Ramadan abroad

Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
Raeline Valbuena/Staff

It’s my last week in Granada. Having been here just shy of five weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to make new friends with some of the most genuinely lovable and perceptive people I’ve ever met.

Because it’s currently Ramadan, one of the happiest and most reflective months for Muslims around the world, a number of my friends are now observing Ramadan in Spain this year. Living and learning with them, I have noticed that, for them, Ramadan abroad is really a unique and memorable experience. Their perspectives expose special sides both of observing Ramadan and of the lives of students studying abroad. So here are some meaningful thoughts from people who have become meaningful to me.

Bushra Malik

Bushra Malik
Age: 23
Major: sociology (graduated)
University: UC Berkeley
Self-description: outdoors and animal enthusiast

How is Ramadan different abroad from at home?
This Ramadan, I am away from my family, and it is a very family-oriented event. My sisters used to always wake me up before the fast in the morning, and I would go with them and the rest of my family to the mosque to pray at night. Even being away from the Berkeley community is challenging because at least in Berkeley I had the mosque community.

What do you think makes this Ramadan unique?
I don’t have a fridge or a microwave and this makes my life difficult. Especially when I’m trying to be careful about what I’m eating, this is really hard. Having to adapt in the hostel where these aren’t available is really unique and something I haven’t experienced before. But it’s also fun — I’m creative with my roommates. We ordered a hot water boiler with Amazon Spain and boil eggs.

Is there social etiquette concerning people who are fasting?
People are apologetic when they eat or drink in front of me, which is sweet, but it’s OK. Don’t feel guilty and carry on as normal — we’re used to it. However, it’s good to be aware of physical limitations, like understanding that your fasting friend probably can’t go on an eight-mile hike with you.

What do you wish non-Muslims knew about Ramadan?
The basics. If you don’t know the basics, don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to come off as rude. Especially in terms of the basics of why we fast and how we fast. Also know what a special time it is for us — it’s one of our happiest times and I wish it weren’t so underplayed. I feel like people aren’t often aware of Ramadan when it’s happening. Say “Happy Ramadan” to your Muslim friend because it really is a big deal to us.

 

Kubra Babaturk

Kubra Babaturk
Age: 21
Major: international relations and global studies
University: UT Austin
Self-description: tea enthusiast

How is Ramadan different abroad from at home?
It’s different because it doesn’t have the same structure. Like Bushra said, it is difficult because normally you’d have a fridge and a microwave and other things. Timing is different as well because the time when the community celebrates here is sometimes different, probably because we are literally in a different space on earth. Seeing how people break their fast here is different, and I even noticed that how they wear their hijabs is different too.

What do you think makes this Ramadan unique?
Being abroad is a part of it because the people you’re surrounded with are different. Also we’re in Granada, and it’s a historical city — we’re fasting in a place with so much Muslim history that goes unrecognized, and it’s an interesting experience. It’s also funny to wake up in your hostel room with a roommate who’s not fasting. And we’re eating different food here. Usually we eat traditional food, so it’s also funny to break your fast with Spanish food from the free program buffet. But I’m definitely glad I could do this. It really tests your spirituality.

Is there social etiquette concerning people who are fasting?
Well first off, there isn’t a prescribed version, so everyone’s experience is unique. Every day is different too, and some days are harder than others. Sometimes there are awkward negotiations that don’t need to happen because if I say I’m OK with it, it really is totally OK to eat in front of me. Don’t call attention to it. I do it because I want to and resisting the temptation is part of it. It’s touching when people are concerned, but I interact with regular society and live in a western world, so after a couple weeks or so, they should know it’s OK.

What do you wish non-Muslims knew about Ramadan?
Not even water. Yeah, that’s pretty solid. Also, I fast every individual day and not 30 days consecutively. And I’m open to talking about it. I’ve had some people who do it for a day with me — it’s not exclusive to a Muslim and you can experience it for yourself. People should know that there are more than 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and that 20 percent of the world is actually fasting during this Ramadan. Also, back home a lot of Muslims will go to IHOP to break their fast because it’s open 24/7. There is no IHOP in Granada.

Nour Hamida

Nour Hamida
Age: 20
Major: English (graduated)
University: UC Berkeley
Self-description: foodie

How is Ramadan different abroad from at home?
Fasting during Ramadan is a very community centered practice, so being abroad makes it more of an independent and personal form of worship because I’m not breaking my fast with family or at a community mosque. I really appreciate being abroad during Ramadan because I get to see how people in other parts of the world practice Ramadan. It’s really amazing to be somewhere where you don’t know anybody but then to find a Muslim community where you feel at home and to share a personal form of worship with other people.

What do you think makes this Ramadan unique?
Studying abroad in Granada and being able to learn about the history of Muslims in Spain has enriched my Ramadan experience. At a time when Muslims are being targeted in the West, I’m able to witness and learn about all the positives, like intricate Islamic architecture and the long-lasting impacts that the Muslim rule over Spain had in the West. I get to learn about a time in history where coexistence and tolerance were possible.

Is there social etiquette concerning people who are fasting?
I think people should just keep in mind that fasting is not just about refraining from food or drink — it’s a time to to reflect on all the blessings that we have and a time to exercise moderation in everything that you do, whether it be using your phone too much or eating too much chocolate. It also has health benefits, so it’s a positive thing for your body.

What do you wish non-Muslims knew about Ramadan?
No, we cannot drink water during the day. But yes, we are free to eat and drink when the sun goes down.

Happy Ramadan!

Contact Raeline Valbuena at [email protected].