Ramadan Culture that Confuses Non Muslims

Hey, everyone!

It feels like years since the last time I posted on this blog, while actually it’s only been two weeks! As I mentioned on this post, it’s a little bit hard for me to keep my old schedule to write blog posts since I got a new job. It’s actually even worse now because a relative who stays in my house and helps me take care of my son while I’m working went to her hometown for Ramadan and Eid (biggest Muslim celebration in a year). So basically I will be a single fighter until after Eid. Thank goodness my mom lives in nearby city so she will come help me every couple days in a week. That’s why I took a break from writing for two weeks just to let my self ‘breathe’ a little bit amidst this whole situation.

Speaking about Ramadan and Eid, last week’s Sunday evening (May 5th, 2019) marked the start of Ramadan month this year according to Islamic calendar. If you don’t know what Ramadan is, I found this article from Google where you can read simple and short but clear explanation about Ramadan. Ramadan month lasts for 30 days, and after that, we, Muslims, will have Eid al-Fitr celebration that usually takes up to one week long. So when I said my relative who helps me take care of my son is in a long holiday for Ramadan and Eid, it means I have to juggle between my son, my teaching job, and this blog all alone for around 5 weeks. I actually don’t know how I can handle that so if you’re a busy mom like me, please give me some advice!

In today’s post, since we are in the topic already, I thought I want to share with you my Ramadan experience among many people from different nations and ethnicity during my stay in Japan for three years. As Japan is a Muslim-minority country, not many people (Japanese or other non-Muslim foreigners who live in Japan) are aware about Ramadan’s customs. So I thought it would be interesting to share what non-Muslims think about Ramadan according to my experience. I hope you don’t mind that I take you to a trip down my memory lane so that you will get to know me little by little!

Now, let’s get started!

No Eating and Drinking During The Day

While non-Muslims in Indonesia (as Muslim-majority country) are aware about what Muslims do during Ramadan, that’s not the case for my Japanese and foreigner friends in Japan. When they first heard about Ramadan and came to realize that I won’t be eating and drinking during the day for a WHOLE month, they were shook!

“Won’t you be dead if you aren’t drinking and eating for more than 10 hours?” was the most common question I got from my friends. The fact is, we won’t (in God’s will). Our body can hold up to three weeks without food and up to four days without water (according to this article). So don’t worry, 12 hour-ish without food and water is doable!

The fact is, we must not drink and eat (or simply called ‘fast’) from sunrise until sunset, so the time will be different around the globe. In Indonesia, since we are near equator, we are so lucky to have similar hour-long between day and night. But during my stay in Japan, Ramadan always occurred in summer, so the day was longer than the night. At that time, I had to fast for about 17 hours. But I know it wasn’t the hardest fast known. In other countries, they have to fast for nearly 20 hours.

The next common question I got was, “Why would you sacrifice yourself like that just because your religion told you to do so?” First thing first, ‘fasting’ not only about ‘not drinking and eating’ only, but also about ‘abstaining our self from humanity desire or pleasure, such as sex, swearing, arguing, or smoking’ because this month is a special month for worshiping and getting closer to God. The fact is, personally, because I’m used to do it since I was a kid, I don’t feel any pressure to do it, but i must admit that fasting 17 hours in Japan was much harder than 12 hours in Indonesia. And about the ‘sacrifice’ thing, I feel like by abstaining myself from pleasure activities, I can focus more on my spiritual dedication. I always feel like I became a better person by the end of Ramadan by not arguing with people or restraining my anger. So definitely I must say rather than sacrificing myself by being hungry all day long, I feel the significance of my personal growth is worth the struggle (I hope it makes sense!).

Eating before Dawn

So how do we survive fasting during the day? We actually eat before dawn, and by ‘dawn’ here is also on different times around the world. In Japan when Ramadan lasted on summer, the dawn was 02.30, while in Indonesia it is typically around 04.30.

You might think that we eat a lot during this time, but actually, it’s hard to eat a lot while we’re still half asleep >< In the end, we can only eat just enough to start our day without looking too miserable.

I personally tend to avoid too much carbo or fat. It’s better to take a lot of protein and fiber as it slows down the digestion process, hence makes us feel full a little bit longer. I also make sure I drink a lot water.

Getting Together and Eating after Sunset

One of our favorite time would be none other than the time when we can break our fast. It is around 19.00 in Japan during summer, and 17.30 in Indonesia.

During this time, we usually get together with our family and friends and break our fast together. In Japan, in the city where I lived in, we have huge Muslim community because my city has some universities and research centers, so I can safely say that my city was very foreigner friendly. We have one mosque that is actually not very big, but because of that, we feel very close to each other.

During Ramadan, we had break-fasting schedule almost everyday in the mosque, and in every schedule, we took turn to prepare the food according to our countries. We have Indonesian, Malaysian, Arab, Egypt, Indian, Bangladesh, and Pakistan community when I lived there, so I’m so grateful to be able to experience so many different Ramadan dishes from around the world. We sat together without distinguishing nations and ethnicity, and we just felt as one big Muslim brothers and sisters :’)

Break-fasting menu from Arab Community, photo by me
Break-fasting menu by Pakistan Community, photo by me
Break-fasting menu by Bangladesh Community, photo by me
Break-fasting menu by Indonesia & Malaysia Community, photo by me

So sorry for the low quality photos, guys. I retrieved those photos from my personal IG account. I took them around 2013-2015 when I was still living in Japan, at that time I didn’t know how to make objects look aesthetic on photos. I basically just took the photos for documentary purpose. But I’m sure you get the idea! XD

Praying until Late at Night

And after break-fasting, we had a special prayer that was longer than usual (and by ‘usual’ here I mean months other than Ramadan month). This prayer actually can be done alone in our own home or together in the mosque. But definitely it feels different when we pray together in the mosque and it feels more Ramadan.

This prayer usually started around 21.00 in Japan because of the summer time, while in Indonesia it started around 19.30. The length of the prayer is actually different according to each mosques’ custom. In our mosque in Japan, this prayer usually finished around 22.30. But this is not an obligatory prayer (like I’ve said before). There were several breaks in the middle of the prayer, so we can go home during those breaks if we want to. Or we can completely skip it from the beginning and do it alone in our home.

So after the prayer, me and my friends usually rode our bicycle together from the mosque to our apartment or dorm in Japan. Even though it’s almost midnight, it felt so nice to be with friends, riding our bicycle in the middle of the road. How I missed those time when I was young and free XD

So those are our Ramadan culture, especially when I was living among many Muslims from different countries in Japan. This is such a rare experience and I can’t thank Allah (God) enough for giving me the opportunity to meet my brothers and sisters from around the world and share Ramadan together for once in my lifetime. When I think that I might not be able to repeat this experience, I am a little bit sad. But at least, I have this memory to remember forever :’)

That’s all guys for today’s post. I hope you enjoyed reading it! If you’re not Muslims, do you find this culture interesting? Or maybe do you have some Muslim friends and know how their Ramadan culture is? Are they different than mine? If you’re Muslims, where are you from and how is your Ramadan culture? Share it on the comments below because I’m really interested to know about that, too!

See you on my next post!

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