Why fast during Ramadan, as a non-Muslim? It’s not just about the delicious “buka puasa” feasts. Those who take up the fast say they are doing so as a mark of respect and solidarity, to learn about other cultures, share in the suffering of the poor, or as a personal challenge.
Several non-Muslims DAP reps have taken up the challenge to fast during Ramadan, we speak to two of them – Mengkibol State Assemblyman Tan Hong Pin and Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming.
34-year-old Tan says that apart from learning discipline by experiencing hunger and thirst, fasting during Ramadan as a non-Muslim brings him closer to his Muslim friends.
“I chose to fast together with my Muslim friends in order to understand more about the cultures and traditions of the Malay society. Since Muslims form the majority of our population, I feel drawn to observe the month of Ramadan as a way to get to know Malays better.”
This is Tan’s second time fasting, and he achieved his target to fast for a week. He got used the the routine and was able to overcome the mental and physical challenges.
“Even as a State Assemblyman, my schedule keeps me very busy and I sometimes skip meals. So adjusting to fasting was not that hard for me. The hardest part was abstaining from drinking. But it gets better if you don’t think about it. After noon, usually I don’t have hunger pangs.”
Through this practice, Tan believes he has learnt the value of disciplining one’s urges from dawn to dusk. He also cites the health benefits of fasting. Healthcare experts have expressed that it prevents chronic diseases such as diabetes and improves the immune system.
Many of Tan’s Muslim constituents and friends have been supportive of his efforts to fast, his Pakatan Rakyat colleagues and his PAS friends in particular have given positive reactions. Some, like Johor PAS Deputy Commissioner Mazlan Aliman and PAS Central Youth Leader Suhaizan Kayat, have opened up their homes for Tan to share the traditional sahur and breaking fast meals.
“When we share meals and bond together in this setting, indirectly it makes us grow closer within the Pakatan Rakyat family.” Tan said he appreciated the chance to share with them not only about political ideals but also about the culture and practices of Malay society.
However Tan has faced criticism from some quarters who accused him of being “fake” and fasting only to “win Malay votes”. The Johor DAPSY Chief takes the accusations in his stride.
Tan believes part of the reason why such comments are hurled his way is because Malaysian society is becoming more polarised. “We (Malaysians) have looked at each other with suspicion for far too long. There is still a long road to go for us to understand each other in this multiracial, multi-religious country.”
For Tan, Malaysians should not shy away from taking steps to understand different communities and to bridge the gap. This is the best way forward to break away from racial stereotypes and more efforts are needed in the direction, he says.
Although Tan was condemned, the experience will not deter him from fasting again. “I don’t understand why they attacked my motives for fasting, but it doesn’t shake me. I won’t give up,” he says with a smile.
For Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming, this is his second year fasting during Ramadan, he hopes to complete the full fast this time around.
“Last year, I tried to fast for the whole month, but I only managed 25 days because I was away in Kota Kinabalu and Singapore for give days.
“By now, my body has adjusted to the fasting routine and I don’t get too tired. I am able to work as usual even without food and drink. The hunger and thirst usually strikes about an hour or two before the breaking of fast time.”
Ong says he chooses to fast in solidarity with his Muslim friends and to get a taste of what they go through during the fasting month. He also joins his Muslim constituents during their buka puasa events and distributes dates at Ramadan bazaars in the area.
The DAP Election Strategist says that many of his twitter followers supported his decision to fast. Some shared recipes with him for suitable buka puasa fare, others invited him to join them during their meals.
Last year Ong had organised a “Anak Angkat” program where non-Muslims got the opportunity to live with a Muslim host family during the fasting month.
Pasir Pinji State Assemblyman Howard Lee Chuan How also organised a similar program. Lee said that experiencing other cultures and traditions is a good way to celebrate the diversity in this country. This increased understanding of each other will draw us closer together as Malaysians.
“When we make the effort to become closer to one another, we will be able to live together as a community in peace, harmony and mutual respect,” he said. -The Rocket