It is the holiest month of Ramadan and over one billion Muslims all around the world are keeping fast. During the fast, they refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset along with keeping modesty, avoiding any bad behavior and sexual activity. The idea of Ramadan is basically to test the Muslims’ self-control, discipline, and patience, furthermore to allow them to develop a sense of compassion for those underprivileged (the poor’s) who actually have to suffer from hunger all year long. Along with this, Ramadan is a month of celebration filled with huge family gatherings and sugar-heavy feasts at evening.
For most of my life, I have spent Ramadan in Pakistan where the majority population is Muslim. During the holy month of Ramadan, all the eateries remain closed during the fasting hours. Moreover, people (exempted Muslims for certain reasons) and the minorities avoid eating and drinking in public in the respect of Ramadan. During this month, the working schedule changes as well – both for working class as well as for the students.
But now I am in Beijing for higher education and I am experiencing fasting here. This is my first time being away from home. Here, I don’t feel that it is Ramadan as everything is as normal as any other day of the month. I miss all the customs that accompany the joyful month of Ramadan back home. I miss the lanterns and festive colors illuminating the streets, and delicious traditional dishes like Biryani, Chicken Karhai, Qeema, Achar Gosht, Haleem and many more. Playing sports after Iftar is common there. The youth would play whereas the elder would watch the game – mainly football and cricket on the district level.
As now that I am here, I get all sorts of questions and remarks about Ramadan from all sorts of people. These questions range from disbelief at the fact that I could survive without food or water for an entire day, to questions about how much weight one could lose during this month. It is an amazing experience as it gives me a new and most of the time a funny outlook of how non-Muslims perceive Ramadan. I take it as an opportunity to discuss and showcase my culture’s norms and traditions and to answer the first question that they ask about losing weight; no, you don’t necessarily lose weight during Ramadan. You’re actually more likely to gain some considering the large quantities one eat both in suhoor and iftar – that too full of carbs and sugar.
However, Ramadan in Beijing can also be a life changing experience for one special reason. The chances of being the first Muslim to introduce Ramadan and the concept of fasting in Islam to the majority of the local people are extremely high. It’s a big responsibility and a great honor being a Muslim to introduce people to Islam and its teachings.
While in Beijing the pace of life is super fast. Monday to Friday I need to get up at 7 am to attend the lectures which last until the late afternoon. Then I come back to the dormitory and start preparing Iftar for myself. It sounds simple but it is difficult to manage. How? Well, I end up at the dormitory around 5 or 6 pm – all exhausted. I start preparing Iftar as there is no mom and sister making sharbat and frying pakoras while I just sit and relax in front of the TV and wait for the azaan. It gets very challenging to manage time for some extra things during the month of Ramadan. Moreover, I keep some of the food for suhoor for which I get up in midnight.
While throughout the day, I am around people who are not fasting. In the morning, I would watch my classmates drinking their hot water which is very common to drink in China. During lunch hours, I see students’ rushing to canteens. Watching others eating is without a doubt one of the harder parts of fasting. I realized that the wonderful thing about fasting overseas is the high level of energy and enthusiasm that I feel throughout the day, despite the lack of food or drink. The Muslims students living here in my dormitory get together on weekends. We prepare Iftar together and break our fast together which give each of us a feeling of being in a family.
At the end of the day, I always say to myself that this year I am away from my family but soon I will be with them. This period helped me appreciate the time I’ve spent with my family more than ever before, and it will make me a better person by the time I will return to my country.