Why Ramadan is different in New Zealand
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.
WHAT KIWIS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RAMADAN
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.