Almost a quarter of the world’s population will celebrate Ramadan this year. Aquila Style speaks to Muslim women around the globe to find out what their Ramadan is like.
Approximately once a year, able-bodied Muslims everywhere abstain from not just food and drinks, but also from the consumption of everything from cigarettes to chewing gum between dawn and dusk. This happens during Ramadan, as soon as the first sighting of the crescent in the sky that signals the arrival of the ninth Islamic month.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and one of the obligations of every able-bodied and healthy Muslim. Fasting in Islam goes beyond feeling hungry and thirsty in order to understand what it is like to be indigent. The holy Islamic month is also about expunging the soul of the negative and the impure. So, nasties like anger, hatred, gossiping, backbiting, envy, revenge and lust are replaced with the enriching and the positive such as inward reflection, the re-evaluation of life, making peace with those who have wronged us and reading—religious materials, preferably.
More than being the responsibility of every able-bodied Muslim, fasting is seen as an opportunity to be seized, a time to get rid of bad habits and to embark on good ones, to be forgiving, more spiritual and more connected to God. The following pages feature some of the ways that Muslims, from the United States to Japan and also Down Under, achieve all these during Ramadan.
Diyah Sartika (26, marketing manager)
In summer, my husband and I sahur at 2.30am whereas in winter, we do it at 5am. We always go for rice, bread or noodles. There are other Muslims at work, so in my office Ramadan is not an issue. Sometimes my colleagues ask me if I feel tired or thirsty, and I do. During summer, I’m always tempted to have a cool, long drink. I also find it hard to concentrate on my work. Iftar is either at 5pm or 7pm, depending on the season, and I go for something sweet like juice or pastries bought from a combini—a Japanese convenience store.
My husband and I work in the same company, and since our office hours are from 11am till 8.30pm, we always iftar in the office. If we can manage the time, we go for Tarawih at the Indonesian school, where we can meet other Indonesians.
Ramadan is… when I miss my family so much.
Ripon, California, USA
Jariah Obregon, nee Ibrahim (39, high school instructional aide)
I’ve lived in California for 20 years with my husband and daughter—and we love sahur. While he gets the fireplace going, I prepare the hot peppermint chocolate. The best way to make it is to heat up chocolate milk, top it with whipped cream and dress it with chocolate syrup. I throw in a peppermint stick so my daughter can stir and flavour the drink as she licks the candy cane.
We always make something fun and yummy. My daughter helps make Belgian waffles or buttermilk pancakes. We have different toppings every day, such as fresh bananas and pecans with whipped cream and caramel sauce. After sahur, we get ready for the day. However, at weekends, we just stay downstairs, cosy up by the fireplace and savour our hot chocolate while watching the news together. My daughter usually falls asleep on her daddy’s lap while watching TV. I love such early morning sahurs.
I don’t think my boss, colleagues and friends understand much about Ramadan and fasting. We don’t really discuss it. But my husband has mentioned other converts and Muslim brothers from the Middle East who break fast the same way he does—at a vending machine. They conjugate there to have soda and candy bars before returning to work.
I’m usually tempted to allow my daughter to go to birthday parties during Ramadan. When her friends go and she misses out, I feel sad for her. But my husband will always reiterate the importance of teaching her about discipline, responsibility and resisting temptations. It’s tough but she’s a wonderful child.
For iftar, since we are a typical meat-and-potatoes family, we have roast meat, roasted garlic potatoes, vegetables and definitely dessert. Candied yam is our family favourite. We barbecue on most nights and when I say barbecue, I mean we barbecue everything—we’ve thrown fruit and dessert on the barbie. My favourite is fresh peaches cut in half and sprinkled with brown sugar before grilling. They’re soft, sweet, juicy and to die for… yum!
Occasionally, a few Muslim families will open up their homes for iftar. Sometimes it’s a sit-down dinner and at other times, everyone will bring homemade traditional dishes to share. I’ve learned how to make new and interesting dishes at these gatherings. Our hosts might provide rooms where we can join in the Tarawih prayer. Otherwise, we pray at home.
Ramadan is… the best time to teach our young about how important and special a Muslim family is.
Salihah Bustamam (26, pension administrator)
I’ve lived in California all my life. For sahur, my family and I wake up at 6.30am to take out the previous night’s leftovers as well as drinks and silverware while half asleep. We also make sure that everyone drinks lots of water.
My friends and the people at work think I am trying to ‘cleanse’ my body with fasting; that it is something physical rather than spiritual. They don’t realise that fasting is abstinence from more than just food, so I usually explain it to them. They tell me, ‘I don’t know how you can do that!’ I reply that when our mind is conditioned to believe that this is necessary for our own wellbeing, then anything is possible. Even then, they still think that the whole concept is almost bizarre. Some of them, being Catholics, compare it to Lent.
I arrange my schedule to fit Ramadan, waking up whenever sahur is and staying up from then on. I sometimes feel like skipping the Tarawih because of fatigue, so I try to take it easy during the day in order to conserve my energy for later. In fact, I try to avoid getting too stressed out and I seek things to increase my iman in order to benefit from Ramadan.
Ramadan is… a mercy upon us.
San Francisco, USA
Eva Ditasari (30, homemaker)
I’ve been getting up at 4am every day for nine years now, ever since I moved here from Indonesia. My sahur is usually bread, cereal, bananas or apples—it’s so early and cold at that time of the day that it’s a rushed affair before quickly getting back under the blanket. My friends feel really bad for us that we can’t eat for the whole day. Some even think that we can’t eat at all.
When I fast, I love watching food ads on television. We also try to stay home during lunch as we can’t stand seeing other people eating. It’s easier for us when Ramadan falls during autumn or winter, when the sun sets at around 5.30pm. It’s tough during spring or summer when sunset occurs at 7.30pm.
We usually break our fast with warm tea and we tend to have a variety of cuisines such as Indonesian, American, Japanese, Mexican and Indian. Sometimes we are invited to iftar with fellow Indonesians or at the General Consulate of the Republic of Indonesia, which usually organises iftars together with communal prayers. But I normally perform the Tarawih at home with my husband.
Ramadan is… about effort and restraint.
Bloomfield, New Jersey, USA
Listya Adi Gardhiani (26, housewife and student)
For sahur, I prepare simple Indonesian dishes on the previous night, after Tarawih. The next morning at 5am, I just heat the food up in the microwave while the stir-fried dishes have a quick go on the stove. All that is left for me to get ready for sahur, then, is the fruit for dessert. My husband gives me a hand sometimes.
During Ramadan, my varsity friends used to ask me several questions like, ‘So you don’t eat all day long, right?’, ‘Aren’t you hungry?’, or ‘Is it okay if I have my lunch?’. But now, they understand and respect me—though sometimes they forget and bring me some food from the cafeteria. I have no problem skipping lunch. To me, no lunch equals more productivity. Since I don’t have to go out for lunch, I can complete my tasks sooner. During Ramadan, not only is my performance better, but I feel healthier, too.
There are always dates for our iftar, and a pot of hot tea. I like to make kolak, or fruit cocktail, for an appetiser. If my husband is home and isn’t busy with our kids, he helps me. We sometimes invite our Muslim neighbours for iftar. Occasionally, we go to masjid Al-Hikmah, an Indonesian Community Centre in New York, to break fast together. If we don’t pray Tarawih at home, we pray at masjid Ahlus-Sunnah at East Orange here, or at masjid Al-Hikmah in Queens.
Ramadan is… a month of blessings, when I feel Allah so close to me.
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Primasari Iskandar (25, MBA student)
I get up for sahur at 3.15am and I have fruit and milk for breakfast, as well as rice, bread or cereal. After that, I recite the Qur’an or do some revisions. My friends understand Ramadan and fasting. They think it is amazing that Muslims can refrain from eating and drinking for the whole day—especially last year, when it was summer and the daytime was long.
Although I sometimes find it hard to concentrate in class because of hunger and the lack of energy, food or drink alone doesn’t tempt me as much as socialising with my friends. Because when I hang out with my friends, I often get tempted to eat or drink something! A part of me wants my Ramadan to be filled with religious activities like those we do back home in Indonesia. But here, another part of me also wants to hang out with my friends instead of being isolated because of fasting.
IQRA-Boston, an Indonesian Muslim community group, holds iftar and Tarawih every week. They give me a chance to eat Indonesian food and get together with Indonesian friends. For the rest of the week, I pray Tarawih at home by myself as I am quite busy with my studies and besides, there aren’t many mosques in Boston.
Ramadan is… a month of silaturrahim, when we can iftar with different people everyday.
Khadijah Torres (48, secretary)
My primary school-going kids and I have sahur at 4.20am. We have a normal breakfast of cereal, milk, bread and eggs as well as tea and coffee. I wake up half an hour beforehand to prepare everything. Then I eat with the children, pray Subuh and recite the Qur’an. We take a short rest before getting ready for work and school. People at work understand Ramadan and fasting very well, as I work in an Islamic environment.
The lack of food and coffee makes me sleepy, but otherwise I feel that fasting is a positive thing – both Islamically and spiritually. At about 6.45pm, we sit down for iftar. Because of the kids, we always have special drinks like grass jelly, bubble tea, and rose syrup with milk. These are enjoyed with authentic Asian food cooked by yours truly. It’s easy for me to whip up homestyle Indonesian or Malay dishes because there is an Asian gourmet store nearby, run by a Chinese Malaysian woman called Cindy. After iftar, we pray Tarawih together at home.
Ramadan is… the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
Aeysha Bashir (42, homemaker)
We like soup or oatmeal for sahur because Ramadan usually happens in the middle of winter. After sahur, we usually sneak in a little nap before school starts—two of my daughters are in primary school whereas my son is in high school, plus I have a toddler to keep me busy as well.
There are many halal restaurants in Perth and it is not difficult to get halal ingredients to cook. My in-laws and the majority of my friends are Muslim so I get great support and understanding during Ramadan from the people around me. My weakness during Ramadan is to drink and drink, and to sleep and sleep. When the children get back from school in the afternoon, I prepare for iftar. We love grilled chicken with peas, gravy and—get this—rice. Otherwise it’s sushi, pasta or pizza. The men at home prefer Western food while the girls take after me, enjoying Asian cuisine and spicy food—even my little tot, Sophia.
Because it’s Ramadan, we often try a fancy recipe off the Internet. We usually have iftar with the family and, occasionally, with my in-laws and close friends. We also pray Tarawih mostly at home as a family, though sometimes my husband and son go to the mosque.
Ramadan is… a challenging time for the whole family – but we are very motivated to fast because the blessings that come with it are enormous.
Saadah Khair (25, student)
I have a sahur of coffee and biscuits when I’m at campus, but at home, we have my mum’s ikan keli sambal, a spicy catfish dish. Everyone here knows that Ramadan is both a sacred month of mutual respect as well as the time to grab every opportunity to be rewarded by the Almighty.
I would love so much to have the ABC from Kampung Melayu when I fast. ‘ABC’ stands for Air Batu Campur, or ‘mixed ice’—a concoction of shaved ice with ice cream, chocolate syrup and nuts. For iftar at around 7.30pm, I love to have chicken rice, either at the masjid or with a gathering of friends on campus. But the best is to iftar with the family at home before we pray Tarawih at a nearby masjid or surau.
Ramadan is… my most awaited month of the year.
Ismaliza Ismail (39, sole proprietor)
Imsak is around 5am here, so I wake the family up in plenty of time for my husband and kids to have rice with a simple soup dish. They claim that this meal gives them the longest-lasting energy. I prefer a huge mug of coffee to get through the day. My special Ramadan ritual is meditating and reading the Qur’an to bless my heart while I wait to pray Subuh.
It’s rather stressful for me to wake up very early in the mornings before dragging myself to work. I wish I didn’t have to do anything else during Ramadan except to spend my time devoting myself to the Almighty. Iftar in Singapore is at around 7pm and for us, dates and very hot tea are a must. I usually have iftar with the family at home, after which we perform the Tarawih prayer.
Ramadan is… when the month the Qur’an was revealed and when Lailatul Qadr is most anticipated.
Sabang, Aceh, Indonesia
The Rohingyas by Riffa Santi
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On the 7th of January 2009, a wooden boat filled with 176 Rohingyas and 17 Bangladeshis was found floating in Indonesian waters before it was taken to a naval base in Sabang, located on Pulau Weh off the coast of Aceh. The boat people were forced into the open sea with no sail or motor after being rejected by Thai officials on New Year’s Eve. They spent last year’s Ramadan at the naval base, where they remained for almost a year before being moved to Medan.
Like many other Muslims all over the world, the refugees wish to spend the holy month with their loved ones. Amir Hussein, 25, was an English teacher hailing from Maungdaw in Myanmar. He reminisces about the lentil soup as well as the sweet cakes with milk that Rohingyas have for iftar. But in Sabang, they adapt quickly to their new conditions.
Splitting themselves into two groups, they make spicy Rohingyan and Bangladeshi food for fellow immigrants. For sahur at about 4.30am and iftar at around 7pm, they are given chicken on Monday and Tuesday, red meat on Wednesday and Thursday, fish on Friday and Saturday and eggs on Sunday. Like they would have done back home, they break their fast with sweet cakes, which in Sabang are traditional Indonesian cakes such as serabi and klepon. After fulfilling their Maghrib prayer, they sit down for iftar. Tarawih follows, performed in an open area under the sky.
The original version of this updated article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Aquila Style magazine. For the 2013 edition of Ramadan Around the World, download the July 2013 issue of Aquila Style.