We know muslims fast, but do we know why? Something new I learnt about “Ramadan,” when muslims around the world fast for a month each year, is that it is actually a “festive” season for muslims! Eventhough I have muslim friends and have witnessed them fasting through school, I just always recognized it as a month when they would be not be eating during the day. It didn’t sound very festive to me. I knew it was according to the lunar calendar, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Little did I know it was “festive” until I found myself in the minority and surrounded by a different world.
Ramadan, my friend taught me was a time of purification. Fasting is a time when they ask for forgiveness for past sins, and in turn do good deeds and restrain themselves from dawn till dusk. It’s a time of self-contemplation when one is to forgo worldy activities and get intouch with God. Ramadan is also said to be an auspicious month in which the Prophet Muhammad first revealed the verses of the Koran.
During the ramadan month “Charity” is a virtue that is encouraged and donation boxes are set up in each mosque. All those who go pray during ramadan, give donations which would later me sent out to those in need. It also is a time when families buy gifts for one another and do good things for one another. Shoppers abound.
In the evenings, large groups of families gather together to “break” fast and celebrate. Times when they “break” fast each evening differ from city to city depending upon the sunset. It’s a time of unification and celebration. Restaurants organize bangquets and buffets, and traffic jams ensue. Everyone is rushing to get to the restaurants on time.
I was fortunate enough to attend one such banquet with my friend’s family and what an event it was. Large tables of families gathered around, eating, laughing and celebrating. A variety of traditional Malaysian food could be found from rotis, curry noodles, to roasted lamb. Everything was delicious and definitely a “feast.” Long lines gathered in front of each stall and especially infront of the roast lamb. Children ran around whilst parents ate and mingled.
I am told that in the middle-east, such celebrations continue into the wee hours of the morning. Celebration is done in an even larger scale there. What an experience that must be.
Ramadan is so festive that everywhere I went, there were special cookies and gifts out on display. Shopping mall decorations had an islamic flare to it, somewhat like what you would get during New Years. Dancing and shows are performed for all to see and beautiful hand-woven materials are put on display. Ramadan is also a time when muslims around the world dress up in their traditional clothes to go celebrate.
The festivities end with Hari Raya, the day when the fasting ends, and when everyone gathers together to pray. In majority-islam countries, it is considered a national holiday.
Away from my buddhist world, I discover another facet of this world that I’ve never witnessed before. All religions teach us to be good people, and all religions have their charm to it. I was definitely touched by my time in KL, and especially by my exposure to islam. Actually knowing something and thinking you “know” something isn’t the same.