Staying within the fringes of mainstream cultures, Aidha Cader has inculcated an appreciation for Food, History, Travel and Art beyond her comfort zone.
Highly anticipated, Ramadan is a time of self-purification and spiritual attainment. We break free from routine and redesign our lives with Ramadan being the main focus. For many of us, fasting during the day and feasting at night becomes a regular sight. It’s also the time for Iftar parties, shopping, charity work and prayer. Luckily, our society and culture accommodate our need to go through this blessed month with a positive approach. Nevertheless, for many Muslims living in non-Muslim nations, the month of Ramadan is a challenge.
It is a hard test for many such Muslims who navigate the requirements of Ramadan while juggling the demands of work, school and family. Work hours aren’t shortened and neither is there any holiday for Eid. Iftar parties and shopping are distant dreams and there is no culture of festival bonus during this time either. With Ramadan falling in the midst of summer this year, the long daylight hours will be another battle altogether.
Living in Germany, Shereen, an Egyptian, says, “Ramadan has its share of trials as the fasting period is almost nineteen hours this year.” She also adds that her husband, a senior banker, once almost fainted at a meeting while he was fasting. During Ramadan, Shereen misses being home the most. “In Egypt we have a large extended family, many friends and plenty of Iftar parties. We fast and eat together. There is a feeling of joy in the air,” she adds. With Maghrib very late into the night, Iftar parties aren’t conceivable in Germany, as many will have work the following morning.
Islamophobia in such countries is further exacerbating the problem. Some locals feel it’s a violation of the ‘rights of a child’ to make them fast during the month. In some areas, the local mosques are a focal point for clashes among the Muslim community and locals. However, Shereen is hopeful that the month will bring many rewards and blessings for her and her family.
Nozima, from Uzbekistan, who is now residing in Hong Kong with her family, remarks, “Although Hong Kong is a non-Muslim country, Ramadan is easier here than in Uzbekistan.” The Central Asian nation was a stronghold of Islam during the Abbasid period. However, decades of communist rule have eroded all forms of religious ideology from its people. “Ramadan is no stranger to Hong Kong,” she adds. It has many Indonesians, Chinese Muslims, immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and a large expatriate population in the country. Most of the non-Muslims are aware of the requirements in Ramadan and don’t harbour any prejudice or discrimination. The local mosques play a central role in facilitating this strong community. “Some even serve free Iftar meals,” she adds. Having Muslim friends with children of the same age has helped her make Hong Kong her home. “This is my extended family now,” she says. The hardest challenge has been for her husband. “The extended working hours is a culture and norm here which is not pleasant during Ramadan,” she adds. On Eid, the local mosque has an international ambiance due to the multiculturalism within the community. They also facilitate Eid parties, picnics, and barbeques during the first weekend after Ramadan. “This is a great way to stay connected with the Muslim community in our locality,” she concludes.
Currently residing in Dhaka, Aynur, from Romania states, “Ramadan back home was a time when families unite and build strong bonds with one another.” She recalls her mother inviting elders to prepare various sweets during the month. The festival is also known as Seker Bayramı or Sweet Feast. Throughout the month the local mosque is the centre of all activities. Iftar, Tarawih, Quran recitation, preaching Islam, hanging out with friends and Eid parties all take place at the mosque. Romania has approximately 0.3% Muslims, mostly of Tartar origin. “Though we are small in number, we are united and solemn in our devotion,” she confirms. This sense of unity held together by the bonds of faith is what she misses in Dhaka.
As for me, living most of my life in Sri Lanka, Ramadan was all about relatives and exotic food. Though our regular lives did not change with the dawn of the holy month, it was nevertheless exciting. Although in Dhaka, I feel that the entire nation is fasting with me, yet, there is a sense of void and loneliness. Though we do have the occasional Iftar parties but most evenings I spend with my family and break our fast with a date, water and porridge. I miss the rush to go to the mosque, the long drives around the city at night and most of all, our extended family. It makes me realise that the culture around Ramadan is not about which country you are from or where you reside. Instead, it’s about where ‘home’ is and who ‘family’ is, when the crescent is dawned.
Back in time
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) often observed fasting even before it was made mandatory to his community. It is believed that in Madinah he noticed the Jews observing fast on the day of ‘Ashura’. When he came to understand that this commemorates the day when the Red Sea
was parted to save the Jews from the Pharaoh, he requested the Muslim community to do the same. However, when the month long fast was prescribed upon his people, the prophet eased the Fasting of Ashura. Nonetheless, he continued this practice for himself.
It is recorded that the Prophet used to favour breaking his fast with dates, and if he did not find any, he would then break it with water. It is also noted that he would prefer to break his fast with food that was easily available. He followed a simple macrobiotic diet and did not order special dishes to be made for Iftar. However, there were some dishes that were considered delicacies at that time. These include Tharid (meat mixed with bread), Talbinah (a sweet), soups, roasted meat and dishes prepared with cheese and refined butter, some of which he enjoyed occasionally.