Why Ra­madan is dif­fer­ent in New Zealand

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION - SUMEERA DA­WOOD Opin­ion

When I moved to New Zealand a year ago, I failed to fac­tor in one ma­jor bonus in my list of pros and cons. Sure, it’s rel­a­tively crime-free and more whole­some than my old cor­ner of the world, Cape Town, South Africa - but as a prac­tis­ing Mus­lim, there was one lesser known ben­e­fit to en­joy: this year New Zealand of­fers one of the short­est fast­ing days in the world.

Grow­ing up in Cape Town, I started fast­ing when I was 6 years old. Back then, this meant ab­stain­ing from food and wa­ter for long hours dur­ing the Cape Town sum­mer, all the while man­ag­ing school, af­ter-school madrassa (it’s the equiv­a­lent of Sun­day school for Mus­lims) and home­work. Down here, fast­ing has meant not eat­ing any­thing for only about 11 hours each day, and even while man­ag­ing work and school runs it feels so much eas­ier.

But there’s more to the ease than just fast­ing hours. I’ve found that New Zealan­ders gen­er­ally know very lit­tle about Ra­madan or Is­lam be­yond the gen­eral stereo­types – and for me, this has been a sur­pris­ing ad­van­tage.

You see, fast­ing dur­ing Ra­madan is more than just not eat­ing: it’s about tak­ing a month out for re­flec­tion and ab­sti­nence in an at­tempt to find bet­ter ways to live.

With­out a large Mus­lim com­mu­nity to sur­round my­self with (there are only 46,149 Mus­lims in New Zealand, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 cen­sus), the fo­cus of the fast­ing month has moved away from mak­ing the per­fect batch of fast-break­ing snacks to send over to my Mus­lim neigh­bour (as is tra­di­tion) and drap­ing my scarf beau­ti­fully in the lat­est Dubai fash­ion trends.

Does it ever feel lonely not shar­ing this month with those around me? Sure it does. There’s no-one to share a cup of tea with as I break my fast at work, there are no fam­ily mem­bers to in­vite over to break my fast with on week­ends (I moved here on my own with only my part­ner and two kids), and of­ten my non-Mus­lim friends see my fast­ing as an in­con­ve­nience to our go­ing out and so­cial­is­ing. Yes, it can feel iso­lat­ing.

But as with most things in life, you only do things that of­fer pay­offs in some way and fast­ing gives me that. While my body gets a detox, I’m fo­cussing on work­ing on any emo­tional ‘‘in­com­ple­tions’’, show­ing greater kind­ness in all ar­eas of my life and giv­ing char­ity to the less for­tu­nate (a much trick­ier task to do here than it is to do in Africa!).

More im­por­tantly, I’m us­ing this month to re­move the em­pha­sis I put on food and in­stead un­der­stand what my deeper hungers are, un­der­stand what can truly feed me.

So while Ra­madan here is not the com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence I’m used to, I have found ways to ap­pre­ci­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of Ra­madan in New Zealand and bloom where I’m planted.


The ba­sics: * Ra­madan is con­sid­ered one of the holi­est months in Is­lam. Ap­prox­i­mately 1.6 bil­lion Mus­lims around the world ob­serve Ra­madan, which is based on a lu­nar month. It in­volves ab­stain­ing from all food, sex, smok­ing and un­kind acts from dawn to dusk, and in­creas­ing acts of prayer and char­ity. * This year, Ra­madan ran from May 30 to June 25 or 26 (it de­pended on the sight­ing of the new moon). * His­tor­i­cally, it was the month the Qu­ran was first re­vealed to the Prophet Mo­hammed and so lis­ten­ing to or read­ing the holy book is en­cour­aged. * The month of fast­ing is fol­lowed by a day of cel­e­bra­tion called Eid- All-Fitr. It’s the equiv­a­lent of Christ­mas for Mus­lims. What not to say: * ‘‘Are you not hun­gry? Are you not thirsty?’’ is by far the most an­noy­ing ques­tion a fast­ing Mus­lim can be faced with. At the start of each fast­ing day, you are ex­pected to eat a solid meal and hy­drate ad­e­quately - to Mus­lims, it’s not an act of self-de­pri­va­tion. Sim­ply ask them how their fast is go­ing in­stead. * News out­lets of­ten in­ac­cu­rately re­fer to Ra­madan as a ‘‘fes­ti­val’’. It’s an in­sult to call it a fes­ti­val. How to sup­port your mus­lim friend, col­league or em­ployee * Prac­tis­ing Mus­lims pre­fer to spend the month in re­flec­tion and prayer, so be mind­ful not to have any so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions of them. * If your em­ployee works shifts, of­fer­ing them 15 min­utes to break their fast and pray is a con­sid­er­ate ges­ture. Flex­i­ble hours dur­ing this month when pos­si­ble is also very help­ful. * On Eid, wish them an ‘‘Eid Mubarak’’ (it’s the equiv­a­lent of ‘‘Merry Christ­mas"). * Most Mus­lims need to take the day off from work/ school to cel­e­brate Eid with friends and fam­ily.


Fast­ing in New Zealand feels more mean­ing­ful, writes Sumeera Da­wood.

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