“Please just eat or drink. Even if I’m right in front of you.” says author Tengku Zai (left) to all her non-Muslim friends who worry about whether or not it’s okay to do so during Ramadan.

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Well, this is potentially contentious. Actually, its highly likely that this is going to be a touchy article, but whatever Im about to say needs to be said.

Can we all chill out on being offended when others eat or drink during Ramadan? Asking for a non-Muslim friend. 

Alright, so first, a little background. My byline is enough of a giveaway that Im both Malay and a Muslim. So, I reckon Im qualified to speak (or at least have an opinion) on whether or not its okay for others to eat/drink in front of me while Im fasting. 

Too many times, Ive had friends who look Malay (but arent) tell me of the numerous times theyve been told off for buying food or eating/drinking during the fasting month. Naturally, in this country, as long as youre Malay, youre a Muslim. But why the assumption that someone is Muslim based on how they look? 

That said, even if they were Malay and/or Muslim, how is it anyone elses business that theyre eating or drinking? First of all, were not the judge of them and neither do we have the right to police their religious principles. Isnt it Nabi Isa who said, He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”? Weve all got our own sins and shortcomings to worry about, let others concern themselves with their private and personal relationship with the Almighty.

Waiting for Iftar. (Image by Md. Mafizul Hasan Hawlader on Flickr)

Okay, so back to said friend(s). Even after clarifying that theyre neither Malay nor Muslim – a (totally unnecessary) clarification that warrants an apology – theyre still scolded for eating/drinking because they pass off as someone who could be Muslim and is therefore causing others to sin. How? I dont know. Perhaps because by seeing other supposed Muslims eat, a Muslim may decide to eat too? 

The logic boggles my mind.  Its akin to how Muslims wishing their Christian friends/family Merry Christmas will somehow confuse” them and even cause them to become apostate. 

Oh, ye of little faith. Its saddening that for an alarming amount of Malaysian Muslims, our iman is so weak that just by seeing someone eat/drink while were fasting (or doing anything deemed sinful in Islam for that matter) will cause us to immediately go down the path of unrighteousness. Ironically, this judgmental-ness (is that a word? If its not, it should be) is hardly righteous. 

Also, isnt this month meant for us to be the best version of ourselves? More compassionate, understanding, patient, empathetic, and kind (we should be striving for this every month, really). So, what if that person whom you just told off in a fit of righteous anger was actually ill? They could have been diabetic and in need of immediately spiking up their sugar. They might have been a heart patient who needs to take their medications at specific times. They might have been pregnant or nursing. They might have been you in any of these situations. 

We dont know for sure the circumstances that others are faced with or what struggles theyre going through. So isnt it better (and less stressful) to just be kind and not always assume the worst? And even if you were to chance upon someone who should be fasting not fasting, Ill say this again for the people at the back: Who. Are. We. To. Be. Policing. Someone. Elses. Religious. Principles?

(Hilton Singapore/Facebook)

Its easy to be holier-than-thou when you veil your judgmental-ness with the veneer of religion. Because who dares to argue back when you throw down the ‘Islam’ card? But while youre polishing your imaginary brownie points for being the moral police, the truth of the matter remains: Ramadan can be an excellent time for Muslims to be a good example to non-Muslims, but instead, we ruin it with ironic headlines like ‘Outrage over food wastage in hotels‘.

And heres another thing. Fasting month isnt about starving. Its about relinquishing excess and giving back to others; similar to Catholic Lent. Part of our dugaan (test) is to see others go about their daily lives while we live ours. Avert your own eyes if seeing someone eat or drink bothers you so much.

We are personally responsible for leaving the world a better, more ethical and accepting place than the one we grew up in. So lets pick our battles. Fighting with our brethren during a time were supposed to be more prayerful and charitable goes against what this holy month entails – a time to guard against greed, gluttony, impure thoughts, misdeeds, and hurtful words.

My child is two years old while most of my family is non-Muslim (on account of being bi-racial) – do I really expect them to starve themselves just because Im hanging around? Just as much as some of us blast the question, Why cant you respect other cultures?” to those unlike us, we need to ask ourselves that question. Why cant we respect that others around us arent expected to fast or restrain themselves? Its not a non-Muslims job to remove our nafsu (desire). 

“It’s not a non-Muslims job to remove our nafsu (desire).”(Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash)

Would you tell someone else that they cant have a slice of cake because youre on a diet? No, right? Because that would be utterly ridiculous. And thats what this is – ridiculous. 

Now, to my non-Muslim friends. While, yes, we certainly appreciate some consideration and sensitivity, making children eat in toilets is taking things way too far (yes, it really happened). There are a few things you can do to be in solidarity with those who are fasting. For instance, try not to pester us into eating/drinking (although we understand that sometimes you forget were fasting). If were having dinner together, do wait with us until the azan sounds so we can begin our meal at the same time. Or follow these other tips on etiquette during Ramadan. 

So, whats the bottom line? Its this: please just eat or drink. Even if Im right in front of you. 

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