Proper Etiquette for Ramadan

Sep 9th, 2008, in Opinion, Society, by

Ramadan etiquette for unbelievers, by Purba Negoro.

Etiquette during Ramadan

Many foreign nationals in Indonesia may feel a little confused during Ramadan - the fasting period.

Ramadan is similar to the Christian Lent - we Muslims elect to fast and abstain from pleasures of the flesh or things we like to for many reasons:

  • develop inner strength
  • greater humility
  • gain favour from God
  • lose weight
  • appear pious to others for status
  • etc.

The ideal of Ramadan is to sacrifice one's desires for something greater, and truly comprehend the life of the destitute - living day to day on empty stomach - instilling in greater awareness of the poor and being more charitable.

Often many indigenous Catholics, especially Javanese, will join the fast too (or in part) - this can be from cultural solidarity, habit, or the idea that prayer and self-deprivation will create better relationship with God. When I was taught in Jesuit school in Central Java- although I and 80%+ classmates were Muslim - all were encouraged by the Romo (Javanese) to fast to make us more humble, more charitable and develop inner strength.

There is already a very strong background for self-deprivation in Indonesia from Hinduism.

Desire - which in Ramadan we are trying to gain mastery of- is taught by the Hindu's as the root cause of all pain and anguish: "all desire is pain" - and seek to attain "kriyamana karma": liberty from desire.

The 12 Hindu defined desires to experience or receive are the 'rasas':

  • raudra - anger
  • adbuta- - wonder
  • shringara - sex
  • hasya - laughter
  • vira - bravery or heroism
  • daya - mercy
  • dasya - closer union with God
  • sakya - community
  • bhayanaka - horrors/murders/etc
  • wibatsa - desire to cause or experience shock
  • santi - desire to cause or experience neutrality
  • watsalya - desire to be a parent

Mastery over all of these creates a state of readiness for Nirwana - heaven.

In Kejawen belief system - heavily influenced by the Hindu, the Buddhist and very probably pre-existing belief - self-harm and self-sacrifice are a requisite to attaining one's true wishes. In the Kejawen mind fasting is very much like the Hindu kiyamana karma - attaining a higher self through self-deprivation.

Ramadan Etiquette for non Muslims:

Although we live in a secular nationalist society, the fact is we live very closely with a community that is 87% Muslim. We Indonesians, especially the Javanese, try our very best to avoid insult through words or actions in our everyday lives. It is then considered good etiquette or form to behave in public in a manner that is sensitive to others.

Some things to avoid:

Not eating or drinking in public - this means not eating or drinking when walking along shops, in malls etc. If you need to eat or drink outside of an eatery - try and do it in a private setting.

The idea is that you are almost rubbing in their face you an eat and they cannot - thus your religion is superior or you are tempting them away from their goals.

Maybe you're just thirsty - but like picking your nose because it is itchy- it can be taken the wrong way. It is just polite not to do this.

Not getting mad - this means cutting your employees, waiters, maids, etc some extra slack. Remember they have not eaten or drank since 4:30 or so am and feel crappy, light-headed and cannot concentrate.
Please be patient and bare with things.

Remember: to them it is not simply a choice to fast- it is an obligation. So take a deep breath (or many) and just think of maids etc like children. They need patience as well as tough love- now is time for patience.

Not dressing provocatively or groping in public: One of the hardest things of Ramadan is no sex. Can you imagine the frustration? So this means dressing appropriately for the culture - no hotpants etc and being a little more sensitive.

Public groping here is quite a no-no- so even better avoided as well. If you need to squeeze your beloveds' bottom - or kiss passionately - you go do privately, curtains drawn.

This is not acquiescence to Islam - this is merely good manners. In fact - as many expat (especially American) will agree the West has a lot to re-learn about sexual self-control, public modesty and humility - so why not help erase a bad stereotype.

Tipping & Offering some "buka puasa money": Some westerners dislike tipping on principle or whatever. Very frankly: too bad - no one else cares - it is our culture, just get used to it.

Whenever possible, please tip. A good tipping amount is Rp 2000 or whatever small change you have BUT Rp 500 in Jakarta is just being mean. Rp 10000 is probably the maximum tip to give outside restaurant - the point is tip - but do not send yourself bankrupt too. Tipping in Indonesian culture means you appreciate the job or help someone has given you.

In the West a smile and thankyou is often sufficient. Like in USA, unfortunately these do not help pay for food for those on minimum wage. So please tip.

It is good manners to offers to tip a little more generously during Ramadan.

Offering some small money like Rp 5000 or less to your home servants or individual service staff helping you at time close to buka puasa: opening the fast - is very good form.

For a group- this is quite unnecessary and quickly expensive- but even offering to buy "kolak" (special sweet coconut-milk desert for breaking fast) for your employees is very good manners too.

By offering to buy breaking fast food - or a little extra money for "buka puasa" - you are showing in a concrete way your sensitivity and understanding of their sacrifice- you are not then "typical arrogant bule"- you're being one of the good ones.

Ramadan is not a fun holiday like Christmas- it is serious time for introverted prayer and reflection. Being sensitive and aware to this is not only very endearing but it is simply good manners. Fasting is not a whim or personal choice- it is a serious religious obligation. Remember unlike the West such as in Europe, Indonesia remains a very religious nation- the poorer nations often are.

Maybe no-one ever told expats how to appropriately behave during this period - but now at least some know.


37 Comments on “Proper Etiquette for Ramadan”

  1. avatar Andy says:

    Interesting and somewhat amusing Purba…..

    One thing you would think before telling non muslims (especially bules who may not have experienced Ramadan already) is that those who practice would actually set an example for others to follow.

    Last year during the last 2 weeks of Ramadan I had my wallet stolen for the only time I lived in Indonesia. It is however the only time I have ever been robbed in any country in the world. The ironic thing is that this not only occured during the holiest of months but also late morning on a Friday. That to me is a double whammy. A muslim on his way to the mosque during the fasting month pickpockets from an unsuspecting bule.
    This I found out is not a surprise. Muslims told me the crime rate soars during the fasting month simply because people steal money to buy food and gifts for their families. I can understand this as an atheist as I know myself that people are animals and cannot be controlled as they all have urges. In Indonesia with money in short supply for most and the need to ‘save face’ and look attractive to their peers means they need to steal. The thing that gets me is that while muslims are sinning we are forced to follow the customs that they should be following but often are not.

    Also living in Australia, my country along with other western nations has pretty well bent over to accomodate the cultural sensitivities of the muslim minority. Santa Claus is now banned in schools to avoid offending muslims. How about we put a little balance back in the world for a change. Frankly I am tired of being told to respect muslims both in muslim countries but especially in my own land.

  2. avatar sputjam says:

    I fast from 9pm to 12 noon. That way I am not sleep deprived and can work as required. I cannot undertsand the muslim fasting month as ramadan was suppose to mean the hottest month, hence it should be during the summer, say july for northern hemishere. But in equatorial countries, the temperature remains constant.

    Fasting is impossible for those who live above the arctic circle, like the eskimos, where the sun never sets in summer and never rise in winter.

  3. avatar Oigal says:

    Maybe no-one ever told expats how to appropriately behave during this period – but now at least some know

    etc etc yawn yawn

    Couldn’t help yaself could ya ya silly pommy bastard

  4. avatar perseus says:

    Interesting article. Thanks for writing it Purba.

  5. avatar Mets says:

    @ Andy – crime rate in Britain goes up bulding up and over the Xmas period – for the same points you pointed out when your wallet got stolen… can you get off your high horse please…….

  6. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Andy:
    Wes are not to blame for how your cowardly politicians act or for inviting Arab extremist peasant and moron into your nations.
    They are your elected officials- not ours.

    You will find Asian Muslims- whether Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippines or even sometimes Chinese- are very private about their religion.
    We have all lived in a multicultural and easily offended social setting.

    But you have a point about sending gifts etc- this is very unfortunate commercialisation of Holy time.

    I understand the Easter and Christmas is often lamented too for its’ loss of meaning.

    Oigal- what is a pommy?
    PS- my original title was: “Ramadan Etiquette for non-Muslims”

    I do not ever use the term “unbelievers”- it is very divisive and misleading.
    Even the atheist believes in something- he believes in the non existence of God- thus a belief too.

    And yes- around Christmas time- I will do article about Etiquette for Muslim during Christmas.

  7. avatar Geordie says:

    Nice article PN, thoughtful and some good advice though I think your tips on, well, tipping’s a bit conservative. When in Indonesia Mrs G and I always tip at 10%, more in Ramadhan, of the bill, in cash, to waiters and taxi drivers etc and around 20% if it’s a small amount, say, IDR 25k or less.

    The reason we tip in cash is because this then is ‘under the table’ so to speak and can be kept away from the, sometimes, rapacious owners who I’m told habitually deduct a ‘handling fee’ from any tips received. This is especially nasty given that so many places now have service fee included in the bill. Now a lot of my friends in Indonesia don’t tip at all where the service charge is included but to my mind, that’s hurting the very people who need that little extra the most and particularly in Ramadhan and at Eid.

    How about we put a little balance back in the world for a change. Frankly I am tired of being told to respect muslims both in muslim countries but especially in my own land.

    Andy I think it’s axiomatic that respect is rarely received before it’s given and someone, therefore, must make the first move.

    Ignoring, if I may, the issues you feel are facing Australia, I have found that in the Muslim countries where I have worked and especially in Indonesia (though I accept it is not an Islamic Republic in the true sense) a little cultural sensitivity, respect and most of all plain and simple good manners go an awful long way.

    The life I had in Indonesia didn’t seem nearly as fraught and frustrating as experienced by some of my peers. Moreover, in my experience, and having done Ramadhan in both KSA and Qatar, the scrictures (if one can name them as such) and expectations of Indonesian Muslims on non-Muslims are insignificant and if observed, many times more appreciated than by their Gulf counterparts.

  8. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Concur. Nice piece.

  9. avatar timdog says:

    Nice piece indeed, though as it is from dear Purba Negoro I cannot help but scan it for some multiple layers of meaning… surely it must actually be a damning attack on China and “the West”, rather than the straight public service announcement it appears to be… surely?

    Andy – yeah, someone – who may, or indeed may not, have been Muslim – stole your wallet on a friday during Ramadan, ergo the whole of Ramadan is a sham and all Muslims are in no way deserving of your respect and sensibility while you are in their country… you’re absolutely right and therefore the best course of action for all non-Muslims in Indonesia at the moment is to stand naked in the middle of the street every day at midday, drinking neat whiskey, smoking a havana cigar, eating a bacon sandwich and masturbating like a demon… absolutely right…

  10. avatar perseus says:

    Pommy is an Australian slang term for an Englishman. Oigal appears to be suggesting that Purba is English. This is not the worst insult in the Australian vernacular – calling someone a Kiwi is far worse 🙂

  11. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Thanks all.

    Geordie- yes a bit conservative- I point out I am writing in the expectation perhaps some are suffering some financial strains.
    Yes- some owners can have very greedy paws.
    Large establishment usually ok- like Starbuck or Krispy Kreme- perhaps Suharto’s friends own all those- they do not care about the money touched by us mortals.

    Please tip extra if you can- Very good point.

    Maybe I write another time a peice on appopriate tips for various employees- and all can discuss.

    Timdog- I finally have the name to the face. I saw you doing that when I went to my grand-niece party in KFC in Kemang- May 2007- a nude crazy man was running around- making many 10 yr old girl laugh and very scared- mothers rushing to cover eyes.
    Some police and bystander try to help him- but he is very dirty- no clothing at all- and he started to pee on the cars in the traffic jam.

    Yes- you were in very good form that day Timdog. Or is it Tim-dong? The cold weather did not effect you- must be your cobra oil supply.
    No- sorry no Ulysses today.

    Matur Nuwen Pak Achmad. Sami-sami.

    Perseus- I thought so- I forget- I heard a lot watching Aussie TV like Football show- with Fatty? That rugby show was very funny and stupid. Obviously these sportsmen do not make such a good rocket scientist.
    Very “ketoprak humor” gaya Aussie.

  12. avatar Rob says:

    PN…

    Buka puasa money? Really? what is the money you give to people outside of Ramdan called? There might be Suras in the Qur’an that refer to charity but for a non-believer can you point out the one that refers specifically to providing puasa money.

    I always thought that the point of fasting was not to patronize poor people by pretending to be them for about a month, but it was a time of reflection and a time to purge and clean yourself of your sins committed throughout the rest of the year by abstaining from the simple pleasures of life from sunrise to sunset.

    This leads to the next point. Why can’t Muslims have sex once the sun goes down. You do not have to abstain from food 24 hours a day for a whole month, so why do you have to abstain from sex once the sun goes down and the lights come on?

    Not getting mad is a good one. We should therefore expect that there will be no insults from you for a whole month directed at over commentators. I would imagine calling someone a bed-wetting, frilly-knicker wearing onanist would be bad form and impolite to boot 😀

    You hit the nail on the head with the idea that this is an obligation for Muslims and not for others, the non-believers as you call them. The puasa month is also very much a personal struggle, a jihad if you prefer, against the temptations around you. Where is the challenge if you close down restaurants, temples of sin, and prohibit non-believers from eating and drinking within eyesight of you?

    Ramadan is indeed not Christmas but Christmas is just one day and it is not a fasting day but a day of celebration somewhat akin to Eid, don’t you think? You know, the two days at the end of the fast where you gather with your family and celebrate successfully completing the fasting month.

    Once again, any enlightenment for this non-believer would be appreciated.

  13. avatar Andy says:

    timdog-you’re absolutely right and therefore the best course of action for all non-Muslims in Indonesia at the moment is to stand naked in the middle of the street every day at midday, drinking neat whiskey, smoking a havana cigar, eating a bacon sandwich and masturbating like a demon… absolutely right…

    mmmmm sounds like heaven…whatever this relgion is I wanna join!

    Rob-Not getting mad is a good one. We should therefore expect that there will be no insults from you for a whole month directed at over commentators. I would imagine calling someone a bed-wetting, frilly-knicker wearing onanist would be bad form and impolite to boot

    Yes I can’t wait to meet Mets, Purba, AAB and co at the gates of hell. Maybe we can all enjoy a neat whisky together.

  14. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    “One of the hardest things of Ramadan is no sex. Can you imagine the frustration? ”

    Really? Are you sure? That will certainly come as a huge surprise to my wife who assures me the no-sex rule applies only to the fasting hours and that once the sun goes down it’s humpty humpty as usual.

  15. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Very good Rob.
    Almost had me.
    Suras? Who understands these really? Most imam and Ulama are moron not even adequately fluent in their own native language- how then can be expert on archaic prose Arabic or fully argue complex scripture.

    It is said that Islam as per Q’uran, like Christianity and its Alkitab (Holy BooK) are perfect.
    But Muslims, like Christians- being human are very imperfect- the interpretation is perpetually flawed, our life is to be spent attaining some measure of the perfection of our religions as a facet of God.

    See this is the odd thing about Westerner. First they criticise us for being Muslim. Then they criticise us for not being Muslim/orthodox enough.

    What do you guys want?

    Yes obviously fasting is about purification of the soul- would you like a thesis on this point too M Rob or a short article?

    The insults thing is harder than without sex- I am only human and not such a good one perhaps.
    It is recommended yes you absatin fromsex during Ramadan- but I am certain I read somewhere that statistics highlight 9 months after Ramadan to have higher than average childbirths.
    Can you imagine how affectionate Idnoensian lady get
    Therefore- it is a case of, as in any religion, this is Islam ala Indonesia: do as I say, not as I do.
    What we call religion for KTP only.

    For non-Indonesians KTP- is Indonesian compulsory ID card- (in the West you have drievrs’ license, Social Security, NHS etc- these are not appropriate to the income levels of most Indonesians).
    Being an Indonesian citizen means having a religion is required as a matter of law – and is also displayed on this ID card.
    Many Indonesian are only as religious as the letters on their KTP- superficially or for keeping up appearances purposes (atheism is banned as it is considered synonymous with illegal Communism).

  16. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Another thing I think worth pointing out that the Ramadhan fast is hardly the extreme ordeal that it is painted (people feeling crappy, lightheaded and lacking in concentration etc).

    If, as most Indonesians do, you have a full meal and lots of drinks at [i]Sahur[/i] then really all the fast amounts to is skipping lunch. I accept that for anyone doing manual labour out in the hot sun then indeed it is quite a sacrifice but most Indonesians who come into contact with non-Muslim expats will be working in air conditioned offices and malls so using the fast as an excuse for poor behaviour is I think trying it on a bit.

    Just for the record I frequently “fast” at Ramadhan, not out of any great religious beliefs but merely out of respect for my Indonesian family and members of staff, at first the toughest bit was missing out on my morning coffee but as the years have gone on I have found it isn’t really a big deal.

    It merely means a good hearty appetite for a good feed of beef randang and some delicious iced fruit juices come 6pm, nothing much more than that,

  17. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Berlian Biru- congratulations on your condescension.

    Extra points for belittling these practicing religious people.

    But- you are right. Sales attendant are very poor quality these days- it is a function of salary.
    You get what you pay for.

  18. avatar Rob says:

    PN…

    No thesis or short article required 😀

  19. avatar Lairedion says:

    Berlian Biru is right. Ramadan in Indonesia is not hard at all. A couple of minutes after 18.00 one can break fasting and start eating, drinking and having sex all the way to 4.30 the next morning. It has been like that for ages.

    When I lived in Bandung many people searched for non-Muslim angkot and bus drivers during Ramadan. Much more safer.

    Muslims living in Northern and Southern hemisphere are having a tough time. During the summer the days can be very long and hot and during the winter the days are short but cold and rainy.

    PN, many KTP Muslims can be found behind the curtains in restaurants during Ramadan.

  20. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    In what way am I condescending or belittling anyone PN? I made it quite clear that far from being condescending I have great respect for the fast and join in out of courtesy.

    It is not condescension to state simple facts, facts that any Indonesian will agree with, no one here believes that fasting for twelve hours after and immediately before a big feast is a great hardship, it is symbolic and deserves respect as most sincerely religious practices deserve respect but there is no need to pretend it is a huge hardship.

    The relevance of your shop assistant comments escape me.

  21. avatar Enigmatic says:

    The subtitle of this article speaks volumes about some people doesn’t it?

    Ramadan etiquette for unbelievers, by Purba Negoro

    I wonder who added the part in bold, but it shows much about religious tolerance in him/her for sure.

  22. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Well honestly, it wasn’t me- go chase Patung.

    He probably altered it either as I completely messed up the wiki style formatting (I am no good at it) or tweaked it to attract more readership.
    I cannot even get blockquotes correct.

    Patung is a very sly character for a wooden statue.

    Berlian I am being facetious. Sorry if you took it seriously.

  23. avatar Enigmatic says:

    Purba Negoro Says:

    September 12th, 2008 at 12:59 am
    Well honestly, it wasn’t me- go chase Patung.

    He probably altered it either as I completely messed up the wiki style formatting (I am no good at it) or tweaked it to attract more readership.
    I cannot even get blockquotes correct.

    Patung is a very sly character for a wooden statue.

    Berlian I am being facetious. Sorry if you took it seriously.

    Oh that’s cool. Really.

    On a side note I do hope you’re ok with non-Muslims

  24. avatar purba negoro says:

    Of course. I am Javanese Muslim- not crazy foaming at mouth Arab crazy man.
    As you may read above- as I wrote it- I worte non-Muslims- as even the agnostic or atheist belives in th non existence of God- which itself is a belief and has attached dogma.

    IMHO non-believer is a terrible term as it is simply a non-existent state of mind.

    My wife’s sister is Catholic married to Catholic.
    I was educated in a Jesuit school in Central Java- 80% muslim students. My father attend the same school.
    My daughter now attends Tarakanita Catholic girls’ school in Jakarta- a very good school.

    So- for us Javanese- religion is not problematic. We have practicing Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant all living near one another in Central Java.
    Muslims guard and repair Catholic churches. Catholics help very much the poor Muslims.
    What unites us Javanese all is Kejawen belief system.

    Only loud and ignorant troublemaker cause the problems.

  25. avatar janma says:

    My daughter now attends Tarakanita Catholic girls’ school in Jakarta- a very good school.

    my husband went to that school.

  26. avatar Rob says:

    PN…

    Only loud and ignorant troublemaker cause the problems.

    Presumably these people are not Javanese in light of the following:

    So- for us Javanese- religion is not problematic. We have practicing Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant all living near one another in Central Java.
    Muslims guard and repair Catholic churches. Catholics help very much the poor Muslims.
    What unites us Javanese all is Kejawen belief system.

    So, who are the loud and ignorant troublemakers?

  27. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Oh Rob- it never stops does, it?
    Amusing and very cunning attempt at a wind up- you are learning.

    Is pedantry the new hobby or are we still happy with devil’s advocate or will we revert to flagellant armchair activist again?

    Janma- It’s a good school- very good discipline.
    Although there are several Tarakanita’s- including a school for sekretaris- I assume hubby was not there 🙂
    When I went to Catholic school- the cain was very much spoiled- not the child
    What year?

  28. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Halo All My Seksi Friends !

  29. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    PN…

    Can u introduce me to the sekretaris.

    A, B, C, D, -cup

    All good !

  30. avatar Rob says:

    PN…

    A cunning stunt indeed! But you did not answer the question 😀

    Achmad…

    A man of your talents would not need an introduction, would he?

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