Every country brings something new to the observance of Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr through its culture. I experienced this during my years living in Egypt, Malaysia, and Qatar.
With my current temporary home, Singapore, which is not Muslim-majority, it is interesting how it has managed to give due importance to Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr as part of its multiculturalism. However, never did I expect that I would experience Ramadan in Singapore under the shadow of COVID-19.
No more, at least for this year, of the colorful lights and flurry of people at the Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai nor the community iftar (breaking of the fast after sunset) at the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore.
Ramadan is associated with family and a sense of togetherness whether through iftar with family or friends, attending the tarawih (additional ritual prayers after the Isha or nightime daily prayer) at the mosque, or even the new practice of taking family selfies during the Eid, which flood the newsfeed of my social media.
With safe distancing as among the primary measures against COVID-19, one of the very essences of Ramadan is taken away. (READ: [REFLECTIONS] Ramadan and isolation in the time of COVID-19)
But a crisis like this also presents opportunities to overcome barriers and rise up to the challenge. In the face of this pandemic, technology has made it possible for people to still have some semblance of normalcy. With a laptop and internet access, for instance, one could already attend Zoom meetings as part of a work-from-home arrangement while kids can be home-schooled.
The same goes for technology and religion that made it imperative to find a way for every Muslim family to perform the Eid’l Fitr salat (prayer) and attend the khutba (religious sermon) in the safety of their homes as mosques were closed in Singapore as part of safe distancing measures.
Khutbas were streamed online and step-by-step guides on how to lead the Eid’l Fitr salat were shared all over Facebook. As the man of the house, it was up to me to lead my wife and daughter during the prayer. I’ve never been one to lead a prayer and although my first time was not perfect, it was enough that my family did not miss this important Muslim tradition.
Being on lockdown inside our homes while fasting hopefully leads to even deeper introspection, which is another objective of Ramadan. This led me to ponder how Eid’l Fitr can be used to foster not just deeper understanding of Muslims but also sensitivity toward us. (READ: Why Muslims celebrate Eid’l Fitr, the end of monthlong fasting)
Beyond the holiday
Declaring Eid’l Fitr as a national holiday in the Philippines (Republic Act No. 9177) and civil service regulations that allow Muslim employees in the government to follow modified working hours during Ramadan have definitely been important strides to mainstreaming Islam in our society for greater inclusivity.
But how much does the ordinary non-Muslim Filipino know about his or her Muslim brethren in terms of culture and beliefs? This goes beyond merely knowing that the Eid’l Fitr is a public holiday and that Muslims do not eat, drink, or engage in any pleasure-seeking activity during Ramadan. (READ: No food, no water, no sex: What we need to know about Ramadan)
Professor Michael Tan, former University of the Philippines Diliman chancellor, wrote in his column in 2019 that non-Muslim Filipinos “still think of (Ramadan) as a ‘Muslim-only’ month, with a side benefit of Eid’l Fitr.” Sadly, this mindset connotes a prevailing sense of ‘otherness’ and a shallow awareness that defeats the purpose of interreligious understanding and inclusivity.
We need not go that far to know more about the culture of Muslims. (I am not using the phrase “Muslim culture” as this connotes unfair generalization and ignores the diversity among the various Muslim communities around the world and even within the Philippines. Further discourse on this matter deserves a separate essay.) Right in our own backyard, Mindanao is already thriving with a wide array of cultures whose common denominator is Islam. I trace my roots as a Maranao in Lanao del Sur, but it is just one of the 13 Muslim ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines collectively called Moros or the Bangsamoro people.
Eid’l Fitr then should be celebrated not just in terms of its religious significance but also from a cultural lens. I wrote at the beginning of this essay – every country brings something new to the observance of Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr through its culture. What is unique then about this tradition in the Philippines, and how does the Bangsamoro contribute to this?
Growing up in Manila, I was not even aware about the rich and colorful way that Maranaos observed Ramadan and Eid’l Fitr in Mindanao. I was always searching for that personal stamp and how this holy month is unique to my people. Maybe that’s why I was always looking towards other countries for that uniqueness.
Every October in the Philippines we celebrate the National Indigenous People’s Month to showcase the country’s rich indigenous culture. I asked my peers if there is anything similar to that for Bangsamoro culture, but the nearest one that could be identified is March 18 to commemorate a tragedy in our history called the Jabidah massacre.
Instead therefore of creating a new one, holidays such as the Eid’l Fitr could be broadened to include appreciation of the Bangsamoro culture, thereby encouraging non-Muslims to take pride in this very diverse and wide fabric of our collective culture.
For the meantime, as the Eid’l Fitr holiday is still fresh in our minds, let us take the time to learn more about our Muslim brothers and sisters. Technology already provides a treasure trove of information to counter the effects of pandemic-induced isolation. Lest this isolation breeds further ignorance, remember that being learned leads to a more sensitive society. – Rappler.com
Gonaranao B. Musor has been based in Singapore since 2016. This is his first time to live in a non-Muslim majority yet multicultural country. COVID-19 has added a new dimension to his experience of Ramadan and celebrating Eid’l Fitr outside of the Philippines.
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