Ramadan In Ireland: Overcoming 18-Hour Fasts And Finding Strength In A Community


Faruq Senin •  May 28, 2019

Ramadan will be ending soon ? But before we bid goodbye to the blessed month, let's have a look at how our brothers and sisters in Islam have been spending Ramadan this year. In this edition of our Ramadan Around The World series, we interview a Malaysian who's living in a small town in Ireland. Since moving to Ireland 2 years ago, Najwa Salim has had to adapt to longer hours of fasting as compared to her home country. While it’s difficult not having a huge Muslim community, she has managed to find comfort from a few friends and non-Muslim colleagues. She shares with us more!

P.S. Check out our round-up of 13 Ramadan stories from around the world here!

1. Tell us more about yourself.

Assalamualaikum, my name is Siti Najwa Mohd Salim, known as Najwa amongst friends and family. I'm from Batu Pahat Johor and now I'm living in a small lovely town called Naas, in County Kildare, Republic of Ireland. I relocated here a year ago for my job as a Supply Chain Analyst, and I'm working for an Irish-based company in the food industry.

My husband and I with family and friends after our nikah

I myself am a traveller/backpacker and have been to 35 countries! I've been blessed beyond my imagination to be given the opportunity to see the world and travel to places as part of my previous job and it has become my passion. I recently got married to a wonderful Irish revert, Alhamdulillah.

2. How is Ramadan like in Ireland?

This is my second year spending Ramadan here in Ireland. It’s shorter by a few minutes compared to last year. In the early Ramadan, the fasting period starts at 4am and ends at 9.06pm. Towards the end, it gets from 3.40 am to 9.50pm.

Outside my office 

Just like everyone else, the first few days can be rough and restless and after a while, you become used to it and can learn to do without food and water for the long days. You’ve taught your body how to manage cravings and not give in to them after a week. Alhamdulillah the weather in Ireland really helps me go through the day with ease. The weather is nice and mild, with temperatures around 8-18 degrees, I don’t really feel as thirsty or hungry as I was in Malaysia due to this chill weather.

The hardest aspect of Ramadan, by far, is the caffeine withdrawal. I’m a very loyal customer of a cup of Grumpy Cappuccino from the office café in the morning, so cutting my morning dose does make me grumpy. I should have ditched them 2 weeks before Ramadan ? To be honest, it’s a very long day due to lack of sleep/broken sleep. I have to prepare for iftar after work, stay late till Isya is completed and wake up at 3am for Sahur and Fajr, and I do feel drained especially after a tough and busy day at work.

To ensure I sustain the long fasting hours, it's very important that I wake up for Sahur, eat and drink plenty of water. I also take extra vitamins for energy and that helps me stay focused at work.

Outside the Dublin Mosque after Tarawih

As for Tarawih, I did join Tarawih one time at the Dublin Mosque on the first night of Ramadan as it happened to be a public holiday. Although it started late at around 10.30 pm and finished at 12am, the mosque was full. And it felt as though I was in Mecca with other Muslim from different backgrounds coming for the prayers.

3. How is the experience different from your home country, Malaysia? What do you miss most about Malaysia?

Credit: @brendansiva on Instagram

The Ramadan community vibes in Malaysia for sure! The iftar, the bazaars and of course the ibadah vibes there. It's so much easier when you do things collectively rather than on your own. In Malaysia, you are not doing it alone, almost everyone is doing it, and many non-Muslims join the fasting activity too. Because other people are doing it too, it becomes normal and part of your daily life, your focus then won't be about feeling hungry, thirsty or tired but more on how you fill your day spiritually like doing more good deeds, giving charity and other religious devotions of becoming a better Muslim.

Credit: Masjid Putra Putrajaya on Facebook

In Malaysia, you not only have iftar with your family and friends but you do ibadah with them too. Tarawih, tadarus (quran recitation), daily prayers, charity etc. Everyone is in this together. The atmosphere is quite different, as offices have shorter working hours. Over here, I’m a lone wolf, I have to motivate myself to do it and find the strength and the sweetness of Ramadan on my own. That doesn’t necessarily mean it's bad. I do miss the vibes back home but this also means I will have much more time on my own to reflect and relax the mind and the body from all the pressures back home.

I will be coming home on the last 4 days of Ramadan ? Inshallah I will have time to experience what I mentioned above with my beloved family and I look forward to celebrating the accomplishment of fasting during the whole month of Ramadan back home.

4. What’s the Muslim community like where you’re at?

With other Malaysian families

In my town, it's very small. I have one Muslim colleague at work from the Maldives who does Ramadan with me. Though she’s in a different department, we do meet occasionally to catch up and have dinner. I know 3 Malay families in town - the husband of one of the families works as a chef in an Asian restaurant and that’s where I go to when I crave Malay food as they serve Halal chicken! There’s a small prayer room in town on top of an Ethnic store. However, there’s no separate room for sisters and that makes it difficult for me to go on my own. I bump into 2-3 other Muslim families once in a while when I do my grocery shopping in Tesco, and we exchange salam.

Dublin city centre - it's a relatively small city and it's very walkable, easy to explore

Dublin (capital of Ireland) is one hour away from here. In Dublin, there are around 3-4 big mosques with loads of activities held during the year, especially in the month of Ramadan as there are bigger Muslim communities in Dublin. So they have charity iftar dinners, fundraisers, Muslim kids summer camp plus there are a lot more choices for halal food in Dublin as compared to where I live.

Food bazaar hosted by the Malaysian community in Malaysian Hall Dublin 

In Dubin, the Malaysian community is active too. They often organise food bazaars and gatherings before Ramadan. As for my part, I'd sometimes host iftar dinners or get-together with friends.

Hosting an iftar dinner at my place

5. What’s your biggest challenge/struggle spending Ramadan in Ireland and how do you overcome it?

The biggest challenge is not so much the long fasting hours or food, but more on my own spiritual journey. It does get lonely doing this in a foreign land while missing everything back home. As the mosque is a bit further away from where I live (an hour's journey), I do feel like I'm missing out a bit. But knowing that I’ll be coming home very soon, that eases my mind and heart. I’m counting the days and my heart is literally already in Malaysia now. I think I should just make the most of it and embrace this moment.

For iftar and sahur - unlike in Malaysia where you can order and buy anywhere, anytime, I have to cook and prepare my own meals. Restaurants and convenient stores are mostly closed by 9pm especially in small towns, and the only places operating late are pubs! I also have to stock up on my halal meat for the whole month, which I normally get in Dublin together with my other Asian ingredients and spices.

There is also a Malaysian chef in Dublin who sells takeaway Malay food and desserts every weekend. In case I crave for something that's hard to make, there’s an option to go and get it from there ☺️

6. Do non-Muslims understand fasting and how do they react to it?

My colleagues have been very supportive and understanding of my situation. One has even offered to give me a lift to work during the month of Ramadan as I normally cycle to work.

Around my residential area where I wait to get a lift to work with my colleague

At first, they were surprised by the fact that we can't even consume fluids. Some of them even think it's bad for your body. They wonder why we still do it but then I explain fasting is prescribed for believers and it is proven it promotes better health - improve blood pressure, reset your cholesterol level, support weight loss by limiting calorie intake and so on.

Spiritually, it makes you appreciate your blessings, teaches discipline and helps you learn patience as well as encourage “humility and politeness” in dealing with people. They do feel bad if they eat and drink in front of me in the office. People think this would be harder for me but it is actually not too bad. Ramadan may appear to be a hard and difficult month, but it is, in fact, an enjoyable time.

7. What tips would you give to someone who’s visiting Ireland during Ramadan?

Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is essential for maintaining everyday health and energy. Always wake up for Sahur even if you just taking dates and water. Try to avoid taking caffeine during sahur. For Musafir, if it becomes unbearable, then, in this case, fasting becomes makrooh and you are allowed to break your fast.

I would also recommend loads of fresh fruits and vegetable intakes while you are in Ireland - make use of all the available fresh sources! It tastes so much better here. Given that Ramadan is all about the feeling of community, try to break fast and pray at the mosque. I find that breaking your fast with other Muslims allows you to replicate the feeling of a temporary home away from home.

Take the opportunity to experience the sweetness of Ramadan in a foreign land with the Muslim community rather than explore and pack your schedule like a normal tourist visit.

Interested to read more about Ramadan in other countries? Check out our Ramadan Around The World Section!