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Sultana's Dream
September 2011

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The Weird One

I was the weird kid at a mostly white school who starved for four weeks. Not that I always knew why I was doing it. My earliest memory of attempting to follow pusasa (Malay for fasting) like big people was on a sunny afternoon where I gave in to stealing a date from the kitchen table and promptly gobbled it.  Assuring myself that “no-one saw,” both God and my mother paid me back when, an hour later, I let out a huge date-scented burp in front of everybody. I have never ‘eaten on the fasting job’ since.

That was me as a seven-year old. Fast forward four years later and I was starting to learn that fasting was more than just going hungry to please God. Muslim parents the world over educated their children on the virtues of being grateful by switching on the television; we would be overcome by horrifying images of malnourished, swollen-bellied children from Africa’s drought-stricken countries. Not quite the inspiration of Ramadan’s spiritual connection to Allah, or time of contemplation for one’s indulgences—but it worked. 

My mother had already informed my teachers that her daughter would not be eating during school hours. I will never forget my Grade 5 teacher taking me aside (bless her), and whispering in the hushed tones of a caring educator, but with the warning undertone of one about to call Child Protection services. This was decades before TV cameras fell in love with men praying during Ramadan and the word was no longer foreign to Australian ears.

 “Now, dear, you know if you want something to eat, you can go right ahead and do that. I won’t be telling your parents.” Insert jaw drop, followed by teacher’s wink and squeeze of my bony shoulders.  “It’ll just be our little secret, ok?”

I’m not quite sure what happened next; I think I nodded obediently, not wanting to displease her. But I can still remember, to this day, how shocked I felt. It was my first experience of ‘my world’s’ ignorance or distaste for anything different. In particular, what was this ‘thing’ called Islam that my family followed, that forced primary-aged kids to go without food and water during Australian summers, for a whole month. Perhaps mama forgot to tell my teacher that we still ate an early breakfast and dinner after sunset … Perhaps that explains why my teacher wanted me to eat in secret?  

Angela, of the white-blonde hair and pale-as-pale skin, was my best friend at school and probably the most understanding of everyone.  Although I do remember that one lunchtime she forgot I was fasting, and offered me a plump, juicy fig. I forgot too and bit into the delicate sweet flesh – and promptly spat it out in a spectacular trajectory of saliva and fig in front of the girls’ toilet block. Well, Angie was not impressed and didn’t talk to me for the rest of playtime.

Fortunately, Ramadan for me now extends beyond the satiation of my stomach. But at least Miss Broadhead may sleep better knowing why I choose to fast.  


Dakhylina Madkhul

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