By Mohammad Yazid
June 18 2015
Like most Muslim families in Indonesia, my parents taught their children to fast during Ramadhan when we were first-graders.
The introduction to fasting from an early age in Muslim families is common as this practice is one of the most of the five important pillars of Islam to be observed by Muslims in adulthood.
After realizing the lessons to be learned from fasting, including the benefits of mental and spiritual improvements, I’m also handing down these values to my children in performing the obligation.
Fasting for one full month is certainly no easy matter for children because apart from draining energy and stamina, it also forces fasting people to change their living patterns.
On the other hand, the government has always announced the availability of food stocks and the security situation on the days approaching the fasting month, including other preparations to anticipate the peak of Ramadhan, Idul Fitri.
Although the government intends to respect people observing this religious duty, the attention on food stocks raises the question: Are Muslims intent on fasting or feasting during Ramadhan?
The fact is that food demand continues to increase in Ramadhan compared with other months.
Such circumstances become no longer compatible with the message of Ramadhan, which teaches a modest way of living and greater appreciation for disadvantaged people.
Shouldn’t we reduce food intake in the fasting month? Further, some offices reduce work hours in Ramadhan. Can’t this be misunderstood to mean that Islam encourages people against working hard and making achievements while fasting?
If that is the case, where’s the teaching of mental and spiritual improvements?
If some parents pay more attention to their children’s food needs, this is surely understandable because small children are still learning to fast — unlike adults.
Therefore, annually observed fasting should not affect our activities. Everything should be business as usual in the fasting month.
Thus, when fasting results in declining work productivity, this indicates people are unprepared to adapt to changes while fasting.
This may happen as they haven’t prepared themselves for the arrival of Ramadhan.
When one is unprepared, the fasting that should be performed with sincerity and joy becomes highly burdensome.
As a result, fasting that should be something normal as an annual practice can affect daily patterns, such as a perceived need to serve more food to the family than usual, to eat more and to experience lower motivation at work.
To this end, several Islamic boarding schools or pesantren in Indonesia and many ulema make preparations long before Ramadhan, like encouraging fasting throughout the year, twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays as a sunnah (non-obligatory) practice, from after Idul Fitri to the next fasting month.
Some people also engage in extra fasting for two full months before Ramadhan.
All this is conducted as a form of exercise ahead of the obligatory fasting. When people are already accustomed to fast they become resolute and strong for Ramadhan.
They also perform fasting in a more spiritual manner to safeguard their hearing, sight and speech against everything that can spoil their aqidah (faith). This is what Sufi adherents call daim (almost-continuous fasting all year long).
The objective of daim fasting is to maintain equilibrium between hablumminalloh (the vertical relationship with Allah) and hablumminnass (the horizontal relationship with fellow humans).
In this way people are expected to be able to maintain good associations in line with the message of the Prophet Muhammad, “Innama buitsu liutamimma makarimal akhlak” (I was sent to the world only to complete moral character).
The problem is that many Muslims limit fasting to the obligatory 30 days without preparations to fathom why they are taught to fast during Ramadhan. Consequently, their behavior and aqidah are not enhanced in spiritual terms.
Unsurprisingly, the noble aim of fasting fails to be appropriately achieved. Despite their early training, whatever they’re doing shows no improvement in behavior, especially in the context of constitutional life.
Under the Joko “Jokowi” Widodo government’s efforts to achieve a “mental revolution”, fasting could serve as one instrument to improve public mentality, such as by reducing the high rate of corruption and other violations of law and by revitalizing the spirit of hard work and discipline.
In reality all manner of deviation and legal violations have remained the same in Ramadhan as in other months. Several groups turn fasting into an object, abusing Ramadhan and the upcoming Idul Fitri festival, by seeking donations and imposing illegal fees under false arguments, for the sheer purpose of collecting large sums of holiday money.
The fasting month doesn’t change, for instance, the lack of traffic discipline and legal obedience. The rate of legal violations may decline, but thereafter everything returns to “normal” because the public is already used to infringements.
Ramadhan lasting only a month obviously can’t be the sole means of improving mentality and behavior in general.
Like a patient suffering from a severe illness, ordinary drugs, of course, won’t suffice to ensure recovery. It takes more serious treatments and care possibly over a longer period, in order to recuperate.
A change in character will only be achieved if our spirit of fasting is also cultivated on the days other than those in the month of Ramadhan.
Thus, performing the fasting duty coupled with preparations prior to Ramadan can be among the solutions for the mental and spiritual betterment of Indonesian society, particularly the Muslim community.
Mohammad Yazid is a staff member on The Jakarta Post’s opinion desk.