By: Michael L. Tan
Published by inquirer: https://opinion.inquirer.net
Monday was the start of Ramadan, which non-Muslims usually associate with fasting. The fasting, from sunrise to sunset, is important, but there’s more to Ramadan, including prayers, reflection, charity and sacrifice (for example, refraining from tobacco).
Also included during Ramadan are extra efforts to stay humble and avoid outbursts of anger. One of my Muslim friends told me last year how someone, a Christian, was trying to pick a fight with her and how she had to keep holding herself back, explaining to her protagonist: “I’m Muslim and it’s Ramadan so I will hold my tongue.” That only got her “friend” even angrier, but he backed off in the end.
Ramadan provides us with an opportunity for Christian-Muslim dialogue and understanding. But, unfortunately, we still think of the month as a “Muslim-only” month, with a side benefit of Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, as a national holiday.
Considering that Muslims are now found all throughout the country and, in cities, in fairly large numbers, majority Christians should try to learn more about Ramadan and Islam by talking with Muslim colleagues and by thinking of ways to help Muslims go through the rigors of Ramadan’s observances. This applies not just to offices but to classes as well, and to workshops being held during this month of sacrifice.
The day of the start of Ramadan, we also had our UP Diliman executive committee meeting involving deans and directors, so I took the opportunity to remind them that with Ramadan, we should give special consideration to our Muslims observing the fast. For example, our dorms, which normally do not allow cooking, have been instructed to allow Muslim students to prepare their “suhoor” or predawn meal, which has to be heavy enough to keep them going for the next 12 hours or so.
The Islamic calendar is quite different from our Gregorian calendar, so Ramadan moves each year, becoming earlier on the Western calendar. This year’s Ramadan will be more difficult given that it falls during the very hot and dry month of May—a literal Ramadan, so to speak, since that word is derived from “ramida” or “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat or dryness.
Since the fasting includes abstaining from water, you can imagine the dangers of dehydration, especially for those who have to take public transportation to and from work.
Also, be on the alert because very devout Muslims will sometimes insist on observing the fast and not even take medicines orally, which can be a problem for those who are on maintenance medicines, for example for high blood pressure or diabetes.
During Ramadan, Muslims might also need to take more breaks not just for the regular five prayers in a day (three of which fall during office hours), but also for extra prayers or reading of the Quran.
Muslims should take extra effort to explain what Ramadan is, and invite non-Muslim friends to join them for iftar, the meal after sunset and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.
Ramadan got me thinking of the progress we’ve made in UP Diliman toward greater inclusivity with Muslims.
We have gained many Muslim alumni across the decades. When the Institute of Islamic Studies has its special celebrations, some of these alumni return, and one thing that struck me was how many of them, including lawyers and physicians, come from Siasi island in the province of Sulu.
One of the most well-known UP Diliman alumni from Siasi is Santanina Tillah Rasul, who was one of the first women senators in the Philippines. She pushed for women’s rights through antidiscrimination measures, including opening the Philippine Military Academy to women.
Our UP Diliman executive committee now has two Muslim deans—Macrina Morado for the Institute of Islamic Studies and Hussein Sinsuat Lidasan for the School of Urban and Regional Planning. Both are experts in their fields: dean Morado in Sharia law, particularly family relations, and dean Lidasan for transport planning.
The Institute of Islamic Studies’ founding dean was Cesar Adib Majul, born to an Ibanag mother and a Syrian father, and who converted to Islam as an adult. Majul trained as a historian, wrote books on Muslims in the Philippines, and was an authority on Apolinario Mabini. He was also dean of the College of Arts and Sciences right before martial law.
The last time I checked, UP Diliman had more than 200 Muslim students, taking different degrees. Many excel in their fields, including, in 2017, Arman Ali Ghodsinia, who delivered the valedictory speech at UP Diliman’s general commencement exercises. He graduated summa cum laude with one of the most difficult degree programs: molecular biology and biotechnology.
To our Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak, a blessed Ramadan.