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By the way ... Are we
celebrating or observing
Ramadhan?

I can’t remember a time during Ramadhan of any year when there wasn’t enough food on the table. Every day for the breaking of the fast, there is almost always more food than we can eat. This is true whether I eat at home or at an iftar dinner function.

In recent years, it has become fashionable for companies and organizations (including foreign embassies in Jakarta) to throw big iftar dinner for staff and guests at least once during Ramadhan. These events turn into massive banquets, with plenty of rich food. Hardly a day goes by for me without some invitation to buka puasa bersama. On some nights, I get more than one invitation.

Many families have iftar at restaurants and hotels. Ever tried to get a table at popular and not-so-popular restaurants in Jakarta at 6 p.m. without a prior reservation? They would tell you to come back after 7 p.m. It’s worse at weekends.

Ramadhan is certainly the best month of the year in the Islamic lunar calendar, and not only for religious reasons. But for most, it is a time when we eat the most, even as we fast from dawn to dusk. It is also the time when you meet people who you rarely see the rest of the year. What better way of renewing old acquaintances over a big dinner?

These events are never devoid of religion. They hold joint prayers and some invite popular imams to give religious sermons about the meaning of Ramadhan. This alleviates the guilt, at least for those with a conscience, about eating so well during the fasting month. Call these a traditional religious binge: a feast, in the name of Islam.

These years, the feast begins from Day One of Ramadhan. If the first iftar for most is spent with family, the next days and four weeks is about trying to fulfill as many iftar dinner invitations as possible. Some organizations hold theirs as early as Day Two. This goes on until about two days before the end of Ramadhan. Then it goes back to the family again.

And there is Idul Fitri at the end of Ramadhan, when we have the mother of all banquets. Celebrations last for days or weeks with halal-bihalal or the post-Ramadhan gatherings when we seek and give forgiveness to one another.

Here is the (not-so) paradox of Ramadhan in Indonesia: Monthly inflation is at its highest around this time of the year. Non-Muslim visitors would see the paradox of plentiful food at a time when Muslims are supposed to be fasting. They would have thought that this time should see the lowest inflation of the year, at least until the Idul Fitri celebrations.

Understandably for the poor, they want to eat better during Ramadhan. And they deserve to. For many poor families in Indonesia, Ramadhan might be the only time when they buy meat. Of course, now they can’t, not with prices of meat hitting the roof, thanks to the rest of us and our endless binges.

No financial wizard trade minister could ever address the problem of Ramadhan inflation. The current minister has been the target of public attacks over the soaring prices of food. This year, he even got a public scolding from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Poor guy, and he wants to run for president in an election that will take place around this time next year? Good luck to him.

We know that inflation is caused by soaring demand and not enough supply. And the present solution of more imports (and there goes our food self-sufficiency goal) is not going to be of much help because we are simply eating more and more.

Couldn’t Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali or Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama help tackle the problem on the demand side? Couldn’t the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) come up with a fatwa asking Muslims to eat moderately at Ramadhan and save the feast for Idul Fitri? Are we not defying Islamic teachings by binging and throwing away so much of the food that we can’t eat?

Aren’t we supposed to observe rather than celebrate Ramadhan? By binging nightly, aren’t we defeating the real goal, that is, to feel what it is like to go hungry just for a few hours and demonstrate solidarity with those who go hungry all year round?

Unfortunately, it is not only prices that get inflated at Ramadhan. At the rate we are eating, our waistlines are bound to increase. It’s not uncommon to hear people complaining about gaining so much weight every Ramadhan. Like them, I too cannot resist the invitations and all the rich food. Worry about the weight comes later.

My diet will begin about two weeks after Ramadhan. Insya Allah.

— Endy Bayuni

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