This will be my first Ramadan in twenty years that won’t really feel like Ramadan. I will not be surrounded by people fasting. I won’t have my neighbors bringing me trays of Biryani or freshly slaughtered lamb. I won’t be invited to any Iftars. I won’t hear the call to prayer and there definitely won’t be any shortened work days. I will still put up my Ramadan lights though (little one shaped like lanterns) and even though I am not Muslim I will still fast.
I am not sure quite why I started fasting during Ramadan – I think it was kind of a “I’m here so I should at least try” situation and so I kept doing it. The daily fast during Ramadan begins immediately after Suhur and ends with Iftar when the sun has officially gone down. Suhur is pre-dawn meal and Iftar is is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast. I am slightly nervous though as where I am currently living Suhur is at around 3:30am so I will not be dragging myself out of bed to eat then. However, Iftar wont be until around 9pm. It will be a long day of not eating but millions of people do it for the holy month of Ramadan so surely I can too.
I am not a religious person but am fascinated by religion and the history, festivals, ceremonies, rituals and buildings that go with it. As a family we celebrate everything! At Christmas we even have Saint Nicholas and Santa visit (the former on 5/6th December and the later on 24/25th December). We love a good celebration and it is even better when you have those celebrations surrounded by people who have grown up with them. For my children Ramadan will not be as it has been in the past. They will not be surrounded by people who have grown up with it. They won’t have shortened school days (no extra sleep-in in the morning), no Garangao (a uniquely Qatari day for children right in the middle of Ramadan) and no Iftars out with friends.
It is not just Ramadan itself I will miss. It’s all the hustle and bustle that surrounds it. The crazy shop hours, people hustling to the supermarkets to stock up on supplies, the quiet roads when they should be busy and the busy roads when they should be quiet, the general change of schedule and daily routine that happens during the holy month. It is like a spanner has been thrown in the works but with a good result. Everything moves at a slower pace and people are kinder and more charitable.
So here we are half a world away from our old life creating new Ramadan traditions for our non-Muslim family. What does that mean? It means I will be the one cooking a few special Iftar meals. It means I will be ordering Biryani from one of the ladies in my community who makes it right! It means hanging up our Ramadan lights and getting out our Ramadan table cloth, simple everyday reminders that it is Ramadan. It also mean fasting, well for me anyway.
I am sure it doesn’t makes any difference where in the world you fast. The first few days are always hard but once you get into it its really pretty easy and even though the desire to eat is still there hunger really isn’t. I don’t even find it difficult to cook while I am fasting although its a bit more guess work because you don’t get to taste as you go. It gives you more time and head space to focus on other things that are important to you. I will however need to download an app since there won’t be a cannon firing or call to prayer (something I truly miss) to let me know it is officially Iftar.
I hope once my children get older they too will be willing to dabble in fasting with me during Ramadan. They were all born in the Middle East and all have Arabic middle names because of that. Middle Eastern culture and ways have seeped into their being. I would like to think as they grow and mature into adults they continue to develop deep understandings of different cultures and their religions, beliefs and traditions. For me this is the only way the world can become a better place, so for us celebrating all the religious festivals is two fold. One is for the pure joy and fun of it and two is to help open my children’s hearts and minds to the notion that there is more than one way to live your life and there is no correct way – all ways are valid as long as we approach life with compassion and a quest for understanding.
I know I will miss our ‘traditional’ Ramadan but I also know that with a little effort as the years pass our Ramadan traditions will become even more unique to our family and will be something we enjoy as much as our past Ramadans. It is just at the moment I am feeling a little ‘homesick’.
Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.