Explaining the purpose and the method of fasting to friends of other faiths brought us closer together.
DURING my undergraduate days, my non-Muslim friends approached a few of us to ask what it was like to fast during the month of Ramadan.
It was hard to articulate the experience to them, so we thought it would be simpler to ask them to join us.
A number of them decided to fast for a day. Late in the afternoon, we accompanied them to the nearest Ramadan bazaar to purchase what ended up being a buka puasa feast and sat together to break fast.
The conversation that flowed during the breaking of fast session was one that I remember to this very day.
As we explained the do’s and don’ts during fast that include, for some Muslims, how nose-picking can cause one’s fast to be nullified, we received some cheeky responses in return.
Some of them also admitted that they cheated by taking sips of water throughout the day as they were only doing it for experience.
Others asked more pertinent questions like why do Muslims fast and go for terawih prayers only during Ramadan. The Muslims among us tried to answer their questions to the best of our ability.
We even shared our own experience of learning how to fast when we were children.
Most of us began to observe Ramadan when we reached the age of seven.
Many recounted stories of being given leeway by our parents to break fast when we got too tired during the day or of being promised more duit raya if we fasted for the whole month.
Following their experience of fasting for a day, most of my non-Muslim friends mentioned that they now better understand fasting and respect Muslims for observing our fast. To all of us, it was a day where we simply shared an experience.
It was also an eye-opener for us Muslims to learn how our friends from different religious beliefs observe fast.
Christians observe a period of Lent and we heard about the speci-fics of fast for our Hindu and Buddhist friends, too. Funny how eating together, or in this case breaking fast together, is the best and most organic way for us all to get to know each other better.
Personally, I love the month of Ramadan. For me, it allows me the time to reflect, to be more mindful about my own behaviour, and to better control my temper.
Yet, every Ramadan, I am challenged emotionally. Two friends passed away this Ramadan, one a veteran journalist whose writings I adore, and another an acquaintance who is known to many as a community organiser in Penang, and who is only a year older than me.
As a young girl, I personally believed that humans would act in a good manner and became more spiritual during this holy month as all the devils were chained up.
As an adult, I am now left to wonder at the very human nature of having prejudice, acting harshly and irrationally, even to the extent of causing hurt and violence unto others, regardless of whether it is the month of Ramadan.
News of terror attacks in Afghanistan, Iran, the United Kingdom and closer to home, Marawi in the Philippines, as well as news on the acts of violence to our very own Malaysian youths, Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain and T. Nhaveen, mar this Ramadan for me.
I must admit that I was feeling dejected and questioned whether there would be justice for all the victims of terror and violence, and whether there is inherent good in the world.
Thankfully, my hope in humanity was restored reading news on the #interfaithiftar held by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan; and how Muslims in the UK strongly came together as a community to stand against terrorism following the Manchester and London attacks.
The recent horrific fire at Kensington’s Grenfell Tower saw Muslim boys who were up waiting for sahur knocking on doors to alert residents of the fire, with many mosques and faith centres opening their doors to help victims of the fire in the spirit of solidarity at a time of tragedy.
This year, I was also privileged to break fast with some members of the Afghan community who are currently seeking refuge on our shores. I was most affected by my meeting a young Afghan woman named Hana, who shared, “I love Malaysia because I can go to school here.
“Girls are not allowed to go to school in Afghanistan. If parents send their girls to school (in Afghanistan) they might not come back.”
I am proud that our country provided her and her community refuge, education and hope.
It only emboldens me to work harder towards a Malaysia that is more inclusive, has improved gender equality across all fields, and progressive.
Ramadan is a month of reflection.
The rituals observed more intensely this month – fasting, reading the Quran, performing terawih prayers – should also strengthen our resolve to better ourselves as human beings, not only during this holy month but for the rest of the year, and by extension, the rest of our lives.
This Ramadan, my hope in Malaysia is restored. Selamat Hari Raya and Maaf Zahir Batin to all.
Lyana Khairuddin is a virologist and a runner, and hopes to #bringbackthekebaya. The views expressed here are entirely her own.