Ramadan: a celebration of spirituality

Hamdanil is an Indonesian who moved to Bay Area a few years ago. He and 250,000 other Muslims in Bay Area are observing Ramadan this year. It’s the biggest holy month that Muslims worldwide celebrate by leveling up their spiritual game.

“Wanna go for lunch? They’ve got this special cheesecake at Charlie’s”

“No thanks, I think I’ll pass this time”

It was unusual for Hamdanil, (or Dan, the name he goes by when ordering Starbucks) to pass up on cheesecake. Early bird gets the dessert, right?. But it wasn’t to be this time.

Ramadan in the Bay

Ramadan is the Muslim Holy Month - Qur'an Holy books

Muslim Holy Books – Qur’an at MCC East Bay

The reason for Hamdanil’s cheesecake avoidance was that the main focus of Ramadan is fasting. One is required to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk. Even one sip of water is not allowed, or else the fast is invalid.

But it’s summer solstice! That’s like…16 hours!

Yup, that’s right. Since the length of the fast is determined by how long the day goes, it varies between locations. While Muslims in New York observe fasting as long as those in Bay Area, in Alaska the day goes as long as 20 hours! Nevertheless, God is The Most Merciful, and so children who haven’t reached puberty and those who are sick are given the option to opt out, especially if it is harmful to their health.

If you just moved to the Bay Area and you long for that Ramadan feel, you could go to the nearest Muslim Community Center such as the one in the East Bay. Each region in the Bay Area usually has one community center, but the biggest is the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara. Or if you’re up for an adventure (and a little humor), you could read this blog before you visit each mosque in the Bay Area.

Ramadan across the globe

The month of Ramadan is observed based on the lunar calendar, which means that every year it moves 11 days forward in the solar calendar. As opposed to those experiencing summer in the northern part of the earth, those in Australia observe a much shorter fasting period because it’s winter. Muslims in Sydney only have to fast for 10 hours. You lucky Australians, you!

To Muslims, Ramadan is a celebration of spirituality. The tradition of fasting has been taught by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to not only hold back from our human desires, but also from any other bad deeds such as anger, dishonesty, and gossiping. Besides, the hunger and thirst one experiences while fasting will make him more sensitive towards the suffering of others. It is highly encouraged to give charity, or sadaqah, to those who are less fortunate. Muslims vie to be good during Ramadan because they believe that their good deeds will be multiplied infinitely compared to other times of the year. There is a special prayer that is only observed during Ramadan called Taraweeh. Muslims usually go to the mosque to break their fast (iftar) and then pray Taraweeh in a congregation. This is one of the things that makes Ramadan so special as it brings people together.

Muslims in the Bay Area come from many different parts of the world and they all bring a little trace of home with them. Years of traditions from various tribes worldwide melt into one pot in the culturally diverse Bay Area. And one big part of it, and something that everyone likes in common, is the food. Food! There are some foods that only appear during Ramadan. In Hamdanil’s case, it’s pabukoan. Pabukoan is not a specific name of a dish per se. Rather, it means an appetizer (or dessert) that precedes an iftar. It ranges from spring rolls and banana fritters to its sweeter counterparts like kolak (banana stew in coconut milk and palm sugar). He remembers how his 10-year old self used to go around the city hall with his dad, choosing what kind of pabukoan they were going to buy for that day while waiting for adzan maghrib, the call of prayer that marks the end of fasting that day.

Ramadan: The pabukoan and iftar meal from Sumatra, Indonesia (Image credit: Hamdanil Rasyid)

The pabukoan and iftar meal from Sumatra, Indonesia (Image credit: Hamdanil Rasyid)

Sometimes one could celebrate a feast during iftar, with the wide range of special iftar meals. Yet, hunger plus a buffet spread? Not a good choice. One is advisable to be moderate when breaking their fast. Even Prophet Muhammad PBUH used to break his fast only with water and a few dates. Besides, what good is fasting if it were to be instantly replaced by greed once iftar comes, right?

Life in the Bay team would like to wish Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslims in Bay Area. Happy Ramadan! May the timezones ever be in your favor!

What cultural or religious traditions do you bring to the Bay Area with you? How do the differ or stay the same?

About Gita A

I have spent one third of my life away from home. I was born and grew up in Solo, Indonesia. After high school, I took my business degree in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore where I met my husband. Eight years later, we moved to the Bay Area when my husband was offered a position at Google. Moving to the other side of the world was not an easy task. Struggle was of course a part of it, and I have my ups and downs. Slowly but sure I find new friends along the way and life is getting more colourful each day. I know that my story is not unique. I’m glad to join the LITB team and I hope that our stories can help those who find themselves a thousand miles away from home feel not alone. We are in this together; and we, as a community, can grow stronger. Welcome to the Bay Area!

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