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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Ramadan Is More Than Just Fasting

 Ramadan Is More Than Just Fasting


M. Bakri Musa

In the documentary film “American Ramadan,” a Christian minister related his experience in Malaysia during that holy month. He was at the airport at dusk to retrieve his luggage, but every worker was rivetted on the clock, awaiting the breaking of fast. He did not know then the significance of the month and thus could not comprehend their obsession with time. An older clerk however came over to help him while the others were busy eating.

That older clerk best demonstrates the true meaning and spirit of Ramadan. It is more than just fasting; it is about being generous to others, including a total stranger. The clerk could just as easily join his co-workers in eating or have the counter closed.

Ramadan As Allah’s Special Blessing

Tradition has it that during Ramadan the doors to Hell are closed while the gates to Heaven are wide open, a reflection of Allah’s generosity. The best way for us to show our respect for Ramadan, and thus for Allah, is to reciprocate His generosity by being generous to our fellow humans and His other creations.

Ramadan is a season to be forgiving and to be forgiven. It distresses me that no Muslim nation, Malaysia included, have shown fit to grant their prisoners amnesty during Ramadan. Imagine the positive image of Islam if Muslim leaders were to be generous to their citizens, especially those prisoners of conscience.

Just as the day’s fasting heightens our sensitivity to the flavor of even the simplest food at dusk, likewise Allah heightens or enhances the spirituality and blessings of our regular ibadat (religious duties) when performed during Ramadan.

It is said that the virtue of praying on the “Night of Power” (one of the last ten nights of Ramadan) equals that of “a thousand months,” or that certain ibadat are worth “44 times more” if done during Ramadan. We should not be obsessed with the magnitude of the enhancements. Suffice to know that they are, and that should motivate us even more to perform them with even greater fervor and frequency during Ramadan. The prophet encouraged us to partake in community iftars (breaking of the fast) not only for the communal bonding but also to share with those less fortunate.

Fasting takes a toll on our body, but Allah in His Generosity does not require us to fast if that would impose an undue burden as when we are sick, traveling, or pregnant. Nonetheless those blessed with good health and where fasting would not pose an undue strain should still have to be prepared. We must maintain our regular physical exercises and health routines, with particular emphasis on our oral hygiene. Additionally, we should be clean, neatly attired, and keep ourselves well-trimmed. If we aspire to be spiritually clean, we must also be physically so.

Ramadan As “Time Out!”

Ramadan makes extra demands of us. At its elemental level Ramadan forces us to change our daily routine. For Muslims in the tropics where there are no distinct seasons to modulate their activities, this is useful. In temperate zones, the long cold winter nights are for rest and the long days of summer for work. Such a marked natural rhythm is absent in the tropics.

Ramadan also serves as a convenient time frame to anchor memories, as with “the last Ramadan of the Japanese Occupation,” or the “first” following the birth or death of a family member.

The altered routine forces one to pause and reflect, a “time out” of sorts, to step back off the conveyor belt of life. When I was a consultant to a lumber mill in Oregon, the manager took me on a tour of his facility so I could better appreciate the injuries of his workers. I saw huge logs being subjected to harsh debarking, repeatedly sawn through, and then bent and bounced about as they were mechanically sorted and graded. You could hardly hear one another with the noise and vibrations.

Then I was taken to the warehouse where the atmosphere was completely the opposite – eerily quiet, with stacks of cut lumber neatly piled up and left undisturbed. Even the workers whispered to each other, as if respecting the quiet time of the lumber. This was the curing room, with its light, temperature, and humidity controlled and kept constant.

After the logs had been through the stresses of the mill, the products needed time to recover before they would be subjected again to the stresses at the factory or construction sites. If they were not allowed to recover or be “cured,” they could break easily and the company’s brand name would suffer.

If inanimate objects like lumber needs “rest time” to recover from the hectic experience of the mill, imagine the need for such times for humans. Ramadan is that necessary “time out,” a season to pause and reflect.

Metabolic Consequences of Fasting

Obesity is the number one public health challenge in America today. Moderate caloric reduction significantly lengthens lifespans. With humans, obesity is a definite contributor to increased morbidity and shortened lifespan. Imagine if fasting were to be a habit! I routinely lose about five to ten pounds during Ramadan. That feels great! If nothing else, fasting is a respite for our digestive system that is incessantly stressed by our daily indulgences.

These benefits of Ramadan would be negated if we were to be a glutton after sunset. With the increasingly common practice of indulging with elaborate iftars at fancy hotels, many Muslims gain weight! Such extravagances are certainly not in the spirit of a season that calls for restraint and moderation.

At the House of Kedah restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, there was a sign at its buffet table, “There will be $5.00 charge, donated to charity, for unfinished plate.” What a wonderful idea! It prevents waste and discourages gluttony.

The caloric deprivation and mild dehydration of fasting affect brain function by heightening the neural connections in the areas concerned with emotions; hence the enhanced spirituality experienced by many when meditating during Ramadan.

When we are generous with ourselves, we would also be more likely to be generous to others. It is in this spirit that I wish my fellow Muslims, “Selamat Berpuasa!” (Best wishes with your fast!) and Ramadan Mubarak! (Joyous Ramadan!)

First posted in September 23, 2007.


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