Sometimes skipping breakfast can make us feel so weak that facing the day feels like an impossible task. Imagine fasting for 14 to 15 hours a day, everyday, for an entire month - that requires a whole other level of discipline.
But this is exactly the routine that all Muslims power through, every year during the month of Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a fast that takes place during the ninth month of the Hijri calendar and Muslims all around the world abstain from food, beginning at the light of dawn all the way to nightfall.
In Islam, the core principles and practices are surrounded around five laws. Known as the Five Pillars of Islam, and the fourth pillar is that of the annual fast. But Ramadan isn’t just about the fast; it is also a month of great self reflection and growth.
Having been raised in Saudi Arabia, I had the chance to learn about Islam and the many different occasions where the community gets together to celebrate festivals. Through my studies of both the culture and history of Saudi Arabia, I came to understand the core values of Islam and the importance of charity, patience, modesty, respect and honesty.
In Saudi Arabia, like many other Muslim countries, during Ramadan, the rules and regulations differ from that of a normal day routine. Fast food outlets and restaurants remain closed during the day, opening only between the 12 hours of 4pm to 4am. Allowing the employees that work at these restaurants to also rest during the fasting hours.
Work hours start later in the day at around 10 or 11 am and will end at 3 pm, which is a shorter period. Schools start late or finish early, but timing differs depending on the institute. The shorter hours keep people from burning out.
One other major contrasting rule is that people, whether they are fasting or not, are prohibited from eating in public. This is done as a way of showing respect to those who are fasting.
These customs provide Muslims with the time they need to pause from work and rest, keeping them from becoming exhausted. Many muslims also use this time to recite the Quran.
RMIT students on Ramadan in a new country
However, for many students at RMIT Training, Ramadan this year was a particularly different experience than what they’re accustomed to. For the first time, many celebrated Ramadan miles away from home and family.
RMIT Training is an enterprise owned by RMIT University that offers a variety of education solutions to students with different educational backgrounds in Melbourne. As a student who is currently studying the Art, Design and Architecture (ADA) course at with them, I’ve met many who are new to living alone.
I interviewed five students to share their experience with fasting in Melbourne for the first time.
Sekou is an RMIT training Student from Liberia. He’s only been in Melbourne for seven months and this is his first time fasting away from home. When I asked him what Ramadan meant to him, he said “there are many ways people describe Ramadan”.
“I would say, Ramadan is one month of spirituality, 30 days of sharing, love and care, four weeks of worship and 720 hours of remembering Allah,” Sekou said.
This brought me back to the thought of how Ramadan, though it is highly focused on the fasting aspect, is more than just the fast. It is about inner growth as a human and as a Muslim. Many spend their time reciting the Quran and meditating on the words to find a sense of tranquillity.
Yahya and Amr are also students spending Ramadan away from family and friends for the first time. They’re from Saudi Arabia, a land that holds great significance in Islam. Coming from a country where the culture is very different, Melbourne has left a fairly positive impression on them.
“Spending this Ramadan away from family has been hard, but besides that, the fast has been going well for me, better than what I was expecting” Yahya said.
“Melbourne has great food outlets, so that makes up for it”.
For Saudi Arabian RMIT student, Jumanh, Ramadan is a time to spend with loved ones. ‘
“It is a month I spend with my family and friends and [I] give back to the community,” he said.
In Saudi Arabia, it’s common to have charity donation sites available around every corner. One of the most common ways to donate money to the poor is through food delivery apps.
Though away from family, having the opportunity to meet people who you can relate to helps make the move easier. And when you share an apartment with friends who are also fasting, it makes you feel right at home. Abdus Salam is from Pakistan and is living with flatmates who are also Muslim.
“Of course I miss my family and being in Pakistan a lot, during this month especially but, after fasting all day, to be able to have meals together with my friends is quite comforting,” he said.
Some cities in Pakistan have a custom of sirens playing early morning before sunrise to wake the locals as a reminder to consume their first meal of the day and pray on time. It is also routine to have the prayer playing on a loudspeaker during salat time.
“It brings a sense of unity, knowing that we aren’t alone and that together we can get through the day, especially the first few days which are the hardest, but then, through the weeks, it gets easier”, he added.
For one student, this isn’t the first time she’s fasting in Melbourne. Reem is from Saudi Arabia and has been in Melbourne for three years.
“Fasting in Melbourne is dissimilar because of the difference in culture,” she said.
“‘Since Australia isn’t a Muslim country, the rules don’t change for the fast, unlike Saudi Arabia.”
So we can see that even though some students are away from their family for the first time, we can see that they have all adapted in their own way to celebrating important events for Muslims in a new country.
Eid Mubarak everyone