In the run up to Ramadan on Saturday, the Jakarta Globe ran an interesting article on what Ramadan means to non-Muslims in the the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. The full original article is here.

Eat? Smoke? Take It Easy? Ramadan for Non-Muslims

by Armando Siahaan

Once the Ramadan season begins, life will change for most of Indonesia’s residents, and not just for Muslims. People of other faiths, as residents of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, will see their usual routines altered, whether they like it or not.

Ivanhoe Semen is a Protestant, but he refrains from eating in front of his fasting friends and colleagues during Ramadan as he doesn’t want to tempt them. “I’m not concerned at all about [refraining from eating],” he said.

Yunita Anindya, 25, on the other hand, eats in front of friends who are fasting, “because they insist that I do so,” she said. “They’re relaxed when it comes to eating and they don’t want to be separated from me during lunchtime.”

But smoking is a different matter.

“Most of my friends smoke,” she said. “[Not] smoking is harder for them, and so I always avoid smoking in front of them.”

Gunther Tampubolon, a non-Muslim who works as a business developer, said there were some minor annoyances during Ramadan.

“Many offices have their canteens closed during Ramadan,” he said. “Where do we go to eat?”

He also said restaurants shouldn’t necessarily veil their windows. “They usually use curtains to shield the restaurant. I don’t get it. It’s like saying that non-Muslims who eat during the fasting period are bad. Why do we have to hide ourselves?” he said.

The Muslim holy month can also mean a change in traffic patterns. Ivanhoe said that although traffic was less congested during the normal rush hours of 5 to 7 p.m., it only means that gridlock happens earlier as Muslims rush home in time for the buka puasa [breaking of the fast] at sundown.

Yunita attends university in the Sudirman area, and for her Ramadan means an earlier rush hour, too. “The traffic worsens leading up to buka puasa,” she said.

Gunther usually goes home after 6 p.m., so for him Ramadan means less traffic. “The streets are less congested this time of the year,” he said. “It’s very organized.”

But people going home earlier is a problem in itself, he said.

“During Ramadan, work hours are not maximized,” he said. “The atmosphere in the workplace is much more relaxed, and people postpone work or go home early, using fasting as the justification.”

Although such actions are widely accepted, Gunther feels they could be bad for the country.

“We’re trying to improve the economy,” he said. “But people switch from third gear down to second gear during Ramadan. That isn’t good. There should be more professional commitment.”

The earlier-than-usual start to the day as Muslims wake up for sahur — the pre-dawn meal — can also be annoying to non-Muslims who want to sleep longer.

Children in Yunita’s neighborhood frequently set off fireworks to help people wake up. “It sometimes bothers me in the mornings,” she said.

Those who don’t observe Ramadan may also find their nightlife curtailed. The government recently sent letters to entertainment venues advising them to close or reduce their hours during the fasting month.

“Fasting depends on the individual,” said Yunita, who goes to nightclubs frequently. “If the person is devout, it shouldn’t matter if nightclubs are open during Ramadan.”

Ivanhoe, despite not being Muslim, supports the government move as respectful. “For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of holiness,” he said. “[Reduced entertainment options] shouldn’t be an issue.”

And although a time of self-discipline, Ramadan can also be a month of sharing.

Gunther said that during Ramadan he was able to spend more quality time with friends and family who observe the fasting period by joining them for buka puasa.

Ivanhoe, who is involved in the youth wing of a political party, said Ramadan gives him an opportunity to show respect for his Muslim friends.

For the past few years he has participated in a youth project, organized through the party, that provides free sahur to homeless people. He also helps prepare food for party members to break the fast.

“Our country is being strained by problems such as the recent bombings,” he said. “Ramadan is living proof that non-Muslims and Muslims can unite.”

Weakness at Noon: Fasters Tell Us How They Last the Day

Dinar Sukmaningati
21, student

Dinar said one trick for getting through Ramadan is to sleep or read the afternoons away. She also drinks plenty of fluids during her predawn meal.

“During Ramadan, my friends and I usually remind each other not to gossip,” she said.

Dinar is particularly excited about a series of berbuka bersama (gatherings at which people break their fast together) that she has arranged with her family and friends. She said that the mere thought of having an cold drink can get her through her fasts.

Yongky Saputra
38, hairdresser

Yongky said that working in a job that was not physically demanding made it easier for him to observe the strictures of the fasting month.

“This Ramadan, God willing, I can fully observe the fast,” the 38-year-old said.

Yongky said most of his co-workers were Muslim, but that they usually only managed to fast for the first few days. He said that seeing people eat and drink didn’t affect his ability to fast.

“Controlling your anger is much more difficult [than refraining from eating and drinking]. I get pissed off by my co-workers sometimes,” he said.

Don Bojot
32, bank officer

Don and his friend and colleague, Heru, said they both fasted and drank alcohol during Ramadan.

“When I open my fast at 6 p.m., I’ll terawai [say a special Ramadan prayer] and wait until 9 p.m. to have an [alcoholic] drink.

Afterward, I go home and take a shower so I’m clean again,” laughed Heru, who is also 32 years old. Heru that religion was “all about balance.”

Don said that during Ramadan he breaks his fast with a bottle of water and a hearty meal before going to the mosque to pray from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Afterward, he goes to meet his friends at the pub for a cold beer.

Both Don and Heru say they don’t drink to get drunk, just to get together with good friends.

“We go to safe places, so other Muslims won’t get angry,” Don said. “Places like [our regular pub] aren’t open for alcohol during Ramadan, but we can get our own beer and bring it here. And hotels are open to the public for drinking.”

20, student
Gendou, who attends Paramadina University, also chooses to drink alcohol at 9 p.m. after opening his fast and praying.

His parents, however, aren’t aware he drinks, but as long as he doesn’t make it obvious, Gendou wants to continue living the chilled-out lifestyle he has made for himself.

“I don’t get drunk” says the 20-year-old. “Even when it isn’t Ramadan, I just drink sometimes.”

“I don’t feel guilty about drinking during Ramadan. It’s my choice, and if I’m going to make a choice, I don’t want to feel guilty about it.”

21, waitress
Ika not only fasts during Ramadan, but also on Mondays and Thursdays the rest of the year— which is encouraged but not compulsory in Islam — in the belief that it brings her closer to God.

“This is a need for me, not merely an obligation,” the 21-year-old said. “During Ramadan, the only times I don’t fast are when I am menstruating or when I get sick.”

Ika’s job at a Malaysian restaurant involves handling complaints, which gets tougher during Ramadan. “I do get upset when customers complain and say things that are not nice, but I can’t lose my temper and get angry because it would ruin my fast.”

28, personal trainer
Wahyu keeps his energy level up during Ramadan by controlling his early morning eating patterns, mixing in plenty of carbohydrates.

“The hardest thing about Ramadan is conquering the sleepiness and the hunger,” he said.

“The important thing is to be able to control your cravings. Fasting is an obligation for a Muslim. Fasting and exercise together isn’t a problem for me, because [over the years] I’ve gotten used to it. Fasting is actually better [for the body] because it clears out the system.”