It is that month again – Ramadan for Muslims around the world. For Muslims, Ramadan means fasting for 30 days long where you have to abstain yourself from food and water from dawn to sunset and not forgetting, the famous comeback of dates!
For practising Muslims, Ramadan means so much more than fasting exercise, it is a month of self and spiritual reflection because you would strive to embrace the spirit of Ramadan thoroughly, by abstaining yourselves from negative behaviours, doing more charities and observing the special night prayers – Tarawikh and also, Qiaimullai which is encouraged at the last 7 days of Ramadan.
Observing fasting during Ramadan is the third of five pillars in Islam. It can be a liberating experience for some because you get to take a break from indulgent eats, but for others who are not used to limiting themselves, it can be a long, treacherous month.
I have been away from Malaysia for some time now and because of that, I was dreading this year of Ramadan. Observing Ramadan in a hot climate country such as Malaysia can be challenging because of the heat. Though surprisingly, we have been blessed with continuous rain in Penang since the first day of Ramadan and therefore, it has been nothing but a stress-free journey for me so far.
For Malaysian Muslims who have never experience Ramadan other than in Malaysia, we asked others who have had the opportunities to share their Ramadan experience abroad in this special tribute of article for Ramadan.
Summery Ramadan in Kingston upon the Thames
Dr. Aziatul Waznah Ghazalli, USM
For the past 5 years as a postgraduate student, Ramadan has been in the long days of a British summer, where the fasting hours can come close to 19 hours. However, the good thing is that my days at Uni is quite busy; I sometimes forget that I am fasting. Working, volunteering, reading and strolling at the park and planning what to cook for iftar (breaking fast) takes my mind off the long hours of fasting. Fasting alone in a foreign land makes it harder to cope sometimes, but browsing recipes and calling Mom back home for cooking tips and tricks puts the loneliness at bay. I am always excited to plan for iftar as I never am as experimental with food during the year as I am during Ramadan. Although it is just me and a few friends breaking fast at the Uni, the menu was plenty as if there was Ramadan bazaar in Kingston. Some people lose weight during Ramadan, but some people like me gain weight instead. Usually, my Muslim friends and I invite the whole clan of PhD students in the business school to join our iftar. During that short span of time, we not only share food and stories but exchange different cultures and ideas. Those years’ Ramadan is most challenging, but are most missed…
Winter Ramadan in Canberra, Australia
Mohd Azlan Abu Bakar, JPM
Celebrating Ramadan in foreign soil has been a totally unique experience for me, as a person who never lived abroad and during the winter time, no less. I had the opportunity to experience Ramadan in Canberra while studying for a Master degree with the Australian National University (ANU). The best part of this experience is that I only have to fast for about 11 hours, which is considered one of the shortest period compared to the rest of the world. While it is one of the most memorable experience, I have to say it can never replace your grandeur moments of buka puasa (breaking fast) with your loved ones in the home country. I was so used to having many delicious dishes and choices of kuih assortment in Malaysia for breakfast that I find the breaking fast experience in Canberra bleak in comparison. Often, I find myself having to break my fast with water and only dates in the class since, during winter, the sun sets in as early as 4.30pm in Canberra. If you are lucky, you could join the iftar event organised by university students at Musolla next to Menzies library, which is quite close to the College of Asia and the Pacific that I went to for study. Normally, it is an all-Malaysian student event with people I was familiar with due to the small number of Malaysian students that attended ANU. Some days, which I have no classes in the evening, I normally joined the iftar get-together at undergrads’ student houses where they did a potluck so everyone can bring in their ‘masterpiece’ dishes. This way iftar not only brings the students closer, but it turns to a more joyous occasion that helps the international students in combating loneliness and homesickness. While we had fun at the iftar, we also tried to observe Tarawikh afterwards since the mosque is far away. Observing Ramadan during winter and away from home is hard, but I shall treasure this experience as one of the kind.
The Unforgettable First Ramadan
Michelle Liong, Etiqa
Growing up, I never understood what fasting is all about until I experienced it myself three years ago in the land down under. It was my first time abroad. Being in a foreign land, I was fortunate to find myself being surrounded by Muslim friends who truly made me feel like home. The following year, I met more Malaysian friends from events hosted by the Malaysian High Commission, and my circle of Muslim friends expanded even further. I began to look forward to gatherings at the embassy because of the close-knit community that I enjoyed being with, and the goodness of homemade food and local delicacies that reminded me of home. I recalled, prior to Ramadan, how my friends and I got really excited as we went for our grocery shopping, scouring through every corner of the food section just to get our things-to-buy-list ticked. Some of the top Ramadan essentials that we got ourselves were kurma (dates), potato chips (somehow a must and by default in Australia where everyone would binge on chips), ice-cream tubs (I know this is unusual but it seems like it is a must-have after the mains), frozen meat, and last but not least, spices and herbs which is vital to bring the whole homey and dreamiest flavours to life!
On the first day of Ramadan, I remember waking up somewhere in between 5.15am to 5.25am to join my friends for sahur. I must admit, waking up at those times was challenging, and eating at those hours was even more challenging! I have high admiration for my friends who could do it for the entire month. It is all about one’s willpower and self-control, virtues that I learned much later on as I observed. As for me, day 1 had been the hardest but soon, it got easier day by day knowing that I wasn’t alone in this journey. My friends had been really supportive of me. Seeing my struggles, they suggested that I started with water, and once I got the hang of it, I would fast without water which, to my amaze, I did.
Fasting hours were really short during the winter in Canberra and time just flew by too quickly! I saw how my friends made phone calls to their moms back home for cooking tips – which made me wondered if I would ever do the same. We took turns to host our friends and visited each other’s house to break our fast. During my last month in Canberra, I was staying with my Muslim friends. I had the privilege to learn how to cook nasi goreng kampung with ikan bilis (fried rice with anchovies) and briyani from my friends. For the very first time in my life, I cooked chicken briyani and kuey teow goreng. I fasted for about a week before as my parents were in town to attend my graduation. I realised I have put on a lot of weight yet I wasn’t complaining. I enjoyed every bit of Ramadan, especially the great companion of friends and good food. The jubilant spirit of Ramadan, reverberated with the joy and laughter in each of the houses we visited, were unforgettable. Those were the happiest days in my life that I will always cherish for a lifetime.
Sarini Azizan has a Ph.D. in Accounting from The Australian National University, Australia. Her research explores the theory of source credibility in corporate financial information communication.
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