Ramadan: When a quarter of the world goes fasting

In Photo: Pilgrims circumambulate (tawaf) the Kaaba on April 23, 2010. The Kaaba is a building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, al-Hejaz, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam. Wherever they are in the world, Muslims are expected to face the Kaaba when performing salat (prayer).

DAVAO CITY—Arnel Maylupas remembers vividly the first 10 straight days when he first went fasting eight years ago. “It’s an anticipation if I can survive a day without food, when just a delay in any meal sends me into tantrum and verbal arguments even with family members,” Maylupas said.

A Muslim man takes off his slippers before entering the Golden Mosque in Quiapo, Manila. Not only the shoes must be taken off, to prevent dirt from outside to enter the mosque, but also cleanliness of the body, breath and clothes are mandatory as well.

Considered one of the “Balik Islam”—Maylupas came out from being a Roman Catholic believer for 23 years—each day of his first Ramadan came in succession of a personal triumph.

He would skip fasting for five random days as his delivery work sends him to places more than 80 kilometers from his home. The kilometer length is the distance that Islam has permitted a Muslim to skip fasting; on one condition. The caveat is that one has to make up for the lost equivalent days in some other weeks or months after Ramadan.

It came to pass that Maylupas finished the Ramadan fasting “feeling refreshed and tuned up like an engine overhauled, or a computer reformatted”.

The next Ramadan would come to his life, and at 31 years old. Maylupas said vices before he became a Muslim have been discarded with ease.

Sudden transformation

A Muslim praying is silhouetted inside the Golden Mosque in Quiapo, Manila.

JAMIL Sakar, 21, a fine-arts student and Maylupas’s neighbor at the Muslim Village in Bangkal, 5 km southwest of downtown Davao City, shares Maylupas’s view.

Villages with a dominant Muslim population have banned the selling of liquors and wines in any store, according to Sakar. Because of that “it is not really difficult to go fasting and leave vices behind for the next one month”.

“We are actually prepared, and even excited for the Ramadan,” Sakar said, as he sat down with the BusinessMirror, with three of his friends, including Maylupas, enumerating the dos and don’ts in observing this holiest month for Muslims worldwide.

More than the personal religious voyage among Muslims, the season of sharing and giving, as well as the test of the real essence of the jihad, are coming in convergence to reconfigure the personal and social and economic life of a Muslim for the next 28 lunar calendar days.

During Ramadan one would see the sudden transformation of communities to drab and sleepy daylight hours but hectic and physically active nighttime hours. The barangays would see demand for additional sets of garbs for daily mass attendance at the community masjid (mosques), to the partaking of the sadaka (personal charity) and zakat, the obligatory charity of rich Filipino Muslims and food donations from Middle Eastern Islamic countries.

A Muslim woman wears a hijab, a veil traditionally worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family

Longer hours

FOR dominantly Islamic countries, notably in the Middle East and North Africa, where the bulk of the 1.8 billion Muslims live, the Ramadan month turns the night and dawn hours into brisk social and economic life in these countries, as Muslims sleep or conserve energy during daylight hours to observe the sunrise-to-sundown fasting.

But in the Philippines, where Muslims live in mixed communities, villages with dominant Muslim residents have stores and economic activities open longer till the dawn hours to catch up with the lost brisk customer traffic during daytime.

“Stores selling food, including bakeries, are forced to stop selling them because it’s the period of fasting,” said Ustadz Habib Tambajada, who teaches elementary education at the government-run University of Southeastern Philippines.

Not all stores, though, close shop during these days. But Tambajada said Muslims would rather sleep most of daylight or study the Koran, to catch up with the night hours of trying to store new energy for the next sunrise-to-sundown fast.

This observance forces stores not selling food to close for several daylight hours, too, turning community life drab during daylight.

“There’s not much income to be derived at this time. Even construction workers have to stop reporting for duty,” he said. “Anything that requires a lot of energy has to stop.”

No basketball

EVEN basketball or other ball games, while not entirely prohibited, could not be played by Muslims.

“It depends on people, but it would make us feel more thirsty or hungry,” Maylupas said. “So you cannot really see anyone playing basketball.”

Store owners would open longer at night to catch up with the daytime loss, Tambajada said. These stores would include those selling vegetables, food items, coffee and native Filipino snacks.

Anita Cabrasan, a mother of a migrant worker, said Muslims rather prefer fresh food at dawn, where families would partake of the solid food for the next bout of fasting.

“Instead of heating previously prepared food, families would rather buy vegetables,” Cabrasan said.

Fruits and juices, as well as vegetables, are the sought-after food items during this period.

Tambajada said this preference also allows stores to catch up with lost income when they previously sell food at daylight.

The night market on Roxas Street, with many Muslims selling food, would expect to have a windfall, “as many Muslims would flock to it to eat barbecue chicken and other grilled food”, said the wife of Tambajada, also an ustadja.

An ustadz or ustadja are Islamic scholars from whose ranks the village Muslim elders would select an imam, or a priest.

Raihanna and Hatimah look forward to eating mango and fruit salad after every break of the fast, which usually ends at near 6 pm.

“I also like to drink orange-flavored soft drinks,” Hatimah, 11, said.

Like Hatimah, Raihanna, a 12-year-old girl selling cooked peanuts at night, lives in Bankerohan, a slum area around the city’s oldest public wet market.

By practice, Muslims take water, and then soft food like noodles and porridge, before taking solid food.

“For one in fasting, taking solid food immediately would cause indigestion and stomach pain,” Tambajada said. “Before, stores would close even at 10 p.m. Now, they are open even up to 4 a.m., or for as long as there are a lot of people still awake.”

Charity work

UNFORTUNATELY, the majority of Filipino Muslims are living in poverty, owing to their minority position in Philippine society. This has dampened whatever economic opportunity opened for them during the monthlong observance of the fasting month.

Cabrasan said, for instance, that they could not afford additional sets of dress even if they really need them, especially for women, as they frequent the mosques much often to hear the regular mohadara—sermon or preaching—of the imam.

On ordinary days, women have a lot of time to wash and prepare their best garb for the regular mosque prayer on Fridays, the Catholics’ equivalent of Sunday Masses. During Ramadan, the ummah, or entire Muslim community, converges on the masjid.

“It’s because the masjid, the reading of the Koran and the mohadara are central to Muslim life during the month of Ramadan,” Tambajada said.

With the women, tugging along the rest of the family members, frequenting the mosque much often, it would be unsightly to wear the same dress as yesterday, or at least the day before yesterday.

The asatids (plural of ustadz) would only have simplicity and humility, rather than focusing on which dress to wear, as advice for women.

“It’s the word of Allah that is more important here.”

What many Muslim communities lack in material things during this month, the rich ones could provide some relief. For the rich Muslim families, the Ramadan is also the month central to practicing zakat (obligatory tithing) or sadaka (personal charity giving).

The zakat is almost similar to the Christians’ 10-percentile part of an individual, or family’s total income.

“On certain days, the rich in this place would take care of the meals of the community,” Tambajada said.

At the small gymnasium in the middle of the Muslim Village to the interior of Barangay Bangkal here, Silfah Negroprado and her aides from the City Mayor’s office update the list of barangay residents. The list would aid the community leaders, as well as the city government, at proper accounting of the number of persons to feed.

Not sparse

THE Muslim Village in Bangkal, for example, used to be a single community with more than 500 residents. With the village divided into two masjids two years ago, the bigger one identified with the old masjid has 300 persons under its care.

On ordinary days, a rich person doing the zakat would usually decide which item or where the donation would go.

“Usually the donor would say his money should go to construct a mosque, or add another structure beside it, or repair or improve it,” Tambajada said.

During Ramadan, the money donated would commonly go to buy food packs. Each pack consists of fruits, cake, coffee and a pack of Filipino native snack. Last year, donors spent P4,000 for this food pack for 500 residents for a day.

While some donors would request anonymity, the community association still lists their names “for the sake of appropriating their donation to a particular day so that there are no duplications and to avoid wastage of food”.

Donations are not sparse and wanting, Tambajada said, as previous Ramadan usually had its 28 days fully allocated with donors.

Donations from Middle Eastern countries help fill the days, too. They come from Kuwait, Qatar, but Saudi Arabia has always been a regular donor. Their donations consist of dates, a kind of berry abundant in the Middle East, and the food packs always have chicken meat in them.

“It’s the season of giving, and sharing,” he added.

Call to prayer

RAMADAN is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims observe this month in fasting to commemorate the Islamic belief that it was on this period that Allah revealed the contents of the Koran to Prophet Mohammad.

The start of the month is observed with the sighting of the first new moon. This year, it would fall on either the 26th or the 27th of May, depending on the visual sighting of the new moon rising.

Muslims also observe each day of fasting with the actual visual observation of a sunrise and the sunset, not the fixed clock hours, Tambajada said. In any instance though, including cloudy skies, Muslims would rely on the call to the fifth prayer of the day, also the prayer at sundown, which happens at several minutes past 5 p.m. or shortly before 6 p.m.

The last prayer of the day would also officially commence the break of the fasting for that day and the start of body replenishment.

From sunrise to sundown, it is absolute nonintake of food and liquid, including saliva. Although social and hygiene consideration would advise against frequent spitting, doing so would prevent dehydration.

Heavy physical exertion, such as construction, factory and heavy equipment works, is discouraged, including heavy physical sports.

Women, gadgets

ACCORDING to Tambajada, “even if we are allowed to do some physical work, like in case, a delivery driver, it would be advisable to skip fasting when you go on long-distance trips.”

Girls and women often have days to compensate due to their menstrual cycle. Blood coming out from the body is forbidden during fasting, Muslims say, and women on menstruation have to skip fasting until menstrual bleeding stops.

Elders also clarified that mobile texting and communication are not forbidden.

“It’s in the browsing where temptations happen, such as opening pornographic contents, which is absolutely haram, or forbidden, for us”, Maylupas said.

Sexual relations, including boyfriend-girlfriend relations, are discouraged.

Dressing up, therefore, should be modest, but especially for Muslims. Women fully clothed, an attire identified with the women of the Middle East, is desired. A number of Muslim women in the Philippines have adapted the religious conservative dress of covering up even the face, exposing only the eyes.

For households with these women, males not belonging to the family, including distant relatives, are not allowed to enter the house.

Moro youths

IN most of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), the youths are still known to be cohesive in terms of observing fasting, said Amir Mawallil, executive director of the ARMM Office on Bangsamoro Youth Affairs.

“Ideally, the youth spend time on prayer apart from their usual responsibilities,” Mawallil said. “More than anything else, Ramadan is a time for reflection and fasting.”

With technology reaching Mindanao, it is fortunate the youth and children are still less problematic as their non-Muslim counterparts.

What does it mean in terms of money?

“Not much, to be honest,” Mawallil said. “Ramadan is a time that can be observed by all Muslims despite their social standing and has more to do with faith than finances.”

It also means there is less pressure to commit illegal acts to obtain money to finance nonessential activities, such as Internet gaming, net surfing, browsing and chatting, or worse, illegal drug use, according to Mawallil.

He also emphasized that Ramadan “is also a fasting from worldly desires and activities”.


THE recent attacks in Marawi City heightened anew the insistence and admonition of Islamic leaders and scholars against groups using Islam to justify violence even against civilian targets.

The recent terror attacks by the Maute Group even on the homeland of the Maranao Muslims in Lanao del Sur, and the subsequent declaration of martial law to contain the attacks, may expectedly reconfigure the observance of this year’s Ramadan.

The military has already discouraged public gatherings and has asked organizers to advise them of any plan to allow them to install adequate security blanket.

At least in Davao City, the city government has advised Moro residents to observe the Ramadan only in the mosques and in their residences to avoid becoming targets of armed attacks.

However, Tambajada emphasized that jihad is more than taking up armed means in defense of Islam.

“The real essence of jihad, and the most difficult, is actually the jihad against oneself, against the taswis, or worldly temptations.”

Tambajada said Islamic teachings have emphasized waging this personal crusade to ward off all worldly temptations that erode universal human values of love, charity and respect for everyone else’s basic rights.

“There are still a lot of Muslims, much more the non-Muslims, who do not really understand the real intention of the jihad,” he said. “It takes a lot of effort in this aspect”.

Samer Along, secretary of the executive director of Davao City’s Madrasah Comprehensive Development and Promotion Program, said Islamic scholars and other learned Muslims are currently going the rounds of the more than 40 madaris in the city alone, to inculcate anew the basic teachings and tenets of Islam.

“We want to educate and equip Muslims with the basic ideas to counter anything that will mislead and misinterpret the teachings of Islam to promote extremism,” he said.

Image Credits: Afby71 | Dreamstime.com, Alysa Salen

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Manuel Cayon has written about Mindanao for several national newspapers for more than two decades, the most part of it on conflict-reporting, and on the political, insurgency and civil rights front. He also scribbles on the religious and human rights issues for the Thailand-based Catholic news agency as well as he strings for several wire agencies. His stint with then TODAY newspaper started his business reporting obtaining in Mindanao, continuing to this day with BusinessMirror. He received citations and awards, including two Biotechnology awards for reporting. He was a fellow of the US International Visitors’ Program Leadership in 2007 on conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution. He attended college at the Mindanao State University and the Ateneo de Davao University


  1. I doubt 25% of the world is Muslim. Just because some thugs overthrow a country and declare it an Islamic state doesn’t mean the people there agree with it.

  2. Muslims pretend to understand the teaching of Yeshua yet they totally ignore his inspiring simple message on fasting. “Do it in private without any hype or ceremony”.

    The biggest Idol worshiping religion is Islam. Yup, that big black box of a building in Mecca is a man made idol.

    The Paper God can fool so many, all religious scriptures have been written by the corruptible hand of man. Yes there are some truths. Love is one but it is only mentioned about 34 times in the Koran compared to over 500 times in the Bible, and the Sikh scriptures.

    Just because your parents believe in such and such religion does not mean you have too. Critical thinking people!

    From a Deist point of reference.


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