Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan for Non-Muslims

Original Source: The Jakarta Globe, 21 August 2009

Once the Ramadan season begins, life will change for most of Indonesia’s residents, and not just for Muslims. People of other faiths, as residents of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, will see their usual routines altered, whether they like it or not.

Ivanhoe Semen is a Protestant, but he refrains from eating in front of his fasting friends and colleagues during Ramadan as he doesn’t want to tempt them. “I’m not concerned at all about [refraining from eating],” he said.

Yunita Anindya, 25, on the other hand, eats in front of friends who are fasting, “because they insist that I do so,” she said. “They’re relaxed when it comes to eating and they don’t want to be separated from me during lunchtime.”

But smoking is a different matter.

“Most of my friends smoke,” she said. “[Not] smoking is harder for them, and so I always avoid smoking in front of them.”

Gunther Tampubolon, a non-Muslim who works as a business developer, said there were some minor annoyances during Ramadan.

“Many offices have their canteens closed during Ramadan,” he said. “Where do we go to eat?”

The Muslim holy month can also mean a change in traffic patterns. Ivanhoe said that although traffic was less congested during the normal rush hours of 5 to 7 p.m., it only means that gridlock happens earlier as Muslims rush home in time for the buka puasa [breaking of the fast] at sundown.

Yunita attends university in the Sudirman area, and for her Ramadan means an earlier rush hour, too. “The traffic worsens leading up to buka puasa,” she said.

Gunther usually goes home after 6 p.m., so for him Ramadan means less traffic. “The streets are less congested this time of the year,” he said. “It’s very organized.”

But people going home earlier is a problem in itself, he said.

“During Ramadan, work hours are not maximized,” he said. “The atmosphere in the workplace is much more relaxed, and people postpone work or go home early, using fasting as the justification.”

Although such actions are widely accepted, Gunther feels they could be bad for the country.

“We’re trying to improve the economy,” he said. “But people switch from third gear down to second gear during Ramadan. That isn’t good. There should be more professional commitment.”

The earlier-than-usual start to the day as Muslims wake up for sahur — the pre-dawn meal — can also be annoying to non-Muslims who want to sleep longer.

Children in Yunita’s neighborhood frequently set off fireworks to help people wake up. “It sometimes bothers me in the mornings,” she said.

And although a time of self-discipline, Ramadan can also be a month of sharing.

Gunther said that during Ramadan he was able to spend more quality time with friends and family who observe the fasting period by joining them for buka puasa.
Ivanhoe, who is involved in the youth wing of a political party, said Ramadan gives him an opportunity to show respect for his Muslim friends.

For the past few years he has participated in a youth project, organized through the party, that provides free sahur to homeless people. He also helps prepare food for party members to break the fast.

“Our country is being strained by problems such as the recent bombings,” he said. “Ramadan is living proof that non-Muslims and Muslims can unite.”