Ramadan Around the World #6: Reminiscences of Ramadan and Raya in Riyadhby Rozinah
This Ramadan we share with you a bird’s eye view of personal Muslim stories from across the globe.
A Punjabi-Singaporean shares her journey of converting to Islam, navigating through Islamic practices, and the blessing of being a Muslim in a Muslim country.
I had a Muslim mother and a Sikh father. Seven out of 10 siblings, including myself, converted to Islam. I was 12 years old. We motivated each other to practice Islam and it was easier to do so together. I did not fast for all days during my first Ramadan. I started slowly and caught up.
Married at 18, I left for Saudi Arabia with my husband. There was a seven-hour time difference between Singapore and Saudi Arabia which made it slightly difficult to adjust at first, but gradually it got better.
Learning to wear the abaya was an entirely new experience for me. In fact, once I donned the abaya and went to a shopping mall and fell down a flight of stairs as my vision was impeded. It was not a culture shock as I had read up on practices before moving and my then-husband had also educated me on a few things. This made my transition easier. Nonetheless, mastering the art of tying the abaya and tarha (veil) did take time.
I never felt lonely as I had a wonderful support system in Saudi Arabia. There is a stigma that Arabs are intolerant, but honestly, that is untrue. They treated me and my children like their own. I do not think I missed out on living my life. My Arab neighbours and family were by my side through good and bad times, always looking out for me. Never did I feel left out even though I was not an Arab.
However, frustration kicked in. And, this would be the most difficult part for me as a convert and a young mother in a Muslim country. Back in those days, there was a lot of pressure on me. I was a convert, had a limited understanding of the religion and had to pick up the pieces on my own. I deeply regret how I showed frustration to my kids if they did not excel academically. I felt like it was my sole duty as a mother to nurture my kids.
Asking for forgiveness and pardon is a norm and practiced daily in Saudi Arabia, unlike in Singapore. “Allah bless them,” I say under my breath when someone hurts my feelings or passes mean remarks. I immediately forgive and forget.
When I first reached Saudi Arabia in 1983, it was during the month of Ramadan. The security guard informed the owner of the apartment, also my neighbor, that a foreigner had moved into the building. She swiftly invited me over to her house for iftar. My first prayer in Saudi Arabia was in her home with her daughter, Ghada, who taught me surah Al-Ikhlas.
Usually, my husband would be with his first wife during Fajr, while I would pray with my neighbor. At times, my husband and I would have iftar together with them. This was how it was for the first three years until I gave birth to my first daughter.
I miss those days; I clearly remember my first Ramadan. I was not lonely, but it was still difficult. I could not speak Arabic nor was I fluent in English. I have no regrets, yet I felt sad and it was a stressful time for me then. Simple daily chores like buying potatoes from the market would be a tiring chore. I had to rely on physical gestures to get through the day.
However, nobody made fun of me. And, my beloved neighbor taught me Arabic. The people I surrounded myself with made things so much easier. I would switch on the TV during Maghrib or Isyak prayers as they would have a live telecast from Makkah; I would follow the Imam and pray with them.
During the holy month, food preparations and daily gatherings were the norm. Seldom would I be alone; I would break fast with friends, family or neighbors. We would then go for taraweeh, followed by shopping and then to each others’ houses. We would enjoy coffee, shorba, samosas and tamar (dried dates). There were certain foods that you could only get during Ramadan. It was something I really looked forward to.
Let me share an interesting fact, my neighbour was an Egyptian. Egyptians typically make fish during Eid, while during Ramadan and Eid the Arabs generally enjoy eating lamb and chicken and refrain from eating fish as it is salty and dehydrating.
In Singapore, we enjoy traditional kuehs (sweet treats and delicacies) for Eid, while the Arabs prefer sweets and chocolates. Therefore, I would ask my sister to send me some ingredients so I could prepare kuehs such as pineapple tarts and kueh makmur (peanut-filled cookies) and everybody would enjoy it.
In Riyadh, Eid was generally a quiet time. We would go to the mosque in the morning for our Fajr and Eid prayers and head home straight. It was a time just for the family. Visiting would happen throughout Ramadan. Women would gather at houses, have potlucks, prepare food together, and even cook for the needy. The men would then deliver the food while the women stayed at home.
The amazing part about being in a Muslim country is, even if you do not feel like praying or fasting, your surroundings will automatically get you involved and motivate you to participate. Therefore, practicing Ramadan in Saudi Arabia was easier. The vibe is definitely different and time passes by very quickly.
My eyes tear up when I think of my life experiences in Saudi Arabia, but well, I put my faith in Him and leave it. Alhamdulillah.
وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ
“And remember when your Lord proclaimed, ’If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more”
[Surah Ibrahim 14:7]
Curated by: Muslim Pro
About the writer:
Rozinah, 56 years old, is currently residing in her birth country, Singapore. Converted to Islam at the age of 12 and married at 18 before moving to Saudi Arabia, she is not a stranger in juggling a confluence of multiple identities that has shaped her unique perspective on faith and the world.