Southeast Asia’s Muslims Begin Ramadan Fast

By BenarNews Staff
150617-ID-ramadan-620 Indonesians take part in a parade in Malang, East Java, to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, June 17, 2015.

The arrival of Thursday marked the start of Ramadan for more than 200 million Muslims in Southeast Asia, as officials across the region called for a peaceful passing of Islam’s holy month.

In Thailand, hundreds of Muslim insurgents from the predominantly Buddhist nation’s restive Deep South region were being allowed to come out of hiding and spend the month observing Ramadan with their families, without fear of arrest.

The immunity is a goodwill gesture ahead of expected peace talks between Thailand’s military-run government and southern armed separatist groups, according to officials.

Elsewhere, more than 300 million Muslims who live in Bangladesh and India were to begin observing the Ramadan fast a day later than in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.

For the next month, Muslims will refrain during daylight hours from eating and drinking, smoking and sex, and will aim for general restraint in thought, word and deed.

Ramadan-time fasting is one of the five pillars of the religion and represents a spiritual test for 1.6 billion people worldwide who practice Islam.

“This is a time where all Muslims must be united,” Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s most influential Islamic clerical body, told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“We should maintain peace, tolerance and to be respectful to each other,” he added. “Muslims should not be provoked by any calls for violence or radicalism to hurt others.”

Officials in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, have warned of an emerging threat from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and efforts to recruit young Indonesians for its jihadist cause. Some 540 Indonesians are believed to be fighting for IS in the Middle East.

“We will ensure each citizen will be safe. But we will be alert for any possible violence or terrorism threat during the month of Ramadan,” Inspector General Tito Karnavian, the police chief for the Metro Jaya (Jakarta) region, told BenarNews.

“If necessary, we will coordinate with the Indonesian military to secure Ramadan and Idul Fitr,” he said, referring to the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Separately, Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin expressed the hope that hardline Muslim organizations, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, would hold back from raiding establishments like restaurants and nightclubs to prevent them from selling alcohol during Ramadan.

"I believe that Ramadan this year will be observed peacefully," he told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Police will be responsible for enforcing Ramadan-time curbs on alcohol sales and entertainment, he said.

Temporary amnesty

On Monday, authorities in Thailand’s Narathiwat province announced that 473 members of southern insurgent groups had signed up for a program granting them temporary amnesty and allowing them to come home during Ramadan.

Registered insurgents are being granted temporary immunity on condition they not commit acts of violence during Ramadan, Thai officials said. Compliance is a precondition for peace talks between the two sides, the officials said.

Arrest warrants for insurgents will be suspended and they will be able to return to their families from hiding places, including in Malaysia, which borders Thailand in the Deep South, said Col. Somdej Yotha, commander of the 151st Infantry Regiment in Narathiwat.

The Ramadan-time program also covers insurgents who live in Pattani and Yala provinces, as well as four districts in Songkhla province. Narathiwat and all of these areas make up the predominantly Muslim Deep South.  

“At this auspicious moment, may all brothers and sisters meet with the best of luck throughout Ramadan, the time to absolve, to do good, to refrain from causing hardship to others,” said Asis Pitakkhumpol, a Thai Muslim who heads the Sheikhul Islam Office.

“May all have patience, lending a helping hand to others and spend time for peaceful endeavors.”

Summoning inner strength

In Malaysia, Keeper of the Rulers' Seal Syed Danial Syed Ahmad announced in a Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) broadcast on Tuesday night that the first day of dawn-to-dusk fasting would fall on Thursday.

In neighboring Singapore, Dr. Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, the mufti of the city-state, issued a call to the Muslim faithful.

"I would like to wish every Muslim in Singapore a blessed Ramadan,” Fatris said.

“In this blessed month, I call upon every Muslim to take the opportunity to foster stronger family ties and perform activities, such as having pre-dawn and breakfast meals and performing the night prayers, together as a family,” he added.

"May God bestow upon us the fortitude to perform our fast with humility and strengthen our faith.”

Earning Allah’s blessings

In Bangladesh and India, Muslims will begin the month of fasting on Friday.

“We’ve instructed imams across the country to maintain the sanctity of the holy month by observing the rituals correctly,” Maulana Mohammad Salhuddin, the Khatib of the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, told BenarNews.

Explaining the rituals, he said it was important that devotees recite the holy Quran correctly, especially the pronunciation of words.

The Islamic Foundation has arranged a month-long book fair displaying religious books in front of the Baitul Mukarram.

In addition, from Thursday night, radio and TV channels were to air special programs highlighting the essence of Ramadan for Muslims.

“Each day of this holy month gives us an opportunity to earn Allah’s blessings and if we do things according to His will, there are additional benefits awaiting us,” Rowshan Ara, a resident of Dhaka’s Green Road area, told BenarNews.

Yenny Herawati, Aditya Surya, Nasueroh, H. Aleeya and Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.