for us to increase our level of piety.
But when others ask us ‘why do you have to fast,’ we think we sound better if we answer it in our own style such as:
-you see, fasting is good for you because it will help you with your blood sugar. It is good for managing obesity.
-Oh, I fast so that I can empathize with the poor and the needy.
The western people ask us –sometimes in derision – why do your religion makes it compulsory for you to fast. And we think our answers sound better than the one that Allah already told us. We forgot that these westerners do not need to go hungry in order to empathize with the poor and the needy. Who was the first one to lend a helping hand in war-torn Muslim countries…yup, the Christians. We forgot that our blood sugar control went even more haywire during the month of Ramadhan, haha.
So please stop all these apologetic and defensive answers. Say it the way it is supposed to be said. Let’s just quote what Allah had said by saying that fasting is prescribed for us, as it was prescribed for those before us (namely the Jews and the Christians – Moses and Jesus also fasted) in order that we will attain piety. If they further ask : how does fasting makes you attain piety – well, then you elaborate and explain further.
If you have spent some time in overseas, you will get this kind of question every year during Ramadhan, your answer will get better and better as the years go by. But please give the right answer – don’t make up one that you think sounds better.
It was PBL tutorial day. It was customary for us to bring some food to munch while discussing the PBL trigger. That day, it was my turn to bring food. And I did.
However they noticed that I did not eat any of it. One of them ask me, “Oh is it Ramadhan already?”
Imagine my pleasure when one of them at least knew about the existence of Ramadhan. I was quite impressed that he knew.
On the way back, he walked next to me and we started some small talk (As you guys know, I really hate small talk. I am not good at it. It is always something I could never be good at.)
“So you fast all day, and then you eat the whole night?” he suddenly asked.
Terbeliak juga biji mata aku mendengar soalan ajaib tersebut.
It was at the tip of my tongue to be sarcastic and just said ‘oh yeah, I eat every minute of the whole night. I did not even go to sleep. God knows how I was able to attend the medical lectures and the tutorials during the day without being sleepy.’
But you see, I always try to be the miss-nice-girl before I evolve into the miss-nasty. I try not to become nasty until absolutely necessary, hahha. So I flashed a wolfish smile (all teeth bared) and asked, “Where did you get the idea that we would eat the whole night during the month of Ramadhan?”
You see, it was not the first time I had heard that question. Another Australian had asked me the very same question during the previous Ramadhan too. I had laughed myself silly at that time. But when another Australian acquaintance of mine had asked such thoughtless question to me this time, I was quite insulted, to say in the least.
Apparently a myth has been going around, being propagated by the haters of Islam that Muslims suffered SO MUCH during Ramadhan that they will make up for it by eating all night!
Well, think about it, folks.
Ramadhan is NOT that hard. We have our Sahur (early breakfast) prior to our Subuh prayer…meaning around 5.00 to 5.30 am. And then we break our fast around 7.30 to 8.00 pm (around dinner time). So really, the only regular meal that we have to miss is lunch. And if you ask all HOs in the country, missing lunch is not such a big deal, right!
So what is it about Ramadhan that makes you think we are a bunch of weaklings, that we have to make up for it by eating ALL NIGHT? Don’t you have any sense when you had thought to ask that question? Or weren’t you even thinking?
Imagine eating all night! Don’t you think that some of us will need to sleep because, oh, we happen to go to work too. The Muslim kids need to go to school too.
Eating all night, you said? How about our assignments and homeworks? Don’t you think those need to get done? How about studying? My SPM in 2002 was during the month of Ramadhan and many of my friends and I had obtained straight As for it. Did you think I eat my way into straight As without slapping my forehead black and blue over Add Maths and Physics?
Eating all night? Okay…how about those who go to the mosque for the 20-rakaat Terawih prayer? You think they pray AND eat at the same time? What an imagination you have!
I could not imagine how in God’s name can they come up with such a question! To think that we eat all night! It was such a ridiculous image of Muslims; it was as ridiculous as it was unfair. And apparently, some of them believe it. Apparently, they believe us to be as ridiculous as that!
But I could forgive the Australians if they are ignorant of our real nature in the month of Ramadhan. After all, Australia is not a Muslim-majority country.
Imagine how I feel when a Malaysian Chinese colleague of mine in HSB asked me similar question. “Bulan puasa nanti you makan sepanjang malam ke?”
Oh my God! Don’t you feel insulted? Mahu marah pun ada. Kau tak nampak ke beratus-ratus orang Muslim pergi buat solat terawih malam-malam tu? Kau tak perasan ke ada Muslim doctors kena on-call waktu bulan puasa? WHEN would we have the TIME to eat all night? Come on!!
It’s true that we only start our fasting from Subuh until Maghrib. It’s true that we are allowed to eat throughout the night! But being allowed to do something doesn’t mean you will be doing it! I have never eaten throughout the night EVER. Most of us only break our fast and then eat our early breakfast at 5.00 am.
For the last time, please do not insult your intelligence – and mine – by asking that ridiculous question again. It’s not even funny!
To look at Muslims in Malaysia breaking their fast at the hotel buffet, you cannot exactly blame these people for thinking that we eat all night.
I kind of understand the reason they think we were such a piranha during Ramadhan. It was our fault. Our culture has made Ramadhan to be about food. Our culture has made Ramadhan to be about food waste.
It is the fault of our modern culture.
In Newcastle, it was not about food. There were times when we had iftaar at the mosque on the basis of pot luck. The arabs, the Malays, the Pakistani, the Brunei…all brought home-cooked meal and we tasted a bit of everything.
For us as students, we only brought home cooked French fries. Hahah. We were such a disgrace, but we were forgiven for our lack of masterchef skill because we were students. It was such a privilege being a Muslim student at the Newcastle mosque…it was a bit like being the youngest in the family; adorable without having to lift a finger (no offense to my youngest sister, Wani. Huhu.)
People didn’t really expect students to bring nasi beriyani. But French fries……. well, that crossed the line a bit. I was quite ashamed of myself. But it was better than not bringing anything. And at least, the Muslim small kids enjoy it. Once, I had brought cucur kodok or keledek goreng too. Sometimes, if I had extra time to prepare, I would bring fried rice. So really, fried rice was my best contribution in 5 years of my pot luck experience. (yup, not a very glorious record, I’m afraid)
In Newcastle, Ramadhan really wasn’t about food. Well, only minimally (I wouldn’t lie and say food did not matter AT ALL, but not in such a large scale)You would see most Muslims walking around with palm-sized Quran in their hands during Ramadhan. They were so into the Quran… it could be at the library, it could be at the bus stop, it could be during a bus journey or in the train…it could be anywhere! They were so into it whenever they have any spare time. The Terawih in the mosque was quite long, actually…so there was no way those people can eat ALL NIGHT, all right?
You would get to know and become friends with people of different races who you would be praying with side-by-side throughout the Terawih. The Muslims sisters who were having their menstruation (and thus were not required to pray), would help to look after the kids of the other Muslim sisters who were praying. No one over there would look at you angrily and frown at you and said “Oh, orang datang haid tak boleh pijak masjid langsung!!” (ini adalah perkara khilaf yang kita tidak diajar sewaktu sekolah). No one over there would scold the kids “Oit budak-budak bising! Lari sana sini! Senyap sikit! Hormat orang lain nak sembahyang!”
The Muslims over there did not behave like our deen is all about frown without fun; strictness without laughter! The kids do not go around feeling scared of the long-bearded and bushy-browed Pakistani adult. In fact, the longer the beard, the kinder the person is; the funnier, the BETTER, the more loved. (Note that I didn’t say the longer the beard is, the more pious. Remember, we cannot judge piety from outward appearnce. But we can certainly judge character.)
The mosque over there was welcoming! It HAS to be welcoming! Imagine raising your kids in a western community where they absorb all the values of the western society at school! As a parent, naturally you would be worried that your kids no longer will uphold the values of your religion. If you make mosque a source of dread to the kids, they would have NO OTHER counter-influence against the western values because they would do their utmost to avoid going to the mosque at all cost. (please note that there are MANY excellent western values that we should adopt: politeness, professionalism, cleanliness, transparency in administration, forthrightness, just to name a few. But the parents over there were worried about the OTHER section of Western values…the dressing style, the free mixing of opposite gender, things like that.)
And I particularly love the Arabs during the month of Ramadhan. The Arabs – if they are in overseas – are rich people. They are the most generous of souls during the month of Ramadhan. How many amenities of the mosque have come from their money, I could not easily count. May Allah reward our Arab brothers and sisters.
I can forgive the non-Muslims if they persisted in thinking that Muslims will become weak and lazy during the month of Ramadhan. If they think so, it is our fault. In Australia, I always try to be my most energetic self during the month of Ramadhan….wouldn’t want these people to think that fasting was so hard for me. And as I have mentioned above, fasting was only a matter of missing lunch… so it really was not that hard.
But I cannot forgive Muslims who think that Ramadhan is an excuse for them to be slackers. If you are slacking, then say it’s your fault that has nothing to do with you fasting and rectify the matter. But don’t say “Oh, sorry I am too tired because I am fasting.” Because non-Muslims would think that we are at our worst self when we are fasting – which is NOT TRUE!
History has proven that we were at our best when we fasted! (notice the use of past-tense yet? huhu)
We won the Battle of Badar during the month of Ramadhan.
We also won the Battle of Khanda’ in the month of Ramadhan.
Remember ’Fathul Makkah’ or Pembersihan Kota Mekah? We freed Makkah from the existence of idols during the month of Ramadhan when our prophet and the companions journeyed from Madinah and were able to march straight into Makkah, conquering the holy city without a single blood being dropped. It was a big victory; the sweetness of which, we still enjoy until now. Since then, no idols have ever been erected in Makkah again and this holy city remains exclusive for Muslims throughout all these years!
Salahuddin Al- Ayubi and the Muslim Army freed Palestine from the Crusaders during the month of Ramadhan too!
The Muslims Army led by Thariq Ibn Ziyad landed in Andalusia in Ramadhan.
We won the Battle of Ayn Jalut – we beat the Mongols – during the month of Ramadhan too.
Imagine going into battle… while you are fasting. In the desert!
That’s what Ramadhan has always been for Muslims…the month of victory; bulan kemenangan.
It’s just that we forgot!
Let’s not forget again.
The glorious people of the past wept and cried when Ramdhan had come to an end; because they could never be certain whether or not they would live to see the next Ramadhan. (And WE! We would rejoice that there will be no more fasting and it is RAYA day! How vastly different our ‘cultural’ attitude is as opposed to the ‘religious’ attitude that we should have cultivated in our society)
May Allah guide all of us in obtaining the real purpose of Ramadhan – to attain takwa; piety and fear of God.
Marhaban Ya Ramadhan! How intensely you are missed!
This article is by Dr.Afiza Azmee who blogs at afizaazmee.wordpress.com.