KISSA AND DAWAT: Pagpuasa (Fasting) and Self-Liberation

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 01 June) – In a few days the Ramadhan-long fasting will be over for this year. It will culminate in the Eid al Fitr (feast of sacrifice) celebration, a national holiday.

Fasting (known as sawm in Arabic; plural form siyam) is prescribed as mandatory for Muslim adults. Excepted from this mandate are children, pregnant, infirmed and senior Muslims. Among Moros, especially those in the Sulu Archipelago, this practice is known as ‘pagpuasa’.

Interestingly, pagpuasa from the Sinug root word ‘puas’, means free or relieve, complementary in meaning with other terms associated with fasting, such as ‘pagtahan’ which is, to fast, persevere or forebear from something and ‘pagta’gang’ to resist or hold back. If fasting is an act of freedom or relief, what does the Tausug psyche call for freedom from or freedom of what?

In the Tausug psyche, human is born with napsu (carnal desires) as well as tendency for goodness (karayawan). Daily, a person is engaged in a struggle (sangsa’). So, when human thought and action is good or produces goodness, then s/he is called a ‘tau marayaw’ (good person) and when human thought or action is bad or produces something that is not good, then s/he is ‘nara sin napsu’ or driven by carnal desire. Human as we are, there is strong tendency to slide down to hedonism.

Thus, pagpuasa is a special, leapfrogging period when the consciousness is diverted from physiologic needs while the Sun is up and diverted towards aspiring for communion with the Divine. During this month-long period, the usual mundane routines, such as watching television, use of social media and the likes, are kept to a minimum. Instead different acts of ibadah (worship) are pursued with selfless intensity and dedication – from duwaa (supplication) to sambahayang (prayer), from jikir (remembrance) to sambahayang sunnat (optional prayers), from magkifarah (seeking forgiveness) to magduwaa (communal supplication), and finally, from reading to reciting (pagbassa) the Holy Qur’an.

While food, drink and sex can commence and is allowed after sunset until dawn, the night follows the same forms of worship and intensity. By doing so, a Tausug believes s/he is decreasing hedonistic tendency and elevating one’s self closer to the Divine mercy (ulung) and love (lasa). The intensity is also based on the belief that the spiritual benefits during the month of Ramadhan is ‘lipat manglipat’ or multiplied tremendously, while providence that comes after is also in multitude or ‘salaggu’-laggu’’. This is why, at the end of the fasting season, there are those who would feel bad, crying or subdued in their celebration as they lament the passing of the multiplying effect of the blessed month; and wondering if they will still be alive when the next Ramadhan kicks in.

Pagpuasa, aside from active consciousness and worship of the Almighty, is also a period of ‘pagmura’ or generosity. ‘In lima mangdirihil labi apdal dayin ha lima timatabuk’ (A giving hand is better than a receiving one) goes a saying. Those who can afford in small or big quantity often do so with gusto by inviting people, near and far, to break the fast (pagbuka’) with them; ‘mangdihil’ or to share with neighbors, especially to the ilu (orphan) and miskin (poor).

Pagpuasa, aside from the primary objective of pleasing the Divine by fasting from physiologic needs for the day, is also a unique period of psychological taming – actively controlling one’s self from angst, envy, idle talk or any negative ills. The taming is a way of fighting the napsu or carnal desires and aspiring to envelop one’s self in higher angelic qualities, to be a ‘tau marayaw’ or a good person in general, and to be ‘tau mag-iibadat’ or a person of piety in particular.

The Tausug also believes that the acts of ‘pagtahan hapdi’ uhaw’ (fasting from hunger and thirst), ‘pagpa’gang napsu’ (resisting carnal desires), and ‘pag-ibadat’ (performing worship and good deeds) liberate one’s self from the devil’s claw. Unhindered, human is now able to flourish and prosper both in the here and the hereafter; thus, realizing the profundity of the elders or kinamaasan’s existential question – ‘unu in maksud mahi in manusiya’ piyalahil pa dunya’ (what is the raison d’etre for human existence)?

Having discovered the raison d’etre and; fasted and reformed one’s self for the duration of the month of Ramadhan, the end of it becomes a ‘salamat hari raya puasa’, a blessed day of happiness, freedom and liberation.

‘Eid Mubarak (a blessed feast) everyone!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an Insider Mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue).

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