Muslims worldwide are in the midst of Ramadan, the holy month of rigorous fasting, prayers and reconnecting with the Quran. In the Philippines, where Islam is the second largest religion, 60 percent of the Muslim population live in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar. It begins on the waxing of the hilal or crescent moon and runs for 29 to 30 days. This year Ramadan started on June 6.
Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast and the end of Ramadan, is an important holiday in Islam. The Philippines is the first Catholic country to make it a public holiday, which will fall on July 8.
“Ramadan is much more than just abstinence from eating and drinking. It is a time to purify the soul, refocus our attention to God and practice discipline and sacrifice,” says Princess Omerah Lucman, former secretary of National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
Sawm, one of the five Islam pillars, means fasting from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We also fast from negative thinking,” adds Lucman. “Our eyes shouldn’t see anything bad. Our ears should not hear gossip or idle talk. We refrain from speaking hurtful and obscene words. Our feet should not take us to places of materialism. Couples refrain from physical intimacy. We can then fully devote our time to strengthen our faith.”
This is also the month to contemplate on one’s responsibility in this world.
“We make a total commitment by submitting to the will of God. This is the real jihad, the holy war, against our own sins,” notes Lucman.
During Ramadan, Muslims eat two important meals.
Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal before the fajr, the morning prayers. Lucman says her household gets up as early as 2:30 a.m., to load up on energy for the day. Two pieces of dates are essential to keep headaches and dizziness at bay as a result of low blood sugar during fasting. The family eats rice and bread and some protein such as fish.
Dusk marks maghrib or night prayer time. The official cannon roar breaks the 14-hour fast with the iftar, the evening meal. Families and friends unite in Ramadan and enjoy the spread of local delicacies.
“We break the fast with dates and salad but it ends up with a fiesta,” says Lucman. “More important is the feeling of brother-and sisterhood.”
Other acts of worship are focused during this month: the shahada, the declaration of faith; salat, the five daily prayers; zakat, or almsgiving; and hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In the middle of Ramadan month, Department of Education-ARMM organized the Ramadan Night Activity at ORG Complex in Cotabato City. The event called for Muslims to recharge their spirits.
“This blessed month has always been a time for a deep reflection and abstinence as we observe the monthlong fasting and submit ourselves in devotion to the grace and mercy of Allah,” says ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman. “We strengthen our faith, mind and character with each day of fasting, fervent prayers and acts of kindness.”
Meanwhile, Muslims are girding for the feast of Eid al-Fitr. On this day, they put on their finery, attend communal prayers and perform zakat al-fitr (donating food to charity).
They give gifts and cards inscribed with Eid Mubarak, meaning “A blessed festival,” which is the Christian equivalent of “Season’s greetings.”
The Maranaos prepare dishes to celebrate the occasion. Kuning or turmeric rice with bay leaves is served on such special occasions.
Piyaparan is chicken or yellow fin cooked in coconut milk, shredded coconut meat and palapa, a garnish of caramelized shallots, ginger and chilli peppers.
The Indo-Malay influence is evident in the beef rendang or beef kalderata with coconut cream and curry.
The celebratory desserts consist of dodol, made from violet rice, sticky rice flour, coconut milk, sugar and durian; tiyatug or rolled rice noodles, deep fried in sugar; and browa, small light sponge cakes.
Amin Partylist Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, who is a member of Yakan and Tausug royalty, said her clan always eats grilled fish and seaweeds salad with local delicacies called pitis, daral and putlih mandi with kahawa sug for their Ramadan meals.
Among the Maguindanaons, all-time favorites are Pinangat, pinagyaw a alwan, sinina kambing and sindol with gata na saging, sago, langka, ube.