During Ramadan, the fasting is not the hardest part, it is being away from my family.
Ramadan Mubarak! Over the last few weeks Muslims around the world have taken part in a month of fasting, voluntary work and reconnecting with their spiritual sides. EUR-student and The US Space founder, Hana Taher explains what Ramadan actually entails, what it means to her and how it is to celebrate it away from family and friends.
Hi Hana! Could you tell us what Ramadan is exactly?
‘Ramadan is a holy month celebrated by Muslims in the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar. Mostly the month is there for spiritual healing and getting in touch again with your religion. There is a saying that fasting during Ramadan clears the sins from your past year and also for your next year. Another saying mentions that there isn’t any room for sins during Ramadan, because the devil is locked up. It is a true test in getting to know yourself better and experiencing your religion.’
There’s a celebration at the end of Ramadan, right? What does that mean?
‘This day is called Eid, and it’s the day after the last day of Ramadan. It is the first time in a month where we can have breakfast in the morning, which is like Christmas morning for Muslims. The family comes together for a big breakfast, and one of the traditions includes the elders giving presents to the younger family members. So, my grandparents would give me money or a gift for Eid.’
What does Ramadan mean to you?
‘For me, it means healing and getting in touch with my religious soul. I don’t drink during this time, and I try my best to do everything I can; this ranges from fasting and praying for help to others in any way. It is also a good time to practice praying every day, and I try to take values from Ramadan with me for the upcoming year.’
As you are from Egypt, is it different to celebrate and go through Ramadan in The Netherlands?
‘I would say it is very different, but also quite tricky. Especially for students who live on their own, as usually when you are with family or friends every day is like Christmas dinner, but it is hard to get into that mood when you are by yourself. So, unless you are born and raised here in The Netherlands and your family is here, that is a difficult aspect. Personally, I also have a hard time balancing everything, like studying, fasting and cooking daily when other people around you are not fasting.
In Egypt, the evenings are also alive during Ramadan. Everyone goes out on to the streets to eat with their family, to meet up with friends and to socialize. Which also doesn’t happen here as Ramadan is not part of traditional Dutch culture, like King’s Day, for example.’
How are you going to celebrate the end of Ramadan this year?
‘I usually try to celebrate with my friends, so I ask them to come over for a lot of food, which is always a good incentive. With that, I can show them what Eid means to me. Some of my friends are also joining me for one or a few days, so that will be fun too. Hopefully, we can then all gather around in the nice weather.’
Are there any myths about Ramadan that you would like to de-bunk?
‘Some people believe that it makes you unproductive. However, Ramadan usually makes people more productive before ‘Iftar’ - when you are allowed to eat. In Egypt, labour hours do decrease from eight to six hours, because Ramadan is also a time for relaxing and getting in touch with your religion.’
What do you think Erasmus University Rotterdam or Western society can learn from Ramadan?
‘Both the university and the West can learn from the collectivist culture that is embedded in Ramadan; both the gatherings and the giving back to the community. During Ramadan, people just help each other out without asking or wanting anything in return because it is a time of giving. Especially in Egypt, charities and volunteer organizations strive to feed many homeless people and aim to provide shelter for them. That’s one thing people can learn from Ramadan, but another thing is the beliefs and values that everyone carries with them of treating all others with respect and acceptance regardless of whether they are Muslim or not.’