Ramadan is an annual practice of fasting from food, water and sexual activities from sunrise to sunset for a whole month. Billions of Muslims all around the globe practice this holy month through an intertwine of religious and cultural practices, mostly aimed on prayers, charity work and a cleansing of the soul as we put ourselves in the shoes of the less fortunate.
Growing up in Southeast Asia, I had a huge community of people to witness this month with. It was always a challenge, but it was also a solidarity effort with a tinge of community spirit. It’s the time where every family comes to the dinner table despite their busy schedules and where people focus truly on what matters to them.
I suppose hunger does that to you. Your mind inadvertently starts to look into every distraction possible, and in the midst of that, you achieve some form of contentment. I know it sounds bizarre, but it’s hard to explain this feeling to someone who have never experienced it. (Trust me, I’ve done the explaining many times!) But having done it since I was a little girl, I have to say that it’s really not as bad as it sounds, or it’s made out to be. It’s a spiritual journey. That said, I wouldn’t expect anyone who hasn’t been "trained" to fast to experience or understand where I’m coming from.
This would be the third year I’ve done Ramadan by myself in a foreign land, without many (or any) Muslim friends who shared the same beliefs or practices. Even though Islam is a religion, there are billions of Muslims scattered around the world who live in extremely different cultures with differing practices. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel quite the same as being home with family and friends, because I strongly believe that the culture that comes with religion aids my understanding of my faith and my attachment to it.
As wonderful as it is to be able to share fragments of your life with others, some days it’s a little exhausting to have your life in the spotlight.
The feeling of sadness, missing out and longing for family decreases as the years go by, sure, but I think nobody has questioned my faith or practices as much as they have in the last three years. As wonderful as it is to be able to share fragments of your life with others, some days it’s a little exhausting to have your life in the spotlight. It’s harder to have dinner conversations circling around the topic of your faith, seeing that most people have only discovered my faith during this month.
I am lucky to be surrounded by people who are supportive and curious, instead of those disrespectful or ignorant without intent of learning. The month didn’t exactly fly by, but I got on with a little help from friends who were curious about my thoughts, practices, dealing with hunger-pangs and those who didn’t mind pushing dinner to 10pm with me, after a long day of fasting that started from 3am. Sunrise to sunset stretches for about 19 hours in the Irish summer, which is tough for someone who’s been trained to fast only 13 hours back home.
Eid is the important celebration to mark the end of the fasting month. It is a day of feasting, celebrating with loved ones and it’s essentially the Muslim equivalent of Christmas. This year, it fell on a Friday, so I made plans to cook some traditional meal and have friends over during the weekend to celebrate with. It’s tradition to have people visit your home for a meal, and you in theirs in exchange.
As I sat in bed on Friday morning, scrolling through social media where all the delicious food taunted me as everyone twirled in excitement, clad beautifully in their traditional outfits with their families, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. It was a kind of sadness I didn’t see coming, having made peace with my choice to not swing by home this year for the celebration. And for the most part, I guess accepting that being far away meant that missing important events was part of the deal.
Thankfully for me, a couple celebrating Eid invited me over for dinner and swept me off my feet with a spread that reminded me of home. The weekend with friends in my apartment was also exactly what I needed to keep the yearning and homesickness at bay.
Finding community abroad
The most important lesson I learn every year without fail is how important a community is. It’s necessary to let the right type of people into your life, and if you’re lucky to have found a community that feels like family, you never have to feel alone again on days where being alone isn’t favourable. That is truly one of life’s biggest blessing to anyone who’s so far away from home.
Sometimes it’s not a place that makes a home, it’s the people who makes you feel like home.
So don’t be afraid to reach out and celebrate someone else’s festive day, even if it wasn’t initiated, or if you share a different belief. Sometimes all they need is a little push, and I know it goes a really long way.
I know it made me extremely happy and thankful. Happy Eid, indeed.Add this article to your reading list