August 16, 2010

Expatriates full throttle with fasting

Ika Krismantari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Sat, 08/14/2010 11:23 AM

The first time is always the hardest.

That is the conclusion that can be made from the experience of Muslim expatriates when it comes to fasting, a requirement of Islam, stipulating Muslims must not eat and drink, and control their emotions during the day.

Take 30-year-old housewife Maria Myutel from Russia for example. She experienced the first Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, in Mumbai, India, where she converted to Islam in 2005.

“I lost a bit of weight and was sick most of the time,” the mother of two said.

She realized that was because she did not know how to fast properly.

Not until she married an Indonesian man and went to Jakarta where she learned the right way to do it. However, Maria had not been able to fast for few years due to two pregnancies. Being a Muslim for almost five years, she only fasted for full month twice and hopefully will make it a third time this year. She even fasted when she breastfed her first son in 2007.

“I am surprised, but I could produce enough milk, and my son is healthy,” the woman who lives with her family in Ciledug, Tangerang said.

But that doesn’t mean fasting is an easy feat for her.

“The hardest thing to do is not drink,” she said.

Jafar, 40, from the US, also encounters difficulty fasting.

“The first time was difficult because it was something new and the most difficult thing was being hungry,” the man said, sharing his first experience on fasting in Pennsylvania, the US.

Jafar said he did not fast for 10 days during his first attempt.

But, amazingly after that, he has never failed. This year will be Jafar’s 20th time fasting for Ramadan.

“I realized that I have fasted for two years of my life. I counted in all, I’ve fasted for more than 600 days,” he said.

The man, who works as a consultant for the Indonesian government, said he converted to Islam 20 years ago in the US after undertaking “personal study”.

“In some [religions], I found internal contradictions especially in philosophy. Sometimes they say nice things, but they do not guide you through your life.

“But after reading the Koran in English, I didn’t find any contradictions. That is probably the main thing that convinced me,” said the man who has been living in Indonesia for 13 years.

When it comes to fasting, Jafar sees it as more than not eating and drinking. He sees it as more like spiritual learning, through which people can improve their spiritual quotient. “It teaches you to understand that you don’t need that much food. You realize eating twice a day is enough,” the man said.

Like other Muslim expats, both Jafar and Maria are excited by the chance to experience the holy month in the capital of Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim country, where more than 80 percent of the people are Muslims.

“I like the way people in Jakarta operate during Ramadan, for example, I like the spirit of the people preparing breakfast in offices,” Maria said, embracing the sense of togetherness among people during the holy month.

Agreeing with Maria, Jafar said celebrating Lebaran was nicer here as people got together to rejoice the victorious moment in the festivity days after the end of fasting month.

There is no official data on how many Muslim expatriates are living in Jakarta.

However, some gather and meet routinely through communities that accommodate their needs to learn more about Islam.

One such organization that exists in Jakarta is Rahmania Foundation.