At a restaurant where I am a regular customer, the waiter sets a salad bowl and kombucha drink in front of me. I tell him politely that it is for my guest, and that I am fasting in Ramadan month. The waiter, who usually takes my orders, is awed by my discipline.
“I salute you, sir!” he exclaims.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the time when Muslims not only abstain from food and water but also from negative thinking and behavior. From sunrise to sunset, they cannot partake any morsel of food or a drop of water as a test of faith. Between the two main prescribed meals of suhur (pre-dawn breakfast) and iftar (dinner after dusk), they endure the dehydration and hunger pangs without any complaints. For devout Muslims, it is a time for spiritual renewal, remembering God, whom we call Allah, and sharing our SADKA [blessings].
The proof that Ramadan has become part of a largely Catholic Philippines is the public holidays in the beginning and end of this holy season. June 15 is Eid Al Fitr, the end of the fasting month.
Ramadan tends to upset the body’s rhythms, the lifestyle routine and even attitude. I myself have been easing up on my workload. The disruptions can be trying, but they can also be favorable for spiritual growth. I embrace these “restrictions” as a means to become stronger in adhering to my values and to be more generous in wishing well for others.
Ever since I came back from the hajj, the pilgrimage to the Mecca, I have been following the example set by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). I have learned to recite the prayers in Arabic, with the right diction, and more importantly, with devotional feelings.
I wake up between 1 and 2 a.m., to cleanse and to perform the Tahajjud, the prayer between the Isha (obligatory night prayer at 7:30 pm.) and Fajr (the obligatory pre-dawn prayer). Although the Tahajjud is not compulsory, I have made it a part of my routine andit that has made me feel closer to Allah.
After the Tahajjud, I prepare a meal of halal chicken, fruits, and detox juices to fuel up my body for the day. Before the Fajr, Muslims are required to bathe especially after ablutions. By 4 a.m., I pray and lay myself open to receive blessings.
Like a recharged cell phone, I am ready to face the challenges of the day. I immediately work on my projects. Later in the mornings, I meet up with clients or my staff or go to the gym. Wherever I go, I bring a trolley which has my prayer mat and modest prayer attire.
When I’m at Kerry Sports in BGC, the gym buddies and the staff have become familiar with my routine. One of the advantages of this place is that I can cleanse myself, an obligatory ritual of purification before praying. I perform the Zuhr, the noontime prayer, at one of the gym’s spaces. That arrangement came with my membership fee. If I’m in Makati, I am allowed to pray in a dressing room at a high street chain shop in one of the high-end malls.
By 3 p.m, I perform the Asr, the mid-afternoon prayer, at either at the gym in BGC or the fashion store in Makati, depending on which place is closest to my meetings.
Muslim men are prohibited to have unnecessary physical contact with women. Although the beso-beso is a normal greeting in the Philippines, I avoid it out of respect for tradition. Physical contact with the opposite sex would also require me to bathe.
Fasting can make me irritable and easily tired. To remain positive, I take to heart short surahs, ayahs from the Quran, and memorize some of the powerful sacred verses. My favorite is the Surah Al-Ikhlas which is the Chapter on Purity. It has kept me from falling into temptations. The ayah (verse) “ Verily with hardship comes ease” has been my soothing balm to my discomforts during the fasting.
After 6 p.m., I observe the iftar, a ritual which breaks the fast by eating fruit and dates and drinking water. It is held before the Maghrib, the sunset prayer. Iftar is usually performed in a gathering as the main meal during the fast.
During Ramadan month, Muslims are obliged to go to the mosque for the Isha’a, the evening prayer after 7:30 p.m. I usually head to the Indonesian Embassy in Makati and enjoy the sense of community and the hearty halal meal.
For me, these prayers are not mindless repetitions of Arabic verses, but as means to recharge myself and reconnect with Allah. The routine of prayer and Quran reading lifts my burdens. The Quran answers all my questions and changes my negative thinking into a positive outlook. The dua is a plea to Allah to fulfill all my desires and to give me the strength to move in this challenging world. It is the very essence of worship. Despite of not having a support group to keep my faith, I am content and I feel close to Him. He understands what I’m growing through.
As a Muslim draws more power and love from Allah, one can’t help but share with others. In Ramadan, we show our compassion for the underprivileged through charity. I have been supporting the Kagans, a marginalized tribe in Tagum, Davao del Norte. They are more Islamic than other groups. Other Muslim friends have supported my cause during Ramadan. Happiness in sharing is my reward.
Another subtle result of my intense spiritual efforts is my being above the influence of the materialistic environment and the negativities of others. When I lapse into criticism or gossip, I immediately pray for forgiveness. I pay attention not to repeat the mistake. My Christian friends respect my routine and principles. Although I get less than four hours of sleep, I never look weary. Tiredness is caused by thinking of or speaking ill others or situations. The daily gym workouts also built my endurance in the fast.
As Eid Al Fitr draws near, I can say that I have been gaining physical and inner strength through fasting and prayers. Mashallah (amazing).