All these weeks in Indonesia (88% of population are Muslims), Malaysia (60%) and now in India (13%) we have been able to learn more about Islam.
On August 22 we witnessed the start of Ramadan. During this 30 day period Muslims are not allowed to drink, eat and between sunrise and sunset (between Subuh and Maghrib).
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam (like praying 5 times a day and going to Mecca once in your lifetime) and has to be observed by all Muslims except for sick, older people, pregnant or menstruating women (who should make up for it later in the year).
When asking people about their goal for the month of Ramadan we get very different answers: a time for reflection and self-improvement, to ask for forgiveness for sins, to learn more about their religion, to suffer and feel the compassion for their brothers in war (such as Afghanistan) who have little to eat, …
In Indonesia most people told us that fasting was not difficult for them. It is something they get used to little by little. At the age of about 12, children are encouraged to try it and fast for some hours and slowly get into the habit. By the age of 18 it is expected that you will fast from sunrise until sunset.
Muslims typically get up before sunrise pray and have breakfast, then go back to bed, get up again and have a long, long day in front of them until they can break the fast after sunset.
In Indonesia we saw many shops and restaurants closed during the day. While nutritionists in newspapers warn about the health impact, most Indonesians seem to fast strictly.
In Kuala Lumpur we experience more the commercial side to it, all restaurants and other retail outlets have their special Ramadan themes and sales, buffets and all you can eat promotions.
We especially enjoyed the buka puasa (breaking the fast) markets with lots of different specialities. Muslim Malays go there to buy special treats for breaking the fast at home. Amazing how people can shop for food with a very empty stomach and still not fall into the temptation of tasting just a tiny little something.
Today, September 21, the feasting begins with the end of Ramadan, also called hari raya or idul fitri. All the family gets together, people travel to their home towns, gifts are exchanged and plenty of food is shared.
By the end of it some will have grown personally and spiritually, others will have at least put on a few extra pounds from all the feasting.
Selamat Idul Fitri! (and happy birthday, Oskar!)
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