Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Muslims prefer family gathering to break fast

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

People contemplate peace and their spirituality during the Ramadhan fasting month and this special time of the year is also an opportunity to forgive and make up with family members, friends and colleagues.

For Muslims all over the world, fasting during Ramadhan is a must. Fasting means that grown-up Muslims must refrain from bad behavior, not just food and drink, from dawn till sunset.

Ensiklopedi Islam (The Encyclopedic of Islam) quoted Muhammad Ali as-Sabuni, an exegetist, as saying that fasting has four benefits. First, it will help human beings obey Allah's orders. Second, it's an educational moment for people to be more patient in dealing with the realities of life. And finally, fasting will make people become more passionate and generous to others who are suffering and encourage people to perform religious services perfectly.

However, for Indonesians, Ramadhan is not only a religious experience since each family possesses a valuable tradition of breaking the fast together during the holy month.

"Everything about Ramadhan is always special. Being at home with all the family members (just in time for breaking the fast) is a rare occasion. Usually, unlike the remaining days of the year, we get to eat specially prepared dishes. It brings us closer," said Yanti, a 34-year-old executive on her family tradition.

Yanti is among few people who can break the fast at home. Others, including her brother and sister, have to break their fast at their offices, hotels, restaurants or even on the streets due to their daily routine or other time consuming activities.

Doddy, a staff member with a private company, said that sometimes his work required him to extend his working hours or attend meetings after office hours. This means he must break his fast at a restaurant or a cafe with his clients or colleagues.

"I prefer to do it at home but if I can't I just go to the nearest eating place with friends or colleagues," said the single man, adding that he missed the atmosphere of his big family, gathering to wait for the sound of bedug (a large drum at a mosque used to summon people to pray).

Wijaya shared a similar opinion, saying that breaking the fast at home with his family during working days was impossible.

"I usually break the fast with my friends or clients at my office or restaurants. But I make sure that I do it at home over weekends," he said.

Breaking the fast at hotels or restaurants is not a new trend in Jakarta. In fact, many hotels and restaurants have offered various Ramadhan programs to accommodate the demands of busy fasting Muslims. They offer not only home cooked meals but also religious activities including preaching or contemplation to ensure the visitors are provided with a spiritual experience.

Ramadhan has always been associated with togetherness. Many people still respect family traditions of breaking the fast together at home. But in this modern era, daily routines, businesses and the changing of lifestyles has resulted in being dragged away from the family due to the tight schedule.

Despite the fact that many companies have reduced their working hours to enable their employees to observe Ramadhan with their families, this plan is not as easy as it sounds.

"The heavy traffic in Jakarta may hamper or discourage them from returning home. The most reasonable option is to break the fast at their office or other places," said Ida Ruwaida, deputy head of the University of Indonesia's Laboratory of Sociology.

"But breaking the fast at hotels or restaurants would not belittle the meaning of fasting. With most hotels offering special Ramadhan packages, fasting Muslims can still receive spiritual enrichment there."

However, she said that some fasting Muslim still preferred to break the fast at places which have a mushola (small mosque) to perform the Maghrib (sunset) prayer or facilities to accommodate the religious activity.

Although many people have to break the fast away from home, this will not hurt the family tradition nor affect their relationships. Still, it is important to maintain a proportional time allocation for family, work and friends.

"Most people value their family traditions of celebrating Ramadhan. They respect the available time to gather with the family. Though it's a rare opportunity but the experience is deeper and more meaningful than routine activities," Ida said.

She said what has concerned her most was not the weakening of family traditions but rather the diminishing of social togetherness, like the ngabuburit tradition.

Ngabuburit is a term to describe social togetherness when members of the community await together for the sound of bedug or firecrackers at the alun-alun (a city square) before savoring ta'jil (light snacks and drinks) at their own house. After that, fasting Muslims will go to the Mosque for Tarawih (evening mass prays).

"Such a tradition will enable the people to nourish social togetherness since they feel that they are fasting together with other members of the community.

"This togetherness is still strong in the community. It is obvious when some voluntarily donate snacks or big meals and drinks to the Mosque nearest their houses. The purpose is to feed the poor or weary travelers so they can break the fast together. Unfortunately, in many areas this tradition is slowly dying," said the sociologist.