Ramadan – From an Outsider Looking in

Host: Lisa Wood/ AGP Indonesia
Written by Lisa Wood – Traceability Officer, AGP.

As I am the resident Central Station host currently living in Indonesia, I was asked to write a piece about Ramadan and what it’s all about. I am more than happy to do this, for numerous reasons, last but not least being to share our human sameness as apart from our cultural differences.

First up, what is Ramadan?  For those that don’t know it is the month of fasting leading up to the celebration of Idul Fitri. It is not only a time of not eating during the day; it is a time of watching your thoughts and emotions. It is a time of detoxifying both body and mind and looking for balance. It is a time for purification.

So what does all this mean? The first big thing is that between the hours of sun-up and sun-set, neither food nor drink, nor cigarettes, are allowed to be consumed. It means that during this month, even under the duress of hunger and thirst, you are not supposed to get angry with others. You are not supposed to become angry FULL STOP. You are supposed to watch yourself; not tell lies; not be jealous; etc. You must be on guard for your attitude and try to be a better person. You are supposed to be clean of mind and body – not only during daylight hours, but the nights as well. As one friend jokingly said, “Cannot watch adult movies during Ramadan.”

Ramadan is also a time of doing good deeds; helping out those who are less fortunate than you. Orphanages receive many donations during the month of Ramadan; as do the many poor people of Indonesia. Employers give their employees a bonus and a food basket.

Ramadan is also a time of asking forgiveness from God, your parents, and any others whom you may have wronged during the year. It’s a time of asking forgiveness for the mistakes you have made.

As someone who has a number of vices, I greatly admire the people who have the strength of character to voluntarily endure the entire month of fasting. Yes, I can do the hours of day with no food, for one day only; add to that not being able to drink water, and I am lost. At this point, I admit my vice of being a smoker, and I am totally cactus. Maybe you can begin to understand my respect for those that are able to withstand the rigours of Ramadan.

There are exceptions to this fasting rule. Sick people, pregnant women, children under the age of ten and breastfeeding mothers are not expected to fast, nor are women who happen to have their period at the time. Aged people are not expected to fast if they are not strong enough; it really depends on each individual’s condition. Children over the age of ten are expected to start with half a day of fasting. Each year the time of the first meal of the day is move back until they are able to last the day without food and drink. For those that are not able to fast, introspection is expected and respect for each other is heightened.

For those not fasting, it is considered rude to partake of food and drink in front of those that are fasting. During the day, restaurants have shutters or sheets pulled over them so you cannot see the people that may be inside eating. Some places close completely.

The end of this test to your strength of character is Idul Fitri. This is when people return home to their families.  There is a huge exodus from the cities as people return to the place of their birth, to their parents and family. Families get together to pray, to ask forgiveness of their parents and neighbours and to celebrate. The main dish of this Idul Fitri celebration is Rendang, a dish made from beef.

Now, the question came up asking “Why beef?” To me, that’s a bit like asking a Catholic “Why fish on Friday?” Chicken and fish are everyday meats. Goat, although eaten during Idul Fitri, is the main dish of another celebration – Idul Adha. Idul Adha is the celebration of the Haji, the journey to Mecca. I’m sure I’ll be writing about that another time. For Idul Fitri, the meat is beef; a meal to be shared.

Australians eat lamb on Australia Day; Americans have turkey at Thanksgiving; some of us have the Christmas ham; the Northern European side of my heritage has Piroch at Easter. I don’t know why we have these things, it just IS. It is Tradition. It is part of what makes a culture, a Culture. It is the vast richness of a society where we may find ourselves. It is what defines our differences while internally we are undergoing the same experiences and feelings.  Sometimes it is best not to over analyse and simply go with the flow.

Minal Aidin Walfaidzin, Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Batin

Minta Maaf jika ada salah (I ask for forgiveness if I have committed any wrongs/made mistakes).