The holy month of Ramadan is a special one for Muslims all over the world; it is a month-long period for worship, sober reflections, and a time to be with family and loved ones. During Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, all adult Muslims in good health are required to fast from dawn to dusk.
Proper observance of the month of Ramadan is more than just abstinence from food, it can be an all-consuming religious observation, which often requires the support system provided by close friends and family. Living abroad during Ramadan or working or studying can be a challenging time for many Muslim immigrants of African descent, and many complain of loneliness and exhaustion.
Typically, many Muslims wake up around 4 a.m. to have an early morning breakfast or Suhur before the sun rises in the sky. Finding or making adequate provisions for these unusually early morning breakfast can be difficult for Muslims surrounded by a community of non-Muslims.
Pre-packaged food from cafeterias and eateries, warmed or microwaved early in the mornings can only do so much; therefore, many African immigrants admit they still yearn for the traditional home-cooked delicacies that are associated with the period of Ramadan.
Many Muslims also say that they find it challenging to meet their spiritual needs in the diaspora. Religious materials may be hard to find in the immediate locality, and Mosques, in particular, may be some distance away.
New Muslim immigrants from Africa who are studying abroad are often advised to look out for Muslim student associations within their colleges, and if there are none, they are encouraged to check out other universities nearby. They can also find out more useful information from their student advisers.
Ramadan is an opportunity for all Muslim immigrants — old and new — in the diaspora to make or find friends, so typically, reaching out to fellow Muslims is often welcome during this period.
Whether working or studying, immigrants observing the month of Ramadan will find the Internet to be a very helpful tool: They can check out forums; download Ramadan preachings or tafsir; and arrange, prepare, and share upcoming iftar or the breaking of the fast together at dusk.
Many Muslims take the advice of Islamic scholars who advise that it is best to mingle or remain in the company of other fasting Muslims during Ramadan; however, when this is observed, it should be done in a way that doesn’t scream segregation or religious discrimination.
Muslim immigrants who are old timers advise that new immigrants may find it a lot more helpful to take the initiative and explain in advance some of the obligations required of them during the month to their friends and colleagues who may otherwise find their behaviors bizarre when they notice that they no longer eat nor visit the cafeteria during the usual lunch break periods, avoid or refuse to share in what may be considered inappropriate liaisons, and suddenly censor or limit their exposure to secular entertainment.
Immigrants in places around the North Pole may endure periods of endless nights while others in some parts of Europe, such as the Scandinavian region, may face a similarly peculiar challenge when Ramadan falls in the long days of summer.
This often means an increase in the number of daylight hours between sunrise and sunset, and Muslims in such places may need to fast longer. A possible scenario, where the sun rises as early as 4.00 a.m. and dawn doesn’t arrive until it’s past 9:00 p.m., would require almost 17 hours of fasting as compared to 13 hours of daylight time in Mecca.
A council of senior Islamic Scholars has counseled Muslims in such places to determine the lengths of their fast and the times for their daily prayers or salat using the nearest country with clearly distinguishable periods of night and day.