When you’re a Bangladeshi residing abroad, Ramadan may pose more than just a few challenges. The strenuous work hours, the lack of traditional iftar items and of course, the absence of family and friends certainly makes the heart pine for the love and life we have left behind. Despite the fish out of water situation, people do however, go out of their way to cling to their faith and fast as much as they can. In the spirit of the holy month, we speak to some deshis based in different parts of the map to learn about their Ramadan experiences beyond the comfort of their homes.
Salman Haider, Senior Advisor, Diakonia German Education Center, who is based in Bonn, Germany, says that for any kind of religious ritual, geographical location isn’t much of a factor. Hence fasting isn’t much of a challenge for him. “A good number of Muslim communities live here, as a result the mosques in Bonn provided tasty meals for iftar during Ramadan.”
Salman goes on to say that even amid his busy schedules at Bonn, he manages to make time for iftar and sehri. “Here in Bonn, we have iftar timing in between 9:30 to 9:45 at night! So, it’s not difficult to prepare myself for iftar, as my office closes at 5:30 pm during work days. But as we need to fast more than 19 hours; that means the short timing between iftar and sehri is sometimes difficult for me,” he explains.
Salman’s tip for passing the month of Ramadan with flying colours is simple: “You just need to be committed to fasting, that’s all! Also, try having more water, fruits and light food during iftar,” he says. Furthermore, what he shares, he follows through; in fact his own staples for iftar and sehri consist of milk, banana, mutton or fish, food which are nutritious and tasty.
But Salman does however admit that nothing beats the goodness of Ramadan back home in Bangladesh. He says the difference is indeed glaring. “First of all you will not realise that Ramadan is being observed here. It begins and ends very silently; you cannot hear the siren or Azan during sehri or iftar. Nor do you see people getting busy buying Iftar items on the streets. And of course the selection of Iftar items here in Bonn and in Bangladesh are poles apart,” he claims.
The stark difference between the two countries during this holy month does remind him of all the things in Bangladesh that brought Ramadan to life. “I miss meeting friends and family members during Iftar and enjoying the traditional meals for the occasion. In a nutshell, I do really miss the idiosyncratic characteristics of social dogma during the Ramadan time in our country,” chuckles Salman as he wraps up.
Studying Bio entrepreneurship in Karolinska Institutet, Sadia Amin feels that fasting during the long summer days at Stockholm is definitely a challenge. “With very few people fasting around you, there is a long list of questions that I have to face on a regular basis.” Many non-muslims don´t know the core meaning of fasting and keep asking for detailed explanations.
Sadia goes on to say that after a 20 hour long fast, the satisfaction she feels is wonderful. “Even in the long summer days, you will barely get thirsty because the weather is pleasant.”
At Stockholm, making time for iftar and sehri comes easily to Sadia. “Iftar always falls after work hours and sehri ends within 3 to 4 hours of iftar, so the whole eating time ends in a flow. Waking up early the next morning becomes a challenge of course but again it is all about mindset.”
According to Sadia, the big difference between Bangladesh and Sweden is the environment. “It is like a festive time in Bangladesh where everybody fasts, prays, and eats together which makes fasting such a joy. Here in Sweden, it’s more about having a disciplined mindset. What I really miss is the sound of the Azan especially during iftar because that is something we wait for all day long. Of course, we can use our electronic devices but nothing compares to the beautiful sound of the Azan directly from the mosque,” she reminisces.
Sadia doesn’t think dieting should be on one’s mind; rather one should eat a balanced combination of vitamins, minerals, protein and carbs. “For sehri and iftar, I recommend dates, which is full of nutrition and very healthy.” Her other staples include, rice or khichuri with vegetables, some meat and eggs and finally some fruit salad. The long hours of fasting makes Sadia happy and grateful to be able to observe this holy month from another part of the world. “We realise again that where ever we live, we are never alone, God is everywhere with us.”
What I really miss is the sound of the Azan especially during iftar because that is something we wait for all day long
Sadia gives out some tips for Muslims fasting abroad. “Let your colleagues know and understand the idea of fasting so you don’t have to answer questions throughout the month. If you are on medication, unwell, or pregnant, do take doctor’s advice before you fast. Lastly, pray from your heart and things will get easy for you.”
For Online Marketer, Eshita Sharmin, the month of Ramadan barely puts a crimp in her life; having lived in Dubai, UAE for 6 years, the Former Marketing Manager for Bikroy.com looks forward to the blessings of the occasion. Eshita claims that fasting isn’t much of a problem as the work hours are short, however the weather can be a challenge as the summer in UAE as one would find themselves getting oven baked under the sun. “Another thing that they can be quite troublesome is waking up on time during sehri; luckily for me, there’s a breathing space before iftar time, so that gives me enough time to come back home and prep the meals,” she explains.
Despite living in UAE for six years, Eshita still finds herself answering several questions from the locals. “People usually ask me why I’m fasting, how does it benefit me and how am I surviving without food and water for 15 hours.” But no matter what she faces, her faith remains unstirred. In fact, Eshita has her sehri and iftar planned out; her meals consist of rice, milk, bananas or mangoes. She does however reckon that Ramadan in UAE lacks the charm that Bangladesh holds during the holy month. “There are so many iftar and sehri offers during Ramadan back home, so much that no one goes crazy for jalebi or halim. There are so many local and international delicacies for us to try; this makes me miss the taste of Dhaka. I also miss having iftar with my family and friends,” concludes a wistful Eshita.
Let your colleagues know and understand the idea of fasting so you don’t have to answer questions throughout the month
Muneera, another respondent from UAE almost resonates Eshita’s words. According to her, residing in UAE during the Ramadan doesn’t pose any difficulty as it can for any other non-Muslim majority country. The shorter working hours of the country allows the devotees to take enough rest before the iftar. As of herself, she usually remains busy with various household chores. Muneera ensures that she drinks enough water after the iftar so that the next day she doesn’t feel unwell due to dehydration. And for iftar, she usually prefers the staples like dates, fruits, and yoghurt. Rice and roti have always been her meal of choice for sehri. Just like everyone else, she also thinks Ramadan in Bangladesh has a special fervour attached to it. Being in abroad, hundreds of miles away, two obvious things she misses and that is her family and the delicious foods of Bangladeshi cuisine.
An employee in Corporate Banking, Ehsanul Azim’s work has based him the Middle East for the last 9 years. Since his city endures the scorcher of 40C+ under the blazing sun, fasting can become exhausting especially when he has to step outside for customer calls. But as luck may have it, Ehsanul manages to make time for iftar and sehri; “Office hour is curtailed by 2 hours during the month of Ramadan; this really comes in handy,” he says.
His trick to braving an empty stomach and a parched throat is rather simple; he says that with each prayer, he gets closer to iftar time. But when the time does come around, Ehsanul reckons that he doesn’t anticipate having an overwhelming meal. “Having a light iftar works wonders; one should try having lots of fruits and water,” he explains. Even though he’s been residing in the Middle-East for an ample amount of time, there are moments when he finds himself longing for the deshi elements, such as having iftar at home with his family.
Working in retail banking, Junaid Nizam has managed to adjust himself to the differences in his surroundings. “In London the fast lasts for 19 hours; but I don’t feel that hungry but I do get dehydrated,” he says.
Having iftar around 9:15 pm and sehri around 2:45 am, Junaid overlooks the hunger and the hardships by keeping himself busy; most of which involves resisting the urge to think about food.
Nevertheless, enduring the hunger during the holy month is equivalent to taking the bull by the horns; and so, Junaid suggests fasting muslims to keep drinking lots of water after iftar and until sehri to stay hydrated. “Avoid running around in the earliest part of the day. Take it easy, or else the day will start to feel longer,” he advises.
Another restrain that Junaid masters while fasting is setting a balanced meal plan for both iftar and sehri. “I steer away from fried foods; although it is rather difficult. I tend to eat mangoes, watermelon, lassi as well as rice flakes (chira).
Although the environment and people understand his practices, the city as a whole is somewhat unaware of the occasion. Having said that, Junaid stresses that the absence of near and dear ones really does weigh him down at times. “I miss my family; especially going for prayers together and it’s been over 18 years since I have been to Bangladesh during Ramadan. May Allah give me the opportunity to get that feeling again,” says a hopeful Junaid.
“Due to long summer days here in Oxford, this year we will fast more than 18 hours daily,” informs Shajedur Rahman Shawon. He says that though the long hours make it quite difficult to fast, the weather however, is at its best behavior, offering optimum temperature and humidity. Therefore, he feels less thirsty here than he used to feel in Bangladesh. For Shawon, having to eat sehri around 2:30 am and iftar around 9pm doesn’t come as much of a contradiction to his work hours.
I think it is the faith in Allah that keeps us going through these long hours of fasting
Having a concrete sense of faith and restrain allows him to embrace the sacrifices with open arms.
“I think it is the faith in Allah that keeps us going through these long hours of fasting,” he emphasizes.
Moreover, Shawon believes that the burdens of fasting are a lot less, provided that one consumes enough H2o in order to keep their bodies cool; also, cutting back on the chitchat can help at times.
When you’re living in a different part of the globe during the month of Ramadan, it’s natural for one’s surroundings to be cautious and at times curious about your cultures; Shawon too has come across a lot of queries and concerns. “People often asking things like ‘is there anything we can do for you to make the time comfortable for you,’ ‘are you allowed drinking water,’ or ‘why does the timing of Ramadan change every year,’ he reveals.
Distance indeed makes the heart grow fonder; in Shawon’s case, the love for traditional Bengali dishes is one which he cannot shake off no matter how far he goes. “For sehri we prefer dudh-bhaat a mixture of milk and rice with banana or mangoes. For iftar, there is no alternative to chola for us. We try to make the traditional ‘boot-piyaju-beguni during the days of Ramadan,” he explains. But with everything said and done, Shawon dearly misses Dhaka during the month of spirituality and reflection; that in fact is the main difference between his current city and hometown. Aside from that, he also misses food extravaganzas, shopping spree and the fervour that surrounds the environment right around this time.
Rashid Dara specialises in software sales in the UAE and has been living in Dubai for 6 years. Ramadan in his city is indeed different from his home back in Dhaka; the hot weather and the absence of mom’s cooking on the side of loud singing during sehri are a few things that he’s had to adapt to.
But regardless of these, Rashid tries to sync into the schedules and differences in order to survive. “It’s very easy in Dubai as the office hours are brought to 9 to 3 in the afternoon; business is also a bit slow in general. If you stay a bit late after Tarawi, it becomes very difficult to wake up after a few hours of sleep. So for me it’s better to stay awake and go to sleep after sehri and catch up on the sleep next day during the slot of after work and before iftar,” he explains.
Rashid’s tip to acing the abstinence? Praying, staying busy at work and an afternoon nap helps him cruise through iftar time. And tarawi after iftar and then spending some time with family and friends helps him look forward to another blessed day of Ramadan.
Having spent almost all the Ramadans in Dhaka, the distance for him is still new, despite living in Dubai for 6 years. “There are plenty of reasons why I would still want to be in Dhaka during Ramadan, and food is one of them. Nowhere in the world you would find the mouthwatering iftar items as in Dhaka (probably not the healthiest choices), and to have iftar with friends and family back home is not to be found in any other city around the globe,” he muses. Food and family apart, Rashid also misses activities like going shopping late in the evening in Dhaka during Ramadan.
Upon completing her post-grads in the USA, Susmita Islam is currently living in Ausratralia. The cultural difference does in fact affect her, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
“It’s difficult to fast because of long hours and not having enough options of readymade iftar and sehri,” she says.
But no matter how hard it gets, she manages to keep calm and eat foods that keep her up and running during the holy month. “Keep your food lightweight yet nutritious. Everyone is different, do what suits your body and lifestyle,” explains Susmita.
However, she recalls Ramadan in Bangladesh to be more festive; the kind that has a community spirit to it. “Whether you are at home, at work or out and about, the spirit of Ramadan is present everywhere. Ramadan here is celebrated at a very personal level. There is no festivities going around, you just celebrate it within your own family,” she stresses. As a result, Susmita misses everything about Ramadan back at home. “I miss yummy iftar and sehri back home, eating at restaurants and shopping. But mostly I miss having iftar together with my parents and siblings.