Last week was the first week of Ramadan, and I spent a few days in the most populous Muslim country in the world. I have to admit that, despite being used to facing preconceived notions about Christianity, I still came to Ramadan in Indonesia with my own cultural assumptions. Fasting seems like such a hard-core thing to do, and I guess I had it in my mind that anyone who was willing to go without food or water from sunrise to sunset would be extremely pious. As a result, I associated fasting with other signs of piety in Islam – modest dress, prayers several times a day, etc. It’s not like that though – women who bare their shoulders, people who date westerners, people who try to pray regularly (since it’s Ramadan) but are flexible about it, all participate in the fast.
In general, there is as much diversity in the ways that, and degree to which, Indonesians practice their religion as you would see in “Christian” countries. It’s kind of like I imagine Canada was in the 1950s, when the majority associated with the Christian church, though the actual day-to-day practice of the faith varied greatly.
While in Indonesia, I was generously given lunch by locals who explained what all the dishes were, and then sent me away to eat in another room because they weren’t going to be eating until the sun went down, and I also had the opportunity to break fast with my Indonesian counter-parts once the sun did set. All in all, I left being reminded that the diversity of humanity is a beautiful thing, feeling blessed by the tolerance and inclusion of my hosts, and impressed by these people who would practice such self-denial, one month of the year, to stay in touch with their faith.