Ramadan begins


The biggest religious holiday in Indonesia – Ramadan – began today (July 21). For 29-30 days, Muslims will not eat or drink anything between sunup and sundown. There is also more fervant prayer and much gift-giving. Oh, and there’s no sex from dawn to dusk, either. At the end of the period, Idul fitri observed, kind of like Muslim Christmas. Children, old people, the infirm and pregnant women are exempt from fasting.

During this period, many Indonesians head for home, or their kampung (village), to be with family and friends. Two of the Goodies waitresses are planning on leaving and we don’t know if they will return.

Restaurants, like Goodies, are allowed to stay open but have to cover their windows during this holiday. The bars are closed tonight (and last night) and then can only open at 9:30 p.m.

Those who observe the holiday usually get up about 3 or 4 in the morning to gorge themselves for the day. Then, when the sun goes down, the streets are filled with people and street-side outdoor restaurants. I’m told it is quite a scene and will share photos later. Apparently, most everyone eats at these street-side restaurants.

An interesting aside to the fasting and binge eating is that food retailers typically raise their meal prices during Ramadan. As a consequence, the government subsidizes these vendors so that people can afford their food. Seems counter-productive to me but that’s the way it is.

Here’s a bit more from Wikipedia:

“Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days according to the visual sightings of the crescent moon according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in hadiths. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root “ramida” or “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat or dryness.

“Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual intercourse among spouses is allowed after one has ended the daily fast. During fasting, intercourse is prohibited as well as eating and drinking, and resistance of all temptations is encouraged. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul and free it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (Zakat).

“It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women if they believe it would be harmful to them or the unborn baby, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life.

“At sunset, the family will gather the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. The meal starts with the eating of one or more (usually three) dates — just as Muhammad used to do. Then it’s time for the Maghrib prayer, which is the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.

“Over time, Iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at mosques or banquet halls, where a hundred or more may gather at a time.

“The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (festivity of breaking the fast), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr may also be a reference toward the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day.”

All that fasting sounds downright draconian, unless you learn that (also from Wikipedia):

“A study carried out by scientists in the United States found that the mental focus achieved during Ramadan increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which causes the body to produce more brain cells, thus improving brain function. Likewise, a distinct reduction in the amount of the hormone cortisol, produced by the adrenal gland, means that stress levels are greatly reduced both during and after Ramadan.

“A team of cardiologists in the UAE found that people observing Ramadan enjoy a positive effect on their lipid profile, which means there is a reduction of cholesterol in the blood. Low cholesterol increases cardiovascular health, greatly reducing the risk of suffering from heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke. What’s more, if you follow a healthy diet after Ramadan, this newly lowered cholesterol level should be easy to maintain. One of the main problems with extreme fad diets is that any weight lost is often quickly put back on, sometimes even with a little added extra. This isn’t the case with Ramadan. The reduction in food consumed throughout fasting causes your stomach to gradually shrink, meaning you’ll need to eat less food to feel full. If you want to get into the habit of healthy eating then Ramadan is a great time to start. When it’s finished, your appetite will be lower than it was before, and you’ll be far less likely to overindulge with your eating.

“As well as being great for spiritually cleansing yourself, Ramadan acts as a fantastic detox for your body. By not eating or drinking throughout the day, your body will be offered the rare chance to detoxify your digestive system throughout the month. When your body starts eating into fat reserves to create energy, it will also burn away any harmful toxins that might be present in fat deposits. This body cleanse will leave a healthy blank slate behind, and is the perfect stepping stone to a consistently healthy lifestyle.

“By not eating throughout the day during Ramadan you’ll find that your metabolism becomes more efficient, meaning the amount of nutrients you absorb from food improves. This is because of an increase in a hormone called adiponectin, which is produced by a combination of fasting and eating late at night, and allows your muscles to absorb more nutrients. This will lead to health benefits all around the body, as various areas are able to better absorb and make use of the nutrients they need to function.”

All that healthy stuff may be true but I’m told by the expats here that Ramadan has a detrimental effect on employees, who get less sleep during this period, in addition to not having food or even water during the day. By the end of the month, employees are almost useless at their work because they are too tired and worn down.

The really, really, really good news for Indonesian Muslims, however, is that the government has decried that their employers pay them a one-month’s bonus salary at the end of Ramadan. It’s kind of an end-of-the-year bonus.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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One Response to Ramadan begins

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for the lesson.

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