Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Fasting Month

The fasting month of Ramadan (known as Bulan Puasa) is from 22 August to 20 September this year. Today is the middle of the fasting month: two weeks down, two weeks to go.

For a partially-fasting foreigner, this is an interesting time of year for the changes in social relations that occur. Colleagues with whom you are used to having tea with every morning are seldom to be seen, while the people sitting close to your cubicle seem more accessible, since they are not off having breakfast or lunch with their mates. People also tend to be grumpier.

One hobby of mine is to observe the cheating that goes on by those who are supposed to be fasting. Yesterday I was at a foodstall having my lunch when four men of a certain race entered the stall and ordered takeout rice meals (styrofoam containers). Since I was only at the stall for 15-20 minutes, the probability is high that many other men of the same race did likewise.

(Right: Ramadan "fasting" trash from well-known takeout window)

Again, this morning, I observed the same thing when I went to the local shop to buy the morning newspaper. A van full of men of this particular race pulled up to the shop and purchased take-out rice dishes. Typically, they go to secluded places where they can eat and dump the trash in peace.

Certain restaurants have back-rooms in which these types of men are seen to enter, followed by plates of food a few minutes later. Since restaurants can get in trouble for selling food to them, it is best not to point out which ones do this. (I mean, why punish the cheaters; easier to punish the restaurants, right?)

My understanding is that the religious law to be followed by these people is that one does not need to fast if: (1) a female on her monthly mense; (2) a pregnant woman; (3) an invalid; or (4) people traveling far from home. Considering that men tend to be the most-likely-to-eat then they must be far from home (hahahahaha).

Of course, as a foreigner, one is really supposed to be like the famous See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys.

I call myself a partially-fasting foreigner for I follow a simple rule: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Since open foodstalls are hard to find during the fasting month (unless you are a man of that particular race!), I fast on the days in which I work and cannot take a lunch break (less than one hour). That tends to be Monday through Thursday. On the other days, I do not fast since I am usually at home with my wife. Part of this stems from the fact that I want to feel what my students feel. Empathy is one of the greatest traits of a good teacher; i.e., the ability to use common sense in dealing with students.

Going without food for one meal is no big deal. What is hard is the foregoing of water during the day, especially given the humidity and fact that I have to lecture for several hours each day.

I do not look down on those who cheat on their own religion, however, since I consider that what religion should be concerned with is to look after widows and orphans, and to keep oneself from being polluted by what one takes in through the eyes and ears. Thus, we are not talking about food or drink here.


  1. I should know this having grown up in this country,too but I don't.
    Is it true that these people of the certain race has to forego water as well during Ramadan?
    P.S. I am of another race, not the one you're talking about:)

  2. Yes. No water between sunrise and sunset. Not even swallowing your saliva is allowed. Food, I can go without, for several days (and have done so before). But water? Hard on the body since we need water to flush out toxins.

  3. i am one of the race.hahaha...your observation is spot on.swallowing saliva is i was small i was told so.but actually it is not that strict.but practically no one swallowing saliva like water.saliva outside ur mouth is not allowed to be swallowed.act fasting is not that is always hard on the first day,atleast u're almost to b dead.that's why it's a good practice to fast b4 fasting i was 15 years old,i fast 3months(not in fasting month), and i played rugby every u understand in msia not everyone is religious.what subject do you teach?where do u live?