Tens of millions of Muslims in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic nation, and neighboring Malaysia began their Ramadan fast on Monday, while their religious brethren in Bangladesh, India and Thailand eagerly anticipated the holy month to start the following day.
“Mutual respect is important. We must show the world that Muslims are strong and more tolerant. Do not let a civil war happen like some countries in the Middle East,” Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, one of Indonesia’s most influential Islamic organizations, told BenarNews.
Fasting is one of the five mandatory duties of all Muslims. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
“The basic lesson of Ramadan is to make people practice restraint. A hungry Muslim will not eat until Allah gives him permission through the Maghrib azaan (prayer call),” Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, an Islamic scholar in Bangladesh, told BenarNews.
Fasting also gives rich people a sense of pain of hunger, he said.
“Just practicing restraint, we the human being can get rid of many evils and problems. Ramadan helps people develop the culture of tolerance,” Masud added.
In Bangladesh, the moon was in the right spot on Monday, heralding the start of Ramadan the next day.
“The moon has been seen, so the holy month of Ramadan starts Tuesday,” Bangladesh Religious Affairs Minister Motior Rahman told BenarNews.
Leaders give Ramadan blessings
Across Southeast Asia, national leaders including Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha sent well wishes for Ramadan to their Muslim constituents.
Najib urged Malaysian Muslims to enhance their contributions and services to those who need help during the holy month.
Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the population is Muslim, will have a slight change in its observance of Ramadan this year, with parliamentary by-elections set for June 18.
Voters in Sungai Besar, Selangor state, and in Kuala Kangsar, Perak state, then will be casting votes to replace two MPs representing those constituencies who were killed in a helicopter crash in Sarawak last month.
Prayuth, a Buddhist, offered praise to Thailand’s small Muslim minority.
“During Ramadan where Muslims fast, may you all be successful in traditional merit-making, the same way Buddhists practice their belief, in order to bless the families, society and social contribution,” the head of the Thai junta said.
However, the eve of Ramadan was marred by reports that at least six people in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and insurgency-stricken Deep South were injured in a separate shootings and bombings in Pattani and Narathiwat provinces.
Solidarity with fasters
In India, whose Muslim population is the second largest in the world next to Indonesia’s, common people from across the religious spectrum were looking forward to the start of Ramadan.
“I am a Hindu, but all my workers are Muslim,” Anil Jain, a cloth merchant who operates his business near a mosque in the old part of Delhi, told BenarNews.
“From tomorrow onward, my workers will fast, and I will also fast with them on as many days as possible. In the evenings, I like to give them time off, or encourage them to break their fast here at the shop. This is a tradition we have followed for many years.”