PERSONAL ESSAY: The essence of Ramadhan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 July) — My experience of Ramadhan is centered on my family, the food we eat, and the prayers spent in the mosques for the juma’a, tarawi and tahajud. Our hadith (Traditions of the Prophet) state that the obligatory prayer counts seventy times its value during this month,  and that sunnah prayer / voluntary prayer gains the same reward as an obligatory one, and that in the Night of Ascension / Laylatul Qadr is better than that of a thousand months.

When I was a young boy, the holy month of Ramadhan was described as the time when the gates of hell are closed and the gates of heaven are opened. Satan’s army are locked in hell, and the angels are with us guiding our daily lives.

We generally spend more money during Ramadhan. In terms of the food, during i’ftar (breaking of fast during night time) it was like a feast. Different fruits are served. We also have “sindol”/ginataan, pastil, chicken papar, beef randang, palapa (made of coconut), tinapayan, and others. The day’s sacrifice is indeed rewarded during night time.

In the morning, we do all the different sort of activities to pass the time. We play chess, read the Holy Quran, watch movies, and sometimes just sleep the whole day.

Ramadhan in our hometown in Cotabato City had a festive atmosphere, bringing families and relatives more close to one another, sharing religious experiences and moral discipline.

In the words of Samuli Schielke, an anthropologist who studies Islam, , “Ramadhan, in this mosaic of a moral universe, is a site of higher order, a moral exception which through the exercise of fasting established a clear hierarchy and a clear teleology: the commands of God and the prospect of Paradise.” It seems that we can not expect all Muslims to be practicing Muslim the whole year round. Similar to a colloquial proverb: ‘there is an hour for your heart and an hour for your Lord’ (sa al-qalbak wa-assaa al rabbak).

The way I see it, the month of Ramadhan makes Muslims more observant of their faith and their religious obligations. It is also a season where most of the datus are not drinking alcoholic beverages. The beer houses are closed, gambling like cock fighting and any card games are also put on hold. We give respect to the holy month.

This year 2013, Ramadan 1434 begins at sundown, depending on moon sighting, it may begin on Tuesday, July 9 and will end 29 or 30 days after. Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month of fasting in which Muslims around the world refrain from eating, drinking, that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. Ramadhan is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God (Allah) and to offer more prayers than usual.

During Ramadhan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

We have to understand that the dates of Ramadhan vary, moving backwards about ten days each year as it is a moving holiday depending on the moon.  Ramadan commemorates the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were said to be revealed to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

Nowadays, when I grow up learning about the harsh realities in Mindanao, we celebrate Ramadhan not just by refraining from eating and drinking in excess but most importantly treat this as a time for peace, reflection and resolution to end the decades of conflict. For many decades, Mindanao has been torn in rido (clan feud) and buried in abject poverty and injustice, conditions that brought it to become a hotbed of Moro separatist movement and communist insurgency.

The Ramadhan celebration here in the Philippines and Mindanao in general and Ateneo de Davao University in particular is dedicated for fasting and reflection towards a better understanding of the facets of Islam among the Muslims and non-Muslims. Interreligious dialogue is one of the core principles of the Ateneo de Davao University’s vision, mission and goals. This month of Ramdhan can be an active venue for both Muslims and Christians in providing space for this VMG to materialize at the school level.

On a bigger perspective, this celebration of Ramadhan can be an opportunity to advocate for a stop to war in Mindanao and to offer reconciliation based on justice among Christians, Muslims, and Indigenous Peoples. About 10 million Muslims in the Philippines are expected to observe Ramadhan, all hoping for the betterment of Mindanao and its people.

To demonstrate its aspiration of promoting peace and reconciliation during the Holy Month of Ramadhan, Al Qalam Institute and the Asatidz Council of Davao City, with its partners will distribute mineral water, dates, bread, fruits and coffee at day break during the end of fast every Friday at the different Muslim communities in Davao City.

There will also be a film showing  every Wednesday afternoon to raise awareness among the Ateneans on the essence of Ramadhan and why Muslims around the globe fast during this time of the year.

In the whole month of Ramadhan, Muslims are expected to give the time to Allah (SWT). On the last day, it is the time for “idl fitr“, the feast of breaking the fast that marks the end of the holy month.

As a student of anthropology, I try to apply what I learn in class. I try to problematize how most of us are actually observing Ramadhan. By looking at the way we practice Ramadhan, we need to see how Muslims evolved in Mindanao. How cable TV, internet, and time spent inside the malls watching movies to pass the time during this month somehow detaches us from the true essence of this month of sacrifice.  (Mussolini Lidasan, an Iranun from Maguindanao,  is executive director of the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, based at the Ateneo de Davao University where he is also pursuing his MA Anthropology)