What it’s like to celebrate Ramadan away from home
Spending Ramadan alone gave me a new appreciation of moments like breaking fast and praying together with my family.
As a Muslim, Ramadan is a special time of the year that I look forward to. Deemed as the most special and sacred month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide and is a month dedicated to reflection, gratitude and giving back to the community.
During this holy month, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, and any sexual activities from dawn to dusk in an effort to achieve better self-control and develop a deeper sense of compassion for those who are less fortunate.
Despite having fasted from the day I reached baligh (known as puberty in Arabic), I never fully understood the significance of this sacred month and its traditions. Not until this year when I experienced it far away from home.
Instead of spending Ramadan with my loved ones, I spent the first three weeks of the holy month alone as I was on my three-month-long solo trip around Southeast Asia.
The challenges of fasting while travelling
In my experience in Singapore, it was relatively easy to get into fasting once I had established a routine. My usual day would start off with suhur, the meal consumed early in the morning, before I got ready for the day and head off to school. Waking up on time at five in the morning for our pre-dawn meal was also something I never had to think twice about as my mother or sister would get me out of bed.
Now that I’m travelling from one place to another, it made me realise how challenging it was fast away from home.
As I was moving from one place to another throughout the month, I naturally felt more exhausted than I would back home, especially since I was carrying a 50-litre backpack. The warm, sunny weather in Thailand and Vietnam didn’t help either, making it hard for me to think and function properly during the day.
It was also difficult for me to wake up for my pre-dawn meals when I was travelling alone as I had been so used to relying on my family. I had to take note of the changes in prayer times and the time to break fast whenever I moved to a new location as the prayer times change based on the positioning of the sun.
To make fasting more bearable while travelling in the hot climate, I made adjustments to my travel routine, deciding to stay in my hotel room for most days till the late afternoon before I began to explore the city.
Breaking fast during Ramadan in a different country
Growing up in a fairly large household, food was a big part of my tradition during Iftar, also known as the breaking of fast. Every evening, family favourites such as ayam masak merah, sup tulang, and other traditional Malay snacks such as keropok lekor and pisang goreng were served to treat ourselves after a day of fasting.
My fasting experience during my solo backpacking trip kickstarted in the heart of Pai, a small town in northern Thailand. As much as I tried to adapt to fasting in an unfamiliar place, observing Ramadan in an environment where there was only a small percentage of Muslims and relatively few halal food options were difficult for me. I had to opt for vegan food options most of the time for Iftar.
Phuket, however, was my favourite destination as there was a plethora of halal food available at every corner. Despite not having my comfort Singaporean meals, new dishes such as tom yum soup and pad thai became my favourites for breaking fast.
Finding halal food in Vietnam was also difficult as the Muslim community was small in places like Da Nang and Hoi An. With plenty of research, I was fortunate to discover a few halal restaurants in the heart of Ho Chi Minh and tried Vietnamese dishes such as beef pho and spring rolls.
Traditions during Ramadan
As spiritual rewards are believed to be multiplied during the month of Ramadan, my family and I would devote ourselves to prayers and occasionally recite passages from the Quran whenever we had time during the holy month.
As part of the Ramadan tradition, I was used to gathering with my family every night for our Taraweeh prayers, a voluntary prayer performed after the evening prayer. Occasionally, I would also meet up with my Muslim friends to break our fast together and do our evening prayers at the mosque which deepened our friendship and strengthened our beliefs.
One of my favourite memories of Ramadan in Singapore was also the lively atmosphere at the annual Geylang Serai Bazaar. The bazaar was always packed with people and the aroma of delicious food filled the air.
While I was travelling in Thailand, I found that the Muslim community in Phuket was vibrant and welcoming. I attended Taraweeh prayers at a local mosque whenever I could and broke my fast with a few friends that I made while travelling.
Though there were moments when I felt like a fish out of water, there were still rewarding experiences from celebrating Ramadan away from home. It was a time where I could explore new cultures, meet new people and grow spiritually by connecting with the local Muslim community.
Seeing how the holy month was celebrated elsewhere made me appreciate how diverse Singapore is in terms of the vibrant multiracial and multireligious activities. With a smaller Muslim population in Thailand and Vietnam, there were no special celebrations for Ramadan and no festive songs played to get people in the festive mood for Eid Mubarak.
While I did my best to assimilate into the Muslim community wherever I went, I started to miss many of the moments spent with my family and friends by the second week of Ramadan. I missed even the smallest things like helping my mother in the kitchen, as well as socialising with my family after our Taraweeh prayers. I realised how much I had taken things for granted.
Now that my backpacking trip is coming to an end, there is nothing I look forward to more than returning home and spending the last few days of Ramadan with my loved ones, especially since it is a precious month that I can only get once a year.