Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011


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Unforgettable Ramadans

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 overlooked.  

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.

Flora Chanisheff