If you're married with children
like me, chances are you miss the Ramadan months you had as a child, or as a
young adult, when you still lived at home: Suhr in the early hours was
ready on the table; there was time to sleep before and after school or work; iftar
was already cooked at night. Now with a family of your own, the month passes in
a blur of interrupted sleep, cooking and going without the mug of coffee that
gets you through the school run. Nevertheless, regardless of how easy or hard it
might be, the spirit of the holy month never changes.
Two particular Ramadan months,
that I spent overseas, stand out in my mind. They were both quite unforgettable
for different reasons. In the year 2000, I travelled from Australia back to my
homeland Turkestan [Xinjiang under Chinese control] to visit family and
friends, and to do a bit of ‘husband hunting’. I was feeling spiritually
charged, having just performed Haj, and knowing the political situation in my
homeland and the religious oppression people experience, I was determined to do
some Dawah (the sharing of
Islam) among my family.
When Ramadan came, I just anticipated that everyone in my family would fast;
it came as a huge shock that very few people observed fasting. Government
workers for instance were watched by the authorities during Ramadan and had to
take part in lunchtime functions. Others, who had never fasted before, just
found it too difficult. As I walked past restaurants and fast-food outlets, I
was saddened to see them full of people sitting down for lunch as if this was
normal during Ramadan. Yet, paradoxically, the preparations for the Eid festival
were just as exciting as anywhere else in the Muslim world. Nearly all the men
observed Eid prayer although during the year normal Friday prayers were mostly
Ten years later I was married with
three kids and visiting my husband's family in Saudi Arabia. Here my experience
would be so different. Here I would find the great spiritual experience I’d
hoped for. I performed Umrah during Ramadan which is like a mini Haj and
can be performed at any time of the year, unlike Haj. And because in
Saudi Arabia day and night is switched around during Ramadan, fasting itself was
so easy! During the thirty days, school is out, and most people are allowed a
month off work or work during the night; shops are open from sunset to dawn.
We usually slept after Fajr,
got up to pray Zhuhr and then went back to sleep, woke up again for the Asr
prayers and then started preparing for iftar which was a light meal.
After taraweh prayers we ate some more, snacked a bit and then came sahur,
which was the main meal. I didn’t feel like I was fasting. I also fasted the
six days of Shawal straight away after Eid which, back in Australia, I
need to spread out during the month.
Needless to stay fasting in Saudi
Arabia has a lot of advantages although I did feel guilty that it was just a
little bit too easy. Of course, all Ramadans are rewarding, but these are two
that I will never ever forget.