I get asked a lot by my expat colleagues why I am fasting. Why does Islam instruct me to pray? Why is the call to prayer so loud? To be frank, I know they ask these questions out of prejudice, rather than curiosity. I get tired having to justify my religious practices and yet I don’t want to sound defensive, because why should I? Please tell me how to best handle this. I wish I could shoo them away because deep down I’m offended by their condescending manner.
I face a similar situation when traveling abroad, although the questions revolved around people’s confusion that there could be such thing as a non-practicing Muslim.
I think it’s best to answer with concise and practical answers and leave the morality and religious issues behind. You are also right for not being defensive, and staying focused on the personal aspects. On the question on fasting, you can perhaps say that it’s a habit that you’ve followed since you were a little; that your body seems to agree with it as you feel lighter and healthier; and that it teaches you moderation and an ascetic way of life and how humans can actually survive with so little means.
In terms of prayer, you can say that they are the short breaks you need in a day, as a kind of short meditation to help you stay focused on your work. As for the loud prayer calls, they are actually annoying and I have found that in other countries with a Muslim majority, even those that implement Sharia, the prayer call is much more subdued and beautiful. In Brunei, for example, my friend who lives there said that the loudspeaker is only allowed to be directed at the mosque, so that it can only be heard inside, and maybe from several nearby houses. Therefore, the prayer calls won’t create disruption or, worse, noise pollution.
Another way to respond to condescending, religious-related questions is through humor, although religious purists may be infuriated by this. Why still fasting? Say, you need a diet and it’s also a good way to save up on lunch money. Prayers, meanwhile, are healthier than cigarette breaks, plus performing pre-prayer ablution five times a day keeps acne away in this humid tropical country.
If they still treat you with mockery and condescension (I get this from atheists who say agnostics are atheists without balls, d’oh!), or you just don’t feel like answering the questions because they are actually too personal, just shrug and say, “Well, I like doing it.”
Hope it helps and have a good rest of the fasting month!
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