We are Fasting. So?

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.








  1. So agree on this post.

    As a non-Muslim I was often reminded many many times not to eat / drink in front of the Muslim when I was a kid. Mind you, I was just a 10 year old girl wanting nothing more than a lolly pop during school pause yet all my friends surrounding me like I had committed the worst sin ever.

    Toleransi goes both ways and let’s do our things while you do yours. It doesn’t mean that we non-Muslim can gobble things up in front of the fasting ones, well that’s plain wrong as well, but I hope we don’t need to hide as if eating a bar of chocolate can bring you a death sentence…well a death sentence to your thigh that is 😀

    the writers last blog post..Be a fine guest, please?

  2. weLL,, in fact, you just can see it in Indonesia.


  3. You are very right my dear, I never forbid people to eat in front of me and by facing them while they eat is actually a big test for me whether I can resist the temptation or not.

    Happen when I went to the beach on last first weekend of fasting month, the folks always apologize every time they eat or drink in front of me, and I told them it’s ok to do that in front of me, I am fine and it’s actually the test for me and you know what, at the end of the day they all respect me for my believe.

    After all, I’m not 10 years old who will break my fast because I was tempted by food, should be something bigger than that if you know what I mean 😉

    eckys last blog post..TAINTED BABY FORMULA

  4. I tried not to eat or drink in front of my friend who are fasting. If we go out together in daylight, I won’t stop for a drink because it does not make me feel right to do that :)

    Elyanis last blog post..Say it with flowers

  5. The Writer: exactly, tolerance goes both ways. We have to respect each others. I’d do what I believe so do you. There’s no point trying to ban each other from what we believe. Plus the essence of fasting is not in the “not eating, drinking or having sex”, it’s much deeper than that.

    Ecky: you’re naughty girl! Maybe your sunglasses should be darker LOL

    Elyani: how sweet you are. But really as I was saying before, the essence of fasting is not in the physical temptations, it’s more to redirect our hearts away from worldly activities, to to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Easier said than done, though.

  6. Beautiful Disaster says:

    I really hope that there would be more people like you that have the open mindedness most people dont have.

  7. I still don’t understand why back to my parents days, when I was still a kid, there’s no such “law” like nowadays.
    Is it because people now are more educated than before ?
    If yes, then it’s pathetic.
    It can be a long debate, but for me the key is like treespotter stated in his blog, “self-censorship”.
    We have to respect each other, and fasting is your relationship with God not others relationship with God

    tere616s last blog post..McCain and His BlackBerry Invention

  8. Being the majority, most groups would act as if they own the world. I remember reading in Kompas some years ago, about a complain from an Indonesian student in Amsterdam. He whined about people in Amsterdam who kept on eating, drinking alcohol and went to red light districts during Ramadhan. LOL. He didn’t realize that the role switched: hes’ now the minority, so just shut up and bear it. LOL. It seems our government has successfully raised some people to think that people in other countries should obey Indonesian custom. …… But hey, after thinking about it again … we can see this type of behavior from people’s of other nations too … like many Americans who consider people in Italy stupid because they don’t speak English… LOL.

    santi ds last blog post..Things I Found Weird in Munich

  9. santi, how true. being the majority, they certainly feel like telling everybody else what to do. but then again, let’s take anita and ecky for example. if moslem themselves feel okay to keep on fasting and allowing people to continue eating, drinking, and/or smoking in front of them, then why should our government babying this country by banishing people’s business? maybe they should not closing the restaurants/clubs as an exercise for the moslems to be ‘tougher’, he he he.
    back then when i was still practicing the religion, i had a part time job at kem chick, and had to deal with selling food for ‘buka puasa’. i was still able to fast even though i have food in front of me all the time, and customers asked for food samples, etc.
    if we want our country to be stronger/tougher, let’s not babying its people for silly reason like ‘toleransi’. bah.

    Dinys last blog post..Door-to-door Religion

  10. ‘Alcohol is served in tea cups’, really? How hypocrite!!!!

    Now that there are more and more moslem immigrants living in west Europe, they tend to force some tolerance (behaviour) towards fasting from their host countries like an example described by Santi above. Grown up in Indonesia, I’m used not to eat and drink in front of my moslems friends during the ramadan. But try to explain this to people who don’t have any clue about fasting…

    Some immigrants in NL have even gone much further by insisting the Idul Fitri as a public holiday (FYI, Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Week End is not a public holiday anymore in NL). In some cultures Idul Fitri is celebrated in three days.

    This is a very nice attempt of yours to open a dialog between moslems – non moslems, two thumbs up for you Nit!

    Lorraines last blog post..Prinsjesdag 2008

  11. @Beautiful Disaster: I believe lots of us feel that way. Sadly we are overshadowed by self-righteous people who think they’re holier than everybody else. It’s a long way to go but hopefully someday we’ll get to the ideal tolerance community.

    @Tere616: exactly. Why we should feel ‘holier’ than others just because we’re fasting? What we have with our God is a private relationship no one could interfere let alone be a judge. I just read in detik.com a high school student was beaten by ‘santri’ because they found him not fasting that day. Now how come their act was justified? They failed to practice the essence of fasting – yet thought they did a right thing. Weird.

    @Santi: how embarrassing and self-centered that man was. Sadly Indonesia has successfully raised so many narrow-minded people like him.

    @Diny: yes, when I was in Sydney I was working through out the summer in the ice cream shop whilst still fasting. Everybody was concerned and thought I might die of dehydration but I still managed though, even though I was selling thousands of ice creams to thirsty customers. It’s about self-discipline, and you’re right, we don’t need our government to babysit us!

    @Lorraine: yes, the pubs must serve alcohol in tea cups otherwise “religious” groups like FPI will knock on their doors. And it is about survival rather than hypocrite. Entertainment venues have to pay yearly bonus plus staffs’ salaries, how do we expect them to do so if we demand them to close their business for the whole month?

  12. Nice post, Anita! And no, you didn’t make me work too much, if it’s anything, it’s people like you who make me feel that there is still kindness and beauty in this world. The relationships that people have with their beliefs are private, it is true, and whatever goes on between them are not for public consumption.

    You should send this article to Jakarta Post, it is a great piece :) It deserves to be read by as many people as possible. You can influence them with your positive attitude.

    I’m more amazed that the Catholic school you went to actually allowed the students to smoke!!!

  13. I agree it is a self-discipline practice. They should have not banned public places from doing their business, it will bruise the less-fortunate workers economy.

    Mr. Scotchs last blog post..A Looking Nomad

  14. Great post. Brought up in Malaysia with its majority Muslim population, I tend to not eat before Muslims if I can during Ramadhan and I always apologise for eating/drinking in front of them if I have to. But I have to say each time this happens, they will always tell me cheerfully, “No, go ahead. It is we who are fasting, not you and besides, it is our responsibility to ensure we do not give in to temptation, not yours.”

    What is the point of all this pretense of closing the shops when we all know that behind the curtains, business goes on as usual?

    Mrs Top Monkeys last blog post..Little Monkey is 33 weeks old in me!

  15. Therry, thanks for the compliment. Maybe I should send this to JP :)

    Mr. Scotch, thanks for visiting, does your pesudo refer to your favorite drink or that you’re a Scotsman? Just wonder :)

    Mrs. Top Monkey, exactly, we know people eat behind the curtain, sometimes we can even smell the meal so why need to block our vision if our mental state already say “hmmm, I can smell nasi goreng…. maybe that’s what I’m going to have for tonight”….?

  16. FW…

    Bulan Puasa is always an interesting time of the year for all concerned. The alcohol in coffee mugs or plastic cups in some places, the reduced service hours at entertainment venues, and the like.

    I always used to say sorry before eating and drinking in front of anyone during the fast hours. I do not do that anymore in the office. I guess my reasoning is that I have nothing to be sorry or apologetic for. I am not a Muslim and I am not breaking any rules religious or otherwise it I eat or drink (not yet anyway). For me respect is a two-way street; I respect your need to fast and you (not personal you but general you) respect the fact that I have no obligation to fast. Perhaps I am getting less tolerant in my old age for the niceties of “maaf, makan”.

    BTW…the inclusion of the Happy Ending link was a nice touch during Ramadan. 😀

    Robs last blog post..Perception and Reality

  17. well, nice and well-written post. and it came from a Muslim, which is pretty important in sensitive issues like this. I totally agree with you, at all. but I just couldn’t find a way to write such opinions because I myself is a Christian, so it’ll be a bit objectionable if I say things like those. Hehehe..

    salam kenall..

  18. Michael: salam kenal juga. If you see the comments above, surprisingly, none of them, Muslim or not, agree with the government’s decision every year to close down entertainment venues! So why do they still insist on applying such stupid rule? For whose benefits?


  1. […] Finally Woken wrote a fantastic post today on “We are Fasting. So?”Here’s ONLY a quick extractAlcohol 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 … […]

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