1. What is Ramadan like in your country?
Ramadan in the Northern Mariana Islands is similar to other countries in the world. To begin, Saipan is the largest island in the NMI and home to about 500 Muslims and their families. The majority religion is Roman Catholicism. Every year we start our Ramadan using the sunnah method of moon sighting to determine the start of Ramadan. We do a local sighting but we align with Australia's Muslim community in regard to sighting the new moon of Ramadan. If Ramadan is confirmed, we pray Taraweeh the night before the first day of fasting. Our taraweeh is 20 raka'at with one witr. The majority of the Muslim community in Saipan and the NMI adheres to the Hanafi Madhab. It is our yearly tradition to complete the Holy Quran in this month, which requires some fast-paced recitation but with proper tajweed.
2. What’s your biggest challenge/struggle during Ramadan and how do you overcome it?
My biggest struggle is being away from my in-laws, especially my wife, who resides in Singapore. Saipan does not have a large Muslim community, so there are rarely any halal eateries available during this month. We eat at home or at any of the three masjids, where suhoor and iftar are served daily, free of charge. Other than that, we
are blessed by Allah in this region of the Pacific Ocean where the days and nights are fairly shorter than a summer day and night in Europe or the Americas. In order to overcome anything requires total submission to Allah's decree and a returning back to Allah with hope and repentance. Allah is the one who puts happiness into our hearts and He gives glad tidings to the patient servants.
3. What are the timings for sahur/iftar like year-round? How does this affect your fast?
Like I mentioned before, we are in a tropical climate where the hours seldom change in summer or winter. Suhoor is done before the time of fajr. I personally use the Athan app to determine all my prayer timings. Iftar is served at the masjid as soon as the athan for Maghrib is called. Attendees eat first then pray Maghrib. I personally break my fast with dates and water, pray Maghrib, then eat my main iftar meal. This is a practice I picked up in New York. Since the days are moderate in length, the fasting is at a medium difficulty Alhamdulillah. It is still crucial to eat and drink well during suhoor because the hot and humid climate can dehydrate you quickly.
4. What are some of the activities the Muslim community in Saipan does during Ramadan?
The community in Saipan hosts daily suhoor
and iftar meals at the masjid for anyone in the community. Taraweeh is prayed every night after isha prayer. Other than that, fasting and praying is what changes in our regular routines.
5. Do non-Muslims understand fasting and how do they react to it? What are your non-Muslim acquaintances' reactions to your fasting?
Saipan and the NMI are still in need of knowledge about Islam. Many people do not know what Ramadan is. I explain it to my family, friends, and even students. I was lecturing in a classroom recently and I saw a poster with an illustration of a masjid and the word "Ramadan" written on it. Perhaps a curious student or a motivated Muslim? People here are very respectful and curious when it comes to Islam in general.
6. What does Ramadan mean to you and how do you take care of yourself during this month?
Ramadan means so much for me and many Muslims can attest to that. Firstly, it is a chance to grow closer to our Creator. We strive to increase our attendance at the masjid, read more and more Quran, implement more practice of the sunnah, and give lots of charity if one is able. It is also a time to spend with family and friends for the sake of Allah and to remember Allah's mercy together.
It is also important for me to make sure that what I eat and drink is
beneficial for my health. Fruits, veggies, and water increase for me during this month. Lastly, take care of how you spend your time. Do not waste time talking too much, going on social media, or doing what you usually do when you are not fasting. Fast from extra things that are halal like talking and watching movies. Silence and reflection purify the heart and take away anxiety and depression.
7. What tips would you give to someone who’s visiting your country during Ramadan?
I would honestly say that we are more of a tourist destination because of our crystal clear waters and beautiful scenery. So when you swim, make sure you don't swallow the water!!!
8. What was the first Ramadan in Saipan like for you + How does it compare to Ramadan in Singapore?
My first Ramadan in Saipan was special because it was my first Ramadan with my beautiful wife. We ate so much that we gained a little weight. Lesson learned folks!
It is not comparable because, in Singapore, the whole country is in the spirit of Ramadan. There is the bazaar and I personally love to hear the Quran recitation at Masjid Al Kaf in Bedok Reservoir. Singapore is an awesome place to spend Ramadan because of that. Saipan is special because it is more relaxed and slow paced. You can fast and work without the daily stress of the big
city. The one true fact is that no matter where you are in the world, Ramadan is always special. May Allah give ease and relief to our brothers and sisters unable to fast due to tyranny. Ameen!