In the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, over one billion Muslims refrain from eating and drinking — or fast — from sunrise to sunset. The idea of Ramadan is to test the Muslims’ self-control, discipline, and patience, and allow them to develop a sense of compassion for those underprivileged ones who actually have to suffer from hunger or thirst all year long. Along with this, Ramadan is a month of celebration filled with huge family gatherings and sugar-heavy feasts at night time.
As the Islamic calendar is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian one, Ramadan always takes place eleven days earlier than the previous year. And with the month falling in the summer this time round, Muslims around the world have to deal with longer days of fasting.
Even though the summer is less harsh, experiencing Ramadan outside the Islamic region is not easier by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, in Germany, the day is almost 19 hours long, compared to around 13 hours in the Muslim region, and it’s even longer if you move up to the Northern countries.
Being away from home, I miss all the customs that accompany the joyful month of Ramadan that we all yearn for as we wait for its arrival. The lanterns and festive colors illuminating the streets, and rich three-course meals consisting of traditional Arabic dishes like rice-stuffed grape leaves, made with motherly love; indulging in desserts so sweet that once you are done with them you don’t want to see food ever again, and then camping in front of the television watching new series and funny prank shows that come out every Ramadan. Other days involve playing sports, mainly football, until the late hours of the night, before setting about eating our second, and last, meal of the day.
A typical German Ramadan day for me is a far cry to what I would experience in my country, more like a routine day, just without food. It first involves waking up at around two o’clock in the morning to stuff my stomach with as much food and water as I possibly could to prepare myself for the next day, before heading back to sleep again. This method, sohour, is far from a healthy one, and most likely the fastest way to gain weight, but it has become a tradition in the Muslim world. It has become so common that some restaurants stay open until the early hours of the morning and Muslims often plan gatherings and go out to have a sohour there. The working time eats up a huge chunk of my fasting period, and despite some dizzy spells and a few envious stares at the direction of my colleagues’ lunch boxes, the day passes a lot easier than it would if I stayed at home thinking about food the whole time. When I come back home after work, I use what little amount of energy I still have to prepare food for my breaking of the fast, or iftar as it’s called. I always can’t help but finish the entire meal in no time and end up, while regretting the manner in which I eat, with a full stomach and on the verge of falling asleep.
As I’m living and working in a non-Muslim environment, I get all sorts of questions and remarks about Ramadan. They range from disbelief at the fact that I could survive without food or water for an entire day, to questions about how much weight one could lose during the month. To add to that, the amount of times people forget I’m fasting and offer me food throughout the day. It’s always amusing to experience all this, as it gives me a new — and most of the time a funny — outlook of how non-Muslims perceive Ramadan, the opportunity to discuss and showcase my culture’s norms and traditions, and to answer the questions on everybody’s lips. Just to be clear: no you don’t necessarily lose weight during Ramadan. You’re actually more likely to gain some considering the large quantities you eat both late at night before bed and when you break the fast after a long period without food.
At the end of the day though, I always say to myself that the last few years that I’ve spent away from my family, especially during festive periods like Ramadan, have helped me appreciate the times we’ve spent together more than ever before, and that will make me a better person by the time I’m back in the motherland.
Are you celebrating Ramadan away from your family or have you ever wanted to experience the holy month as an expat from a different culture? Check the Events section for Ramadan events in your community.
Omar Abdelhakim is a student at the Deggendorf Institute of Technology in Bavaria, studying International Management. As an international student, he is enjoying the opportunity to travel and live in different cities, and to be exposed to many diverse cultures. He is currently an intern in the Content and Communications Team at InterNations, before returning to Deggendorf to finish his degree.