Ramadan Around The World #3: Just Do It! Words of A Revertby Tim J.
This Ramadan we share with you a bird’s eye view of personal Muslim stories from across the globe.
An introverted European revert shares his caffeine crunch, the approaching dread and zeal of fasting during his first Ramadan, and the exchange of Dutch and Malay cultures through iftar.
As a Muslim revert, you can often feel alone, and I certainly have felt this way especially in the early years after converting. When you are going through a significant and life-changing event you have the natural urge to share it with others. For my non-Muslim family members it was hard to understand the concept of Ramadan beyond not eating and drinking whereas for my Muslim family members Ramadan has become second nature.
It was sometimes difficult going through all these new feelings and emotions without a proper outlet. This is not to say that there is no outlet at all. In fact, there are amazing communities where fellow reverts can get together and discuss anything and everything related to Islam. In Singapore, there is ‘The Converts Central’ podcast that focuses on sharing lessons learnt from stories told and challenges experienced by converts.
As a convert, going to the mosques in touristy areas of Singapore, I was often seen as a tourist (who can blame them), but after growing a beard and becoming a regular at the mosque nearby my workplace, others’ perception of me changed.
I think as a non-local convert you will always get the odd stare, but this is something that you learn to deal with over time. I have learned to not see it as a negative, but more as a curiosity.
I reverted to Islam in September of 2013, a month after Ramadan that same year. Fortunately that meant I had almost a whole year of practicing Islam before the next Ramadan. In anticipation of Ramadan I would often ask people for advice or tips: “How to survive Ramadan?”
I still saw the approaching month of Ramadan as something to dread or worry about. I had never ever fasted. Often, people would advise me to try fasting for a day or to start Ramadan by fasting half-days.
Personally, I never saw fasting half-days as an option so I went ahead with the most common advice: “Just do it”.
However, as a heavily caffeinated individual, I wish someone had recommended slowly reducing my caffeine intake in the weeks leading up to Ramadan. It took me quite a while to get used to the withdrawal headaches which worsened the feelings of dread.
Once my body and mind adjusted to fasting from 5:00 am to 7:00 pm every day, I started feeling the sweetness of Ramadan. While the feelings of dread just melted away, what helped a lot was the realisation that it was not just me going through this. In fact, there is a huge community out there and we were all celebrating Ramadan, together.
Alhamdulillah, over the years I have learned to manage my own expectations and found an outlet for my thoughts and feelings in prayer and self-reflection. These days, I look forward to Ramadan.
I have always felt privileged as a revert. My non-Muslim family embraced my new identity while my Muslim family welcomed me with open-arms. My employers have been accepting; they let me pray and fast.
Moreover, I am fortunate to live in a country where you are never more than 10 minutes away from a mosque and never more than a minute away from a nice halal meal.
After four years of embracing Islam, I returned home, to the Netherlands. It was an odd experience. As a Muslim, I felt foreign in my own country. The things that I used to eat, I was no longer allowed to enjoy; the festivities that we celebrated as a family were no longer proper for a Muslim.
Being a Muslim in a non-Muslim household was unusual. I suddenly missed my bidet, a lot! I also learned that doing ablution in wintery weather is no fun either. Nonetheless, I look forward to celebrating Ramadan in my home country someday, perhaps in 2033 when Maghrib is at 4:30 in the afternoon. In terms of cultural differences, I realised that the standard European/Dutch greeting (3 kisses on the cheek) is no longer appropriate for Muslims, especially when greeting those of a different gender.
As an introverted revert — maybe an introrevert — Eid has been a bittersweet holiday for me. When Eid arrives, our lives go back to normal, but not before eating back all the weight we lost during Ramadan.
The local culture of visiting relatives and friends has always been slightly nightmarish. In the weeks after Eid, every weekend will be full of visits to houses of relatives, colleagues and friends. As Tim, I am only asked two questions: “Can you speak Malay?” and “Can you eat spicy food?”. However, as Nasir, I expect a lot of questions during these visits. Perhaps, about my Ramadan experiences or on my knowledge of Islam. The last two Eid celebrations have been oddly quiet due to the ongoing pandemic, but I am looking forward to seeing people again and eating delicious food!
Every year, I look forward to my mother-in-law’s home-cooked sambal goreng, which consists of bean curds or tofu, long beans and tempeh, made of fermented soybeans, fried in chilli. I love to share a little bit of my own culture and cuisine by cooking for my family and guests; I bake a Dutch apple pie or make a hearty beef stew.
This Eid is going to be especially different for me as it will be the first Eid where we can bring along our son, Baharudin. It is going to be his third Eid, but for many of our friends and relatives it will be the first time seeing him.