Ramadan: How can you not eat?

Being part Javanese and part Dayak, people occasionally question me about my ethnicity. But since it is Ramadan, I now elicit scandalous looks from pious makciks (older Malay women) whenever I eat lunch.

Saya bukan orang muslim lah makcik.

(I am not Muslim lah, aunty.)

Ramadan (رمضان, or “scorched” in Arabic) is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and is considered the holiest. During this period, Muslims go without food or drink from sunrise to sunset,* and abstain from sexual relations. By abandoning such bodily pleasures, Muslims believe they cleanse their body and soul, and draw closer to God (or Allah).

Ramadan is also a time of self-discipline and improvement. Muslims also refrain from bad habits like smoking, swearing and gossiping.

But Ramadan doesn’t only teaches self-control. It is also a time of reflection that teaches about sacrifice and encourages empathy for the less fortunate, as my friend Zarifah put it after she bought an extra slab of otah for the old Chinese man who plays the harmonica at Khatib MRT Station, unbidden:

You experience hunger and thirst. When I was young, I used to think “How can I go without food or drink? Can I go without?”

But over the years, during Ramadan, I began to understand the plight of the poor and the homeless and the hungry. And that makes you think, “How can someone go without something so basic like food or water? How can you let other people go without?”

The last time I fasted, it was just overnight for dental surgery and it was excruciating. I was low on energy and on tolerance for others, and I kept snapping at family and friends for the slightest things.

Despite the inconvenience/hardship, many Muslims remain civil and even charitable and generous. I have to take my hat off to them, and learn a lesson or two.

I — as well as other non-Muslims — could also do to be more considerate towards them.

Although Islam is the second-largest religion worldwide, Muslims only account for around 15% of the local resident population. Still it’ll be thoughtful as a fellow Singaporean not to eat in front of Muslims while they are fasting. Similarly we shouldn’t whinge about food.

After all, I myself very nearly speared my own siblings with my fork for eating chocolate in front of me the past Lent. But why talk about such evil, haraam things? Looks like I still have much to learn from Ramadan.

Ramadan Mubarak and Happy Racial Harmony Day!

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* Exemptions to fasting include severe illness, pregnancy, menstruation and breastfeeding.

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