By: Jack Lato
Ramadhan comes, inspires and changes my neighborhood. Several days before the holy day, my Muslim neighbors exchanged foods and snacks with each other, “megengan.” It is a kind of sacred ritual the family offer for the deceased. The sacrifice could be made personally. But in my neighborhood, all kampung members manage megengan. All participate; preparing snacks and food, meeting in one of the appointed houses and then the congregation sits around the offerings, praying together; asking forgiveness and the blessing of late family members for the whole year to come.
Many families pay a visit to the cemetery, placing fragrant flowers over the graves, praying for the deceased. Some even visit the graves of religious and public figures like Walisanga; nine (sanga) pious leaders (wali) who played a key role in spreading Islam in Indonesia.
Ramadhan: A time of Rituals
Fasting ritual begins with an early morning prayer, Imsakh before buka puasa (breaking the fasting) and then proceeds to the next prayer at dawn, Subuh. The whole day the devout Muslims do their best preserving good deeds and conduct. It ends when the noise of a bedug, a traditional drum used at the mosque soars through the sky at sunset. After taking sweet drinks or snacks, Muslims attend the evening prayer, Maghrib. Main menu is served with excitement and joy afterwards. A compulsory prayer, Taraweh follows held in neighborhood mosques and at gatherings every evening at about 7:30 p.m. The night is busy with reading Quran and ancient religious reading of the past.
The spirit of collective and collegial religious awareness stimulates inner reflection, devotion to God and self-control as well as moments of sharing. The devout Muslims open their hearts wide to others, crossing the borders and joining the joy of a winner. The winner of being able to pass the whole month of fasting, as well as the awareness that they have done their best for God, society and environment alike. The moment enables them to be a new creature; pure and holy and completely innocent as a child.
Ramadhan is the moment when Qur’an began to be revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. As one of the five pillars of Islam, it is commonly considered as a special moment of spiritual struggle, enrichment, search and journey to God; the opportunity to inculcate to the children the idea of God, values and good deeds as well as commitment and solidarity for the poor. The chanting and reading of Qur’an then soar the air of all night; encourage the people to pray, reflect and share their joy with others in the form of alms to the needy; sedekah and zakat fitrah.
Ramadhan, a Blessing for the Poor?
To some extent, sedekah and zakat fitrah drives poor people to flood the cities during Ramadhan. They come like waves of the sea; some well organized by freeman, preman, flocking at some rich men’s compound, particularly at the end of Ramadhan, before Idul Fithri, Lebaran.
Many economists believe religious donations, particularly zakat fitrah, as imperatively based on Islamic doctrine, could reach more than one billion US dollar during Ramadhan. The number would increase if the government incorporates it as tax alleviation policy, particularly when the people realize the corrupt bureaucracy mismanages public funds, which some say, results in 35% of public budget ending up in the hands of corruptors.
The practice of solidarity performs incalculable service to human beings’ basic religious awareness and spirituality. In the case of Indonesia, Ramadhan sometimes demands too much from the poor. The government has shown itself to be on the side of the well to do people, prohibiting prostitutes to work, street vendors to sell food during the day, beggars hanging around in the street. The government observes the holiness by continuously raiding red light districts and low class motels and street beggars. In this perspective, Ramadhan possibly sounds as a nightmare for the poor.