MY EXPERIENCES OF RAMADAN IN GERMANY
My name is Haleema Hamza Ibrahim and I come from the Northern part of Nigeria in West Africa. I have lived in Düsseldorf for the past 13 years.
Ramadan for Muslims is a time of self purification even though science has proven it to be beneficial to health. While the majority think we only abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, it is actually more than that. We are supposed to also abstain from anger, hatred, foul language etc and focus on forgiveness, love, compassion and peace making. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, we gain true sympathy with those who go hungry as well and that's why if you notice, especially in Africa we feed the hungry and do more charitable work in this month because even though charity is one of the pillars of Islam , some of us forget what it's like to be hungry till we observe fasting and then we quickly realise how blessed we are , while for some, thats their life everyday, every year.
Those who are sick , on a journey , and pregnant or nursing women are permitted to not take part on the days they can't but must make up for it later in the year. Those who are elderly, physically unable or terminally ill are required to feed a needy person for every day they miss. Most of them just feed a needy person for the whole month.
I use this time to read and understand the verses of the Quran. To try and set resolutions for what I plan to achieve physically and spiritually and mainly of course to get closer to my creator .
My first experience in Germany was very difficult. I mean like,... terrible and unbearable. Choi!! I mean I was ready to leave and go back home immediately because not performing fasting was not an option for me. I would rather leave this country than to leave a practice that had become part of me. But like everything in life, consistency makes it become easier. If you notice , we Africans are more religious because of the strong upbringing we got from childhood to adulthood. It has become our second skin, we will find any nook and cranny to pray. So I had to fight hard to resist the excuses from other Muslims that kept saying, the days are too long, they won't fast, you are excused etc etc.
Unlike in Africa where our sunrise and sunset are pretty much the same all year round, in Europe we experienced longer days which meant/ means about 16-18 hours of fasting every day as opposed to 13-14 hours in Africa. I would call my family in Nigeria to greet them on breaking their fast at about 6:30 pm , while ours would be about 10 pm and I always got comfort from my mother and others because they would say God sees you people's sacrifice for his sake and you will receive more rewards for it.
And so for this reason of longer hours , my first child didn't learn early enough how to fast. It would have been different if i was born and raised here. My system would have gotten used to it.
Our children start fasting from the time they reach puberty . But we usually teach them like 2 years earlier how to cope . They start with half days for a couple of days and then some full days. Even though it's difficult for them during the day, they look forward to breaking their fast because we let them choose whatever they want to eat. So by the time it becomes obligatory, it's easier for them. My second child started practicing last year at the age of 10 because the timings are better.
So fortunately this year , we get to break our fast about 8:30 pm( sunset). Because every calendar year, Ramadan moves two weeks backwards/earlier .
So the difference between Ramadan here and in Nigeria is that obviously, you are surrounded by everyone you know in Nigeria. Prayer groups, mosques, shops and restaurants that cater to this holy month are more. We hardly break our fasts as just a nuclear family but rather as an extended family and then it stretches out to friends. We reap rewards when we feed those that have fasted that's why we invite people over and also get invited over. So that was a bit difficult for us here because we had absolutely no family members in Germany. We had friends that we would go once to and they would come over once because the timing of 10pm was so inconvenient, everyone would rather just stay home.
Which brings me to the upside of fasting here, we didn't have to cook much.I'm not a fan of cooking so cooking for just us was very time friendly. I didn't have to do too much meal prepping. Depending on what we were having, we could make everything within an hour. And because it was late you didn't really feel like having seconds . In Nigeria however, you would have first course which consists of Akara(Kosai/Beancake) and Akamu( Kunu/millet porridge), fruits and then anything from omelette,chips, plantain ,samosa, spring rolls, fried yam and them later you eat the heavy meal of swallow with soup or rice and sauce or pepper soup or spaghetti etc with your choices of meats , fish or chicken. We do that here also if that's your preference in some houses, but like my family is small so we keep it basic. One from each course.
The first thing however you are to break your fast with is a Date ( dabino/datteln). Then something warm and then we say our prayers before we sit down to eat. After which we call others to ask " kun sha ruwa lafiya?" , which means " how was your breaking of fast?", to which they reply "Alhamdulillah" ( we thank God).
Those who have busy schedules, I would definitely recommend meal prepping. Have a timetable of what you want to prepare so you are not left looking for ideas. Boiling your meats in bulk and freezing them in bags with the stock for any meal base cuts down on time. Buying pre cut veggies, marinating meats in bulk and freezing . Try making one pot meals or oven meals for less stress.
Last year it was difficult for big families to break fast together because of the corona. A lot of people were depressed because they couldn't go to mosques. But preachers told us to use the time to reconnect with the family. Build an intimate prayer circle for and within our nuclear families and it turned out more positively because alot of people realised how much they were spending unnecessarily because of huge Iftar ( breaking of fast) gatherings .
So this year corona is unfortunately still with us and it hasn't been easy with the lockdown but " this too shall pass" .
For my Muslim sister's and brothers, may our faith guide us through the tough times and remind us to love more through the good times. Ameen
Haleema Hamza Ibrahim
WRITTEN BY HALEEMA HAMZA IBRAHIM
Haleema Hamza Ibrahim is an executive at African Mums in Deutschland and a mother of three.