WHAT’S it like for a Muslim student fasting in Melbourne? Pakistani-born Kaainat Faisal shares her experience, and tells us a little more about the Islamic holy month, Ramadan.
This Sunday night, Muslims all over Australia will gather for a religious festival called Eid-ul-Fitar. It’s a three-day festival to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
For almost a month now, Muslims around the world have been observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It’s an important time for the Muslim community, where we fast from dawn til dusk. When it begins depends on when the new astronomical moon is sighted, meaning the holy month can be celebrated at different times in different regions around the world.
The Muslim holy book, the Quran, says Prophet Muhammad first received revelations during Ramadan, and so it is considered to be among the most sacred months in the Islamic calendar.
What happens during Ramadan?
During Ramadan, Muslims don’t just steer clear of food and drink. We also try to not lie, gossip, backbite, cheat, dupe and hold grudges, among other things.
It is compulsory for Muslims to fast when they reach a certain age of puberty, as long as they are perfectly healthy, have no disabilities and are not ill. You’re exempt from fasting if you’re travelling, pregnant, breast feeding, ill or under other Islamic restrictions. Fasting is meant to strengthen your religious convictions, not make you sick.
Before dawn, we share a meal known as suhoor. There are no restrictions to what you can eat for this meal, as long as it’s halal (food seen as permissible according to Islamic law). The same applies for the sunset iftari meal as well.
In addition to fasting, Muslims pray more often, following up their obligatory five times a day prayers with special prayers known as taraweeh.
This is also the month when Muslims are encouraged to give more charity, zakkat, which is a kind of tax on wealthy Muslims to diminish the barrier between rich and poor.
So what’s it like fasting in Melbourne?
I have been observing Ramadan in Melbourne for a number of years now.
Initially, I was concerned about practising my religion in a foreign country, but Australia is extremely tolerant. I have the freedom to practice my religion as well as my culture and I have never encountered any problems here.
Luckily, the Australian Ramadan occurs in winter. The cold weather means I don’t feel as thirsty and the sun sets far earlier, so I’m only fasting for 12 hours a day. Often the days pass by easily without me noticing a thing.
The only time I feel a bit awkward is when everybody else around me is eating and drinking.
Sometimes when I sit with my friends during breaks, they’ll offer me something to eat or ask me why I’m not eating. Then I have to explain what Ramadan is, which can be awkward.
I’m grateful there are a large number of international and domestic students and people in Australia who are familiar with Ramadan and they respect it by not eating in front of me.
Funnily, not feeling thirsty or hungry actually takes a bit of pressure off my studies. Ramadan teaches us patience and tolerance, so I find that I am able to concentrate more on my studies, projects and casual work.
I’m not worried about the effect of fasting on my body. I think once in while it’s okay to give my body a rest from consuming food constantly. In my opinion, it operates much more efficiently.
Kaainat Faisal is the sub-committee coordinator for the Australian Federation of International Students(AFIS) and she fasts every year during Ramadan.
Have you been fasting in Melbourne too? Share your experiences in the comments box below.