Ramadan Mubarak, (a blessed Ramadan)

When first I came to the largest Islamic country in the world, Indonesia, we arrived in the beginning of Ramadan. I had no understanding of this sacred time or how it was observed. Soon I learned that the faithful fast during daylight hours. I was to learn it was so much more than the absence of food.

My first encounter was with a fuel merchant and his agent. The agent, who seemed to target Sail Indonesia Rally participants, gave me a price, very cheap, and arranged the delivery of 1000 liters of solar (diesel) at the pier the next day. The fueling was a town event, everyone showed up as the truck full of barrels drove down the wharf. We received the fuel and I tried to pay for it then but was told to do so later. That afternoon I found the agent and he informed me the price had gone up, the fuel vender was there and the two had a long and apparently disagreeable conversation. I kept telling the agent of the original quoted price. Bear in mind at this time I had no idea of the complexities of procuring fuel in Indonesia, something I mastered later.

After a while of bickering and as the sunset, they all just walked off! I was left on the dock with a pile of money in my hand. The last thing I wanted was to not pay my bill; I walked after them to no avail and was told to meet in the morning. Being totally ignorant of Ramadan it did not dawn on me that they were simply hungry and grumpy as I certainly would be in their shoes. The next morning we all met smiles around and a compromise was agreed on. The bill paid we all joined arms for a round of picture taking. I left the experience with new friends and my first glimpse into this strange custom. Lesson learned do not try to do business in the late afternoon during Ramadan!

Now two Ramadan’s under my belt I have a deeper appreciation for this time of year. The participation of Ramadan is universal with some practical exceptions: surgeons, pilots and pregnant women are excluded for example. All Muslims partake and partake fully. They fast during day light hours for the entire month. There is not Ramadan Light, it is all or nothing. I am in awe of the dedication. But more than the fasting it is a time of peace.

Kindness and friendship, two things that Indonesians have in abundance take on an even more significant role. It was absolutely critical to the fuel vender that we parted friends. Ramadan is not a trial it is a source of blessing. It is a way to experience the plight of the poor and charity is enhanced during this time. It is said that during Ramadan the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of Hell are closed, Satan is put into chains during Ramadan. The great theologian al-Ghazali said that fasting at Ramadan is one quarter of the faith.

So we arrived at Gili Air, a place of party and fun and many foreigners not expecting to see much difference during Ramadan. I had been asked to come back to Gili Air at this time to help at the Blue Marlin Dive Center as they do lose many of their Indonesian dive guides who return home for Ramadan. I was also looking forward to the party, the music and the fun of Gili Air. I was surprised to find that most places stopped having live music and there were no parties, in respect for the Islamic residence. Not to be daunted there is actually a “silent disco” where everyone wears a headset and silently dances to club music a bizarre but respectful way to have a party and not offend.

I did find one of my musician friends playing at the far end of the island, not sure of why but I am glad to join Jay Six Strings for some acoustic music on the white sandy beach. We do no play during prayers or on Friday.

So I ponder this wonderful and exotic custom, could we do it? Could you not eat, drink, have sex or any other physical enjoyment in daylight hours for one month a year? How would the Christian world cope with such a rigorous practice? Would it bring peace or hostility? Would people cheat? Would it be commercialized as Christmas is?

Ramadan is a window into the extreme faith of the Islamic peoples around the world, to understand Islam you must understand Ramadan. I am in awe of the dedication, the kindness, the generosity and the peace that Ramadan brings. So with a clearer understanding and total respect I wish all my Islamic friends Salamet Ramadan and I look forward to Id al-fitr.