I am of course, talking about the voluntary fasting for six days in the month of Syawal, or more popularly known in Malay as Puasa Enam.
The act of carrying out six days of fasting within the month of Syawal (also known as bulan raya for Malays) is highly encouraged. Prophet Muhammad's (s.a.w.) hadeeth, as recorded in Sahih Muslim, says : He who observed the fast of Ramadan and then followed it with six (fasts) of Shawwal, it would be as if he fasted perpetually.
On the face of it, it really shouldn't be that difficult to fast for six days, since we just completed doing the same thing for 30 straight days just the month before. Furthermore, we are allowed to choose any six days within the month (except for the first day of Aidilfitri), and these six days need not be consecutive. We can spread them out if we so wish.
So why is it then, many Muslims (yours truly included) find it difficult to carry out this task?
I would humbly venture to give the following reasons :
1. Nobody else is doing it. That's why it is difficult to do alone.
Well perhaps, rather than saying `nobody', it is more correct to say `not many'. Muslims who fast in Syawal don't normally declare to others that they are doing so. Since everyone else around you is eating and drinking as they please, it becomes a real challenge for you to fast in such a situation. Fasting the first day out of six is always the most difficult. You go to work and see someone on the roadside lighting up a cigarette.... and you wonder why isn't that guy fasting? It takes a while for it to hit you back... that you're the one who is fasting and not the rest of the world. It becomes doubly difficult when you reach your workplace because you would always have friends and colleagues inviting you out for lunch or teh-tarik.
2. Many friends invite you for a raya makan-makan
The Malaysian culture of holding `open houses' to celebrate the festivities make it difficult for you to find a suitable day to fast. Sometimes when you have already decided to start fasting for the day, a last minute invitation to a makan-makan would tempt you to break your fast. It is somehow not proper for you to accept a friend's invitation but yet, not partake in the spread of delicacies. Nowadays, many companies hold their `open houses' during working hours, hence it can also be tough to fast during the weekdays too.
3. The willpower and motivation becomes weak
Perhaps, this is the main reason why most of us can't do the Puasa Enam. Fasting in Ramadan trains us to be patient and reserved. We are reminded to be watchful of what we hear, say and look at. The moment Syawal arrives, many of us can't wait to free ourselves of such inhibitions and behave in our normal self. Puasa Enam is not obligatory anyway, so why bother? I have to constantly remind myself that the incentive to do voluntary deeds is only evident to those who seek.
Over the years, I have tried a few strategies in maintaining the willpower to carry out Puasa Enam. Initially I thought that doing two days in every week (say each Monday and Thursday) would be a good method. Unfortunately, the uncertain schedule of my work (outstation travel, site meetings etc.) meant that I missed some days. Now, I am trying a different way... I am fasting for six straight days from Monday to Saturday. I'm sticking to my plan, no matter what. Sorry friends, if I can't join you for breakfast or for afternoon tea.