Every year in Indonesia, we see something unique during the Islamic holy month, Ramadan, for about 30 days. It is the month of fasting, in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset, and must avoid obscene and irreligious sights, sounds, and evil thoughts.
In order to complete this task, since Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation – although it is not an Islamic state – it is easy to ban anything that is considered disturbing the act of fasting, rather than having the people facing and testing themselves against those obstacles. Therefore places like bars, clubs and massage places, must be closed from one day before until one day after Ramadan (Kompas.com, 25 August 2008). That’s more than 30 days. Imagine how much money they lose and how they pay their employees?
They won’t be able to close for a whole month. How would workers make a living? Ninety percent of workers in such establishments are Muslim. They, too, need money so they can celebrate Idul Fitri and perform their religious duties during Ramadhan. This is a very sensitive issue because it involves the interests of different parties,” said Soeryo.
Those who run restaurant business, change their business hour accordingly, open before sunset until pre-dawn and close during the day. Some are open with their curtains closed or half-open. Some only take orders for takeaways. Alcohol is served in tea cups. Those who still insist to open during the day usually get a hard time from Islamic community as well as the government.
This is something I personally can’t understand, and maybe it is because I grew up in a small town (well, 1.2-million-people city is considered small in Indonesia), where Islam is the dominant faith in the region, but I went to a Catholic school, where I learned about tolerance and sympathy. When Ramadan came and I was fasting, my schoolmates respected it and tried not to eat or drink in front of me. But who wanted to be left alone during a break? So rather than sitting alone in the classroom looking vaguely at the black board, I usually went along to the canteen, and when they were drinking, eating, and smoking, I just spent time to chat with them. At first they felt awkward doing so in front of me, but I felt the world should not stop revolving just because I did something different that day. From a simple motive of not wanting to be left out by friends, I grew up understanding that fasting is not about telling people to not to do things in front of us, but how we handle all temptations before us.
But outside the school, it was different. People were afraid to eat and drink in the street in case others will yell at them and accuse them for being intolerance. I remember I was wondering why did we ask them to tolerate us? Why not the other way around? I felt that we forced others to understand our situation, and we didn’t give others a chance to have a different way of living. In short: if I can’t eat, nor can you. If I can’t have fun, you shouldn’t either.
There are people who are not fasting and they have every right to eat or drink or do whatever they like, and as we can ask them to show some tolerance for those who are fasting, we certainly could understand that they still need to eat and drink whenever they want, that they don’t have to suppress whatever urge they feel. Why should we stop them having a happy ending or drinking alcohol if they are not even practicing Islam? It is unfair to expect them to suffer just because we are.
The act of fasting is to let Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, and sympathy to those who are less fortunate. We should refrain ourselves from all the world’s temptations – not removing them from our sight. If we just practice it as it is, and let all the disturbance and obstacles right in front of us; if we can preserve the purity of our thoughts and actions, regardless what’s in front of us; it must feel great when we sip our tea when maghrib comes.