Sahur – Eating Before Dawn

Early his morning, I woke to constant soft knocking at my door. I looked at my clock. It was 4am. So, for the first time I was finally going to join the family for Sahur, the pre dawn meal of Ramadan. I changed out of my pajamas and blearily stumbled downstairs. It was so quiet with all the children still asleep and the nearby mosques yet to start their ministry over the PA systems.

At the table were Bapak who was already eating and Bu Esty who also looked as bleary eyed as I was. As Bu Esty invited me to start serving myself some food, Ichal appeared rubbing his eyes tiredly as he sat in the the fourth seat set at the table. I spooned some nasi (rice) onto my plate, not as much as usual because I had no appetite, however as I was determined to experience fasting at least till midday I needed to eat a reasonable amount. I then looked at the other dishes, which were all left overs from last night’s meal. There was a Bayam vegetable soup, 2 types of spicy sambal – one made from peanuts and one made from dried salted fish (both absolutely delicious), 2 fish dishes, and a dish made from small round eggplant. I spooned some Bayam Soup over my rice and some each of the 2 sambals and finally some eggplant.

As Bu Esty & Ichal started serving themselves and we all were eating, Bapak explained that for Muslims, the pre dawn meal is the more like the main meal of the day and therefore the most important meal during the fast of Ramadan. Considering that for Bapak & Ichal, they will consume nothing now till just after 6:40 tonight, I can fully understand the importance of this meal and again it explains why the meal in the evening is only a light meal.

Of the 4 of us, Bapak was the only one who seemed to coping well with this early start and considering that it is the 29 day of Ramadan, and this is his 29th morning of doing so, I guess it it makes sense. Tonight there will be an announcement from the Ministry of Religion confirming the exact time and date that Ramadan finishes. Apparently there is debate amongst Muslim clerics. The beginning and end of Ramadan is based on the visual sighting of the crescent moon which explains why the crescent moon is the symbol of Islam!

As we finished our meal, we sat there for a few minutes in quietness, then Bu Esty starting collecting the dirty dishes and plates of food and carried them into the kitchen so that we could get back to bed and get some more sleep before the day began. I got up to help her and just as the last dish was returned to the kitchen, the power went out and we were all in total darkness. Ichal turned on his phone to illuminate the way back to our respective bedrooms. I headed back upstairs and collapsed into bed. As I lay there trying to go back to sleep, a nearby mosque began the end of Sahur prayer announcing to one and all that the daily fast had begun. It went for an hour and was joined by all the other mosques across Ternate. Luckily the local mosque PA system is not too loud and it was quite nice lying in bed listening to the rhythmic praying.

I eventually fell asleep sometime after 5:30 and slept till 8am! Downstairs is still very quiet so I guess Bu Esty is still asleep. I have woken with a headache and while not feeling hungry at all, I am very thirsty. I think if I fasted for the whole day, it would be the lack of water I would find the most difficult to bear. During the daylight hours of Ramadan, water is not allowed to enter the mouth so I have just realised I should have cleaned my teeth before the end of Sahur prayer! Can I last till 12 noon with this horrible taste in my mouth and nothing to drink? I will try my best to see if I can experience at least a fraction of Ramadan! Apparently young children just learning how to fast start with a half day fast, however they usually start their fast at midday rather than end it then!

Did you know that all the major religions include an aspect of fasting? Christians have Lent, the Jewish have Yom Kippur, and in Buddhism, fasting is also practised. For all it is about self control and achieving spiritual connectedness with one’s God. For Muslims, the Koran was revealed to Mohammed during the final days of his fast and thus the last days of Ramadan are seen as the most holy and consequently is when the mosques are at their fullest. In the evenings here in Ternate, it is common to see men and women walking along the side of the road wearing their prayer clothing which for women is a head to toe white cotton dress and jilbab and for the men it is a white cotton jacket and pants with a small white hat like a Jewish cap. Over the mens shoulder is usually a very colourful prayer mat.

It is now 10am, so time to get up properly and join everyone else downstairs!

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