Abdul Qowi Bastian
In Ramadan 2010, I made a zine – small circulation independent publication – entitled “I Only Eat at 4 a.m.” The zine served as a journal where I inscribed thoughts concerning events that took place around me during the fasting month in Melbourne, Australia.
These 30-days short entries told tales of how the younger me coping with worldly temptation in a nation where the Muslim population only make up of around 1 percent.
“I Only Eat at 4 a.m.” was sold for AU $2.5 in Sticky Institute, Melbourne, and sold or exchanged sporadically during the This Is Not Art Festival in Newcastle, New South Wales. The following is an excerpt from one of the entries:
I met a 19-year-old girl on the tram today. She identified herself neither a theist nor an atheist.
“I couldn’t identify myself as a Muslim even if I wanted to because Islam requires allegiance to one God, a notion that my family and I reject since we also practice Hinduism and Buddhism,” she said. This girl, whose name remains mystery during the tram conversation that lasted about half an hour, however practices fasting every year – since she was 16.
“What drives you to fast then?” I asked.
“I’m not fasting for the sake of religion but as a way to practice humility and self control. These elementary qualities become feats because of the way in which we as a society worship worldly pleasures and material goods. I’m simply diverting my attention from worldly needs to find peace.”
At that time, I had never seen anyone like her. She clearly grasps the rationale of why one feels the need to fast although one isn’t attached to any particular religious belief.
This sentiment apparently is shared by a Jakarta Globe blogger, Daniel Bey. In his blog post published on Monday, he wrote, “Although I am not a Muslim, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the faith – a respect which has developed and grown stronger since coming to live here in Indonesia.
“My decision to fast is therefore an attempt to better understand the
condition of being a Muslim, and so in the process, Islam itself,” added Bey.
The Internet newspaper, the Huffington Post, even dedicated a new column for this year’s Ramadan. HuffPost Religion invites newly-converted Muslims fasting for the first time or non-Muslims fasting Ramadan to share their stories.
The stories shared are wonderful and uplifting to read during this peaceful month. There’s Kaltouma Abakar, a Sudanese refuge in Finland, who fasts for nearly 20 hour every day. Then there’s an 18-year-old non-Muslim fasting for the first time.
Cody Scercy, a freshman in college, said, “When I read about Ramadan however, I fell in love … I’ve found that while I am fasting I tend to focus more internally, working to hone my strengths and extinguish my flaws.
“I’ve realized that while my fast may be temporal … I hope that during this experience I learn to emphasize with my fellow human beings and the struggles they face,” he added.
These people’s struggles need to be appreciated because fasting is a tough thing. When you eat, the meals have to be of a humble proportion because one of the main reasons you fast is to feel the hunger of people that live with less than you have. Fasting, too, is more than abstaining from food and drink: It also includes abstaining from any falsehood speech action, from arguing and fighting, and from lustful thoughts.
It is especially hard for non-Muslims because, as Bey pointed out, “For a Westerner such as myself, this means resisting the temptation to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes … This obviously requires a great deal of strength and inner-discipline, two qualities which I hope the experience can help me strengthen.”
To them, Ramadan is either a way to find inner peace or a promising challenge. When practiced right, it could be an eye-opening moment.
In an era where “many equate a normative understanding of Islam to something of radical in its nature,” these people’s stories function as an alternative eye of looking at Islam.
At the end of the day, as Scercy said, “I only hope that others have the chance of seeing the things I now notice much more clearly.”