Two Neighboring Countries in Southeast Asia and fasting controversies in Ramadan
What do you know about Malaysia, Singapore and Ramadan? Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country which adheres to Sunni Islam, and the majority of Muslims are Sunni Muslims who adhere to the Shafi’I school of Islamic Jurisprudence. Singapore is a country with a secular constitution where Muslims are a minority, and the majority of Muslims are Sunni Muslims who adhere to the Shafi’I school of Islamic jurisprudence. Other differences and similarities abound between these 2 countries, and Ramadan 2019 was an example.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar observed by Muslims globally as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. A celebration of the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, the annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam and lasts twenty-nine to thirty days, from one visual sighting of the sickle moon to the next. While fasting from dawn until sunset, devotees refrain from food, drink, smoking, physical relations, and immoral behavior that may repeal the reward of fasting striving to purify themselves and improve their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness).
Ramadan is a time for all Muslims to come together, share and reflect upon their heritage, and strengthen the community bonds by going without food while there is daylight. A significant number of the community are pregnant or in ill-health or have other conditions, which prevents them from fasting food throughout Ramadan.
Malaysia and Singapore have Muslim communities that respect the traditions of Ramadan and partake in the fasting rituals passed down to them through the generations. However, the differences in consequences and reactions toward fasting in Malaysia and Singapore are starkly evident in 2019.
What is the environment for Malay Muslims living in Malaysia, when it comes to fasting? Johor is an apt example.
“At least 102 people have been arrested all over Johor for not fasting in a public area by the Jabatan Agama Islam Negeri Johor (JAINJ) as crackdowns continue to catch those defiling the holy month of Ramadan.
JAINJ Syariah Enforcement Division Principal Assistant Director Halid Sono told Sinar Harian that they were given various excuses ranging from tummy aches to gastric problems when asked why they chose to eat in public.The men were arrested under the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 1997 Section 15(b).”
Malaysians can be sent to jail or fined up to RM 1,000, for those found and caught selling food to Muslims. Muslims consuming food or beverage during the sunlight hours could face fines to RM 3,000 and up to a year in prison. Judging by comments, Malaysian Muslim netizens expect these Muslim men to eat in private, and the World Of Buzz articles contains details which may surprise people who know very little about Islam in Southeast Asia. .
Other netizens called for police to close down eateries that opened early, as such practises could be interpreted to be encouraging Muslims to break their fast too early.
In Singapore, the attitudes of Singaporean Malay Muslims are very different. A photo of a Muslim woman was posted on Facebook by a group known as MUIS or Muslims Underrepresented in Singapore for eating in public during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The original photo appeared to be taken in Malaysia, but MUIS had added this opinion to the tweet:
“For those who are sick, old, pregnant, menstruating, or cannot fast for a valid reason, please take care of your health and eat. But, if possible, please eat privately as consideration and respect for those who are fasting. (Translated) It’s better that it is done in a quiet, hidden place away from the eyes of the public, to guard and protect ourselves from slander, and to save others from sin.”
Many Muslim and non-Muslim commenters in Singapore did not take kindly to the opinion. Singaporean Muslims bit back with tweets and facebook messages, expressing support for religious freedom and respect being a sensible two-way street, while questioning if the opinion was expressed by a Malaysian Muslim. The difference in responses by netizens for these 2 countries are as vivid as night and day.
Based on the 2 articles above, what do you know about Malaysia and Singapore, where an understanding of each country and specific differences alongside certain historical similarities holds the key to understanding 2 facts together from more than 1000 years ago, which have not been publicly taught to billions of mother, fathers, daughters and sons today to keep people fundamentally ignorant, hence preventing at least 99% of today’s global population from making fully-informed choices and protecting the children?