No matter where we are in the world, Ramadan has a way of bringing Muslims closer in this holy month. This celebration rings true to Nabila Norsofiena, a Malaysian who is currently working and spending her Ramadan in Melbourne, Australia. From facing the bitterly cold weather to missing the lively Ramadan bazaars, she shares her daily experiences and feelings about celebrating Ramadan in a Muslim-minority country.
Nabila (far left) with her friends in Melbourne
How was your first Ramadan in Melbourne?
This was my first Ramadan away from my family. It was a journey about learning how to be independent, be on my own as well as be a great cook when you miss food from home! My go-to ingredient is ikan bilis! As well as brussels sprouts and not forgetting, bird’s eye chilli.
Are the timings for sahur and iftar very different?
It’s definitely shorter which I had underestimated. The first Ramadan in Melbourne was about adapting to winter, as fast as sunset would come. It also meant that it was cold and that you would get chapped lips and dry skin easily. Days were shorter, but because of the chilly weather, you’d also feel hungrier faster. Something I didn’t see coming! Timing for iftar was definitely quicker, which also meant sahur was earlier too.
The scenic sunset in Brighton, Melbourne
Is it easy to find iftar meals there, or spaces offering terawih prayers?
Yes, it is. Melbourne is quite Muslim-friendly. There are many halal restaurants, from Middle Eastern cuisine to Malaysian restaurants, which serves a variety of food. I have had the opportunity to buka puasa with many authentic cuisines namely Ethiopian, Indian, Pakistani and more. Some restaurants even give out dates, bananas and bread, which is similar to home.
What’s the most challenging part about fasting in Melbourne?
I’d have to say the cold weather. When it’s freezing, especially during my first year here, it was one of the coldest winters paired with some rain and strong winds. You do feel thirsty and hungry faster. Another challenging part is when you get a little homesick because breaking fast for us at home is about being able to have iftar together and praying terawih with your family and friends.
Nabila (second from right) with her housemates, coursemates and course coordinator
Do non-Muslims understand fasting and how do they react to it?
Some do. And for those who don’t, they are keen to learn about it and join in with the celebration and practice.
What are some of the activities the Muslim community in Melbourne does during Ramadan?
Iftar gatherings and terawih prayers at local universities. This was a common practice at the university where I was studying which was in Footscray. There is a strong Muslim community presence in Footscray, so you can always join in with many iftar and terawih prayers easily at respective local mosques. Local online communities also make their best effort to sell or cook Malaysian cuisines which makes it feel a little closer to home.
Nabila with her mother and brother who visited her during Ramadan
How different is the Ramadan experience in Melbourne compared to your home country, Malaysia?
Ramadan Bazaar! There are some here but personally, I have never been to one as I have always cooked for myself. It’s different mainly due to the fact that I am by myself. It really makes you more home-sick than usual. I was lucky my family came to visit during the first year, and I’ve made some friends who are like family here. With the availability of halal options and the strong Muslim community. I considered myself pretty lucky.
Although I must admit, I definitely miss having iftar with my family. Besides rushing home from work to help my mother prepare food, I also missed enjoying each other’s company around the dinner table and rushing off to our local mosque to catch the prayers.
Nabila Norsofiena is a Community Development practitioner working in Melbourne, Australia. She has been residing in Melbourne for three years.
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