Saturday, August 27, 2011

Idul Fitri: Festivity of charity and forgiveness

Here comes Idul Fitri again, when more than 15 million people will go on mudik (homecoming) to celebrate the day of forgiveness. After a full month of fasting, Muslims will celebrate the post-Ramadhan (Idul Fitri) festivities.

Borrowed from Arabic, id means to be back and al-fitri means pure, nature, or disposition, suggesting a kind of “back-to-nature” status. According to Islam, a newborn is clean without any original sins. Islam teaches that naturally and biologically a newborn has the disposition to be good.

It is the parent who is responsible for making him or her good or otherwise. Clearly, from an Islamic point of view, early childhood education is the first and most important phase of education. Character and charity develop over a life time, but it starts at home. The home environment is the filter by which subsequent values and qualities are processed.

The fasting month teaches introspection, compassion with the hunger and social solidarity. People have to refrain from consuming food and drink, which are otherwise halal (lawful and permissible) from sunrise till dawn in other months. The moral is clear: You dare not compromise your own rights, let alone others’. Should they internalize and implement the essence of fasting, Muslims would not be dishonest or commit corruption.

By completing the month-long fasting, Muslims are now reborn to set a new life. The Idul Fitri festivity is meant to celebrate victory over desire, lust and impulse during Ramadhan. After Ramadhan, they are supposed to be mindful that all these are worldly temptations that could trap and push them toward disaster.

During Ramadhan, Muslims are obliged to give food or money to the poor. It is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad was generous and during Ramadhan was most charitable. As tough as the fasting month may have been, the feeling of being reborn — without sin — is so strong among true Muslims so they are already looking forward to another Ramadhan to come.

Muslims are encouraged to share their prosperity with others. Muslims are reminded of the saying by the Prophet Muhammad, that the true possession is the charity contributed to others. The act of giving brings happiness both to the giver and receiver. The more you give the happier you are.

To err is human, but to persistently commit wrongdoing is mischievous and self-damaging. The more you commit wrongdoing, the more depressed and miserable you are. Wrongdoing is a symptom of mental illness. The month of forgiveness comes down to you once a year to guide you back to the straight path. By nature (fitrah) humans have disposition to be good.

Feeling poor and destitute, some people erroneously think they possess nothing to give. As a matter of truth everybody controls forgiveness treasured in the heart. Everybody makes mistakes that are psychologically burdensome. To forgive and to be forgiven equally generate relief and happiness on both parties.

Ramadhan, in comparison to other months in the year, is like Friday to other days in the week. Regardless of social status — rich or poor — all Muslims celebrate. Muslims are obliged to give obligatory charity (zakat fitrah) before performing the Idul Fitri prayer. The purpose is to share prosperity with the poor so that they could also celebrate.

The bottom line is that the spirit and attitude of giving optional charity (sedekah) and forgiveness are to be materialized in the other months throughout the year. Muslims need Ramadhan just like vehicles need an overhaul. It renews their faith to energize life commitments to social solidarity and performing noble deeds.

We tend to overlook the role played by maids and servants. How could we survive without them? Housewives agree that without them household tasks just fall apart. Mudik is a recurring social phenomenon inseparable from Ramadhan. And when maids and servants are on mudik, we realize that the poor are another pillar of society. Their role is simply irreplaceable by machinery.

Due to arrogance and self-overestimation many people lose sight of the greatness in their maids and servants. By way of tobat (asking for God’s forgiveness) your sins could be forgiven for, say, not performing vertical worship, such as fasting and daily prayers.

On the contrary, violating ethics of horizontal worship such as social interaction is to be settled socially through silaturahim, which literally means establishing compassion. The Prophet Muhammad said that silaturahim would lengthen your age. This is to suggest that interaction and negotiation develop harmony and brotherhood.

The Idul Fitri festivity is not the end. Government offices, social institutions, even small-scale communities regularly hold a halal bihalal, an Arabic-like expression coined to refer to a social gathering held a few weeks after the Idul Fitri festivity. Again, the mission is to institutionalize silaturahim. The Presidential Palace usually holds it after the Idul Fitri prayer, where high-ranking officials, regardless of their faith and religion, are invited. Political and bureaucratic silaturahim perhaps!

If you are abusive or violent toward your maids or servants, you have to ask for their forgiveness. It is them who have the right; God would not forgive you for them. Forgiveness from a maid or servant could be the only key for abusive and violent bosses and housewives to open the gates of Paradise!

As Muslims break the fast of the last day of Ramadhan, they begin takbir, which literally means to magnify greatness of God by reciting Allahu Akbar; God is great, in a loud voice in groups or individually until sunset on the day of Idul Fitri.

The moral: No matter how powerful and authoritative you are, you are dependent on others. Takbir is a divine reminder to Muslims. Humans are created equal. It is God who is great. In His eyes the noblest one is one — regardless of social status — who fears Him most. Takbir educates us to be modest, respectful and polite.

While it was formerly hypothesized that growth in science would reduce dependence on religion, the Ramadhan phenomenon verifies that both religion and science go hand in hand. Fasting is medically curing, forgiving is psychologically satisfying and mudik and halal bihalal are socially rewarding.

By A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung professor at Indonesian Education University, Bandung.

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