My feeling towards the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan throughout the recent years, has always been a mixed bag of tricks. During my first year at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) art school, I loved the Ramadan month because I was given peer support by family members to adjust my schedule into an earlier wake-up time, enabling me to bide precious minutes I needed to do my art projects and assignments. Very often I would stay awake all night long, doing artworks, and then having a nice, warm breakfast at the end-tip of it. Or, I would wake up at 3, had a fresh meal, and then starts working on my paint, dyes, and pencils with the lucidity of a dawn-break mind. After all, early mornings, where the air is freshest, are always the reminiscent of a pinewood-fresh sensation. It always feels so serene, mystical, and contemplative. I relished many of those mornings.
Last year, when I was starting to get concerned with my weight, Ramadhan made me unhappy. The fasting is ridiculously body-grating. The social expectation to fast – or, at least, the unreasonable fear instilled in my mind that there were always scrutinizing sets of eyes – was terribly difficult to relinquish. And the cheap canteens were mostly closed, making it all the more difficult to eat properly, let alone abundantly.
This year, for me, Ramadan went by mostly scoffed. The expectation of not to “eat, drink, smoke, or have sex during the day” just no longer made any sense. The daily, 4PM cacophony on streets, multiple buzzes of citizens replenishing their kitchen supply, felt superfluously disturbing. The sound of night rituals like taraweh was drowned completely under the hyper-loud, repetitive crackle of cheap fireworks – their explosions so frequent and vivid, just outside of my house’s fence, that they sent stinging blows deep onto my eardrums. Strangely, I feel some sort of reciprocation on this. In case anyone realizes, the TV didn’t even seem to be so hot on Ramadan this year. None of the sahur programs are extra-hot, the religious sinetrons are mostly missing, and, approaching the end of the month, there are more general entertainment seen in TV rather than those especially shaped in any particular religion’s fashion.
Most of my Ramadan days this year were spent buying Sari Roti and mineral water and then getting uneasy as to where to eat the bought lunch. It’s very easy to get cranky, since every time I got hungry, I would say, “this is because of Ramadan!” – it strongly feels as if the month is keeping me away from my food. And obviously, keeping someone away from their food means planting the fruits of wrath. Especially there is a very obvious scapegoat vivid at all parts of the horizon.
It’s like playing a constant hide-and-seek game; the feeling is even worse than last year. It’s very scary for me to realize that the guilt is almost inherent – it reflects what Richard Dawkins described in “The God Delusion” as how teaching about the concept of sin (heaven is a reward for the pious, while sin leads us to eternal damnation in hell) is the most horrifying mean of shackling someone’s freedom because it burrows deep into one’s subconscious.
An interesting point to recognize at this point is: hell is said to be an eternal damnation; but the fear of hell is in and of itself a source of perpetual insecurity! The fear of hell, in and of itself, is eternal damnation, or hell!
During many years of my life, I have been witnessing many people going through the Ramadan month and all its rituals. Many believes that after the month, life will somehow get better; suddenly the air gets a dab of additional piety, somehow our by-side angels decided to quadruple our list of accomplished good deeds, somehow all past sins erased. After all, messages interweaving in the sea of Eid Mubarok experience are poetic apologias (and I used to love taking part of making poetic forgive-me recitals). Then, I made myself believe that somehow, these rituals are leading towards betterment. So I fasted, and I was extremely happy in the past if I accomplished a complete 30-days fasting, albeit losing five kilograms of body weight in the process. I tried to listen to what the group of ustadz has to say, and letting myself sometimes be patronized. Then, realizing that keeping an unhealthy diet wasn’t a healthy habit and being patronized was not something in any way positively contributing for me, my last strand of hope towards the canon lies in desperately believing that somehow, the rituals, if done, are at least going to keep me from sin – sin not because of “bad” deeds, but simply because of ritual truancy.
Then, I saw American Idol. In the latest season of American Idol, a personality-blast/drama-queen contestant, Tatiana Del Toro, was severely criticized for singing the same song, “Saving All My Love for You” twice during the semifinals. Simon Cowell, true to his classic acid-mouthed proclivity, was particularly critical: “the song didn’t work; it failed to get you through the last time you sang it.” An indirect obvious statement to be inferred from this: it was stupid do repetitively do the same song and dance that didn’t work the first time! It doesn’t encapsulate any scope, versatility, or growth. In Tatiana’s case, a repetitive showcase of “Saving All My Love for You” brought her nowhere.
For me, this hit home. The many times I’ve performed fasting and other rituals (shrouded in the excitement [which by now I think is quite pseudo] of the fancy-name “Ramadan”), they didn’t work. They failed to carry me through and bring me towards any religious epiphany or spiritual betterment of any kind. The rituals become so dry after all its repetition and I feel, when doing it, like screaming “let’s get this over with”. As if it’s the biggest bother and it’s the most burdensome thing in the whole world. ‘Why not get OVER that in the first place, then?’, I thought.
Maybe I was Tatiana. Maybe I was singing “Saving All My Love for You” again and again all this time when it obviously doesn’t work. Maybe I need to sing a more soulful groove or a less vocalsy ballad. Maybe the whole sing-and-dance of praying-and-fasting has become so repetitive and I need different channels or outlets if I want to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, if I were to grow a better person, and for any hope of attaining spiritual achievement to still be alive. Maybe rituals, just like how I suspected all along, are mere metaphors of a larger philosophy. Alas, getting stuck in performing rituals got me nowhere. Maybe I need to utilize my scope and versatility as a thinking human being.
Ramadan rituals don’t only get arid in the personal yards. Through my corneas, I find the undulation of behaviors frustrating. The moment Ramadan begins, many equip that Islamic gear. The concept of flaunting around a pious face for just a month feels honestly like a façade. My family always burst into tears of god-knows-what every Syawal 1st morning and breathe apology within sobs, only to have the same, last-year annoying habits and mistakes performed again in the afternoon. My experience of being around pious, Lebaran-adhering people was to see that they are not less bigoted, more positively spirited, or more awe-inspiring than the less practicing group of friends.
Thinking of this, it doesn’t take those rituals to make a learner. It takes thoughts, self-contemplation, and sheer will. I honestly feel that “Ramadhan” is interpreted mistakenly. Most people take and utilize Ramadhan as a constraint, as ‘not eating’ or ‘not drinking’ or ‘not getting angry’, and obviously, the euphoria of accomplishing such hard constraints often gets overshadowing. A lot of people feel that their freedom is regained the moment Ramadhan passes, because Ramadhan is more pressurizing than anything else. I honestly believe that “Ramadhan”, as a concept, is not, and should not be, merely a span of time. It should not be taken as rigid rituals of just not eating and drinking and go taraweh whatsoever. For me, it’s the way of the culture to spell ‘self-control’: as a philosophy – a message that should be a lifetime’s learning process; a message that spreads limitlessly across the board.
Ultimately, what is clear to me is the inadequacy of rituals. Their force is more constraining than anything else. They always force me, especially with the conservative “kaffah” thingie, to pick boxes – and it’s even more depressing, although inevitable in the most understandable sense, that the society nods vehemently at the practice of establishing fragmentizing boxes. Life is ideally a traverse of spirituality, and I like to talk about the cosmos. It always presents questions that, to answer, require the assembly of so much ornate pieces, so many hidden strings, so many whispers of the universe. Questions, that, to answer, needs more than just the ruthless dictation and enforcement of simplistic rituals.
Eid mubarak and happy holiday, everyone!