Observing Ramadan away from home
Leaving home is part of life. Millions of young people leave their home every year to pursue higher education overseas. But wherever Muslim students live, observing Ramadan becomes part of their lives. These students adapt and adjust themselves to new countries and cultures to fast during the month of Ramadan. This feature attempts to bring to light how Muslim students from different parts of the world are observing Ramadan in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
Wajeehah Sabahat from Lahore, Pakistan, is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Game Studies at Swinburne University in Australia. Sabahat laments how much she now misses the crispy homemade pakora, and the scrumptious jalebis (jilapi) during Iftar. In Australia, Sabahat skips Sehri and drinks only a glass of water before retiring to bed. “But in Pakistan, my mom always made sure that I had my Sehri,” Sabahat's tone appeared heavy as she spoke. But like every other year, Sabahat looks forward to this year's Ramadan. “It doesn't matter whether I am away from home or not, Ramadan has always and will always be a special month for me.”
Khaleda Ahmed, a citizen of Norway, is currently studying Business Management at University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. Like most other Muslims students studying abroad, Ahmed misses her family this Ramadan. For Ahmed, Iftar and Sehri are enjoyable affairs as she usually goes out with her friends to have these special Ramadan meals. The company of her friends often helps her feel less homesick. Asked her if she ever attended a taraweeh congregation in England, Ahmed replied, “I once attended a taraweeh congregation here in England. A lot of women were standing side by side and praying together it was a wonderful experience.”
Aneeqa Khan, who is a graduate student of Informational Technology Management at a university in Minnesota, hopes to fast the entire month of Ramadan. Asked how different Ramadan is in the U.S., Khan said, “In countries where Ramadan is practiced, work schedule and school timings are adjusted, so that people have time to have Iftar with their family and also perform the taraweeh prayer at night. In the U.S., it gets difficult because the work hours remain the same.” But despite this difficulty, Khan looks forward to a blessed Ramadan this year. Living in the U.S. as a student leaves her with little time and energy to prepare a traditional Bangladeshi Iftar. On days when she is attending an evening class, Khan would break her fast with a few sips of water and two or three dates. “But if at home, I try to make something simple like spaghetti. On many days I would have my Iftar with rice and a curry of some kind,” Khan mentioned. But on weekends, Khan tries making some traditional items like chola and peyaju for this special Ramadan meal.
A citizen of Mali but born in Gabon, a central African country, Fatimata Sacko is studying Electrical Engineering at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, U.S.A. A devout Muslim, Sacko always feels that the month of Ramadan brings to her life an aura of peace. This Ramadan, she is missing her family and also the traditional Malian iftar menu. “We would prepare zame for Iftar, it's a mouth-watering food made with rice, tomato paste, lots of vegetables and is topped with fish or meat.” Unlike our country where we drink sherbet at Iftar, the Malians drink a thick wholesome preparation made with hot water, sugar, milk and ground millet or rice. Sacko regularly says the taraweeh prayer at home and once attended a taraweeh congregation that was held at a mosque close to her school.
In most cultures, men enjoy the pampering of the women in their lives. Seldom a man cooks his own meal, washes his clothes and does the dishes. But when one comes to live or study abroad, life presents itself to men in an all-new look.
Mahdin Mahboob is a graduate student of Wireless Communications at the University of Southampton in England. Like most Bangladeshi young men, Mahboob never cooked a meal before going overseas for higher studies. For young men like Mahboob, having a full course Iftar in the English land is no less than a daydream. When asked how different Ramadan is in England, Mahboob exclaimed, “We fast 18 hours here! The days are so long.” But cooler weather and less humidity often make fasting less exhausting than it is in Bangladesh.
Mahboob goes to the mosque to say the taraweeh prayer and he thinks that praying at a congregation is much more fulfilling than praying at one's home.
Mohammed Hatim Kareem Uddin
An Indian, Kareem is pursuing his master's degree in Engineering Management in the United States. Kareem looks forward to fasting this year. Asked how different Ramadan is in the U.S., Kareem replied, “It is very different. You will not even know it is Ramadan unless you are in constant touch with Masjids and your own people.”
“The pace of life for other people remains the same in Ramadan and you figure out rather quickly that you are quite different from other people around you,” he added. Like most Muslim international students, Kareem misses the traditional Iftar of his home country. This Ramadan, his diet will include oatmeal, chicken breast preparations, energy bars and protein shakes. It can be safely said that such an Iftar menu was unimaginable for him in India.
“Class and work often make intake of Iftar difficult, but the professors and supervisors are very understanding and they try their best to accommodate students like me,” Karim further added.
An Arab by descent, Alhoudire is currently studying Wireless Communications in England. A Libyan, Alhoudire says, “Ramadan in England is so different. I miss my family at Sohor (Sehri) time. There is also this feeling of isolation because there are not many Muslims fasting alongside you.”
Asked if he gets a chance to say the taraweeh prayer during Ramadan, Alhoudire replied, “I am lucky to have a mosque close to the place where I live in Southampton, so yes, I do go there to say my taraweeh prayer.”
A Malian and a student of Electrical Engineering, Kanadji said that he misses his family most during Ramadan. “I never had to cook back home because in Mali, the women in the family take care of cooking. In our culture, we eat the Ramadan meals in group.”
“But finding halal food or traditional cooking ingredients are not that difficult in the U.S. because there are so many grocery stores selling foodstuff for the Muslim communities,” he added. Asked about the taraweeh prayer, Kanadji said, “In my country the taraweeh prayer is very important and we always say it in a group, be it inside a mosque or at home. But here in the U.S., I say the prayer alone at home.”
Life changes and sometimes becomes challenging when young people leave home and go overseas to pursue higher studies. They adjust and adapt themselves to new cultures. Ramadan is one of those special occasions when Muslim students miss their family most. In a foreign land, they miss the love and company of their family; they also miss that special atmosphere of Ramadan that can usually be found only in Muslims majority nations. And last but not the least, these young people miss the aroma of traditional cuisine in the air. But life goes on and they soon learn to live a Ramadan in their own way away from home.