Beyond Hunger And Thirst: Ramadan Reflections From A Chinese-Muslim Revert


Mikhail Goh •  May 18, 2019

Hi, I'm Mikhail and I embraced Islam in March 2016. Alhamdulillah, it's already been 3 years ☺️

Every Ramadan, Muslims around the world go through a period of increased spirituality but with it also comes a new set of challenges and opportunities for us to seek knowledge. For me, these tests of faith are what make us Muslims and here's what I've learnt since my first Ramadan.

What I've learnt as a Muslim revert

You might think that after 3 years, it will get easier but I am faced with new struggles every Ramadan. For the first few years of fasting, I was trying to overcome the physical challenges like hunger, thirst and tiredness. Now, I already know I can get by without water or food (although sleep is still a little challenging ?). But there's still so much more to Islam that I'm learning about.

1. Being mindful

A lot of us tend to overlook this but first and foremost, Ramadan is a time that we need to be very mindful of Allah and to follow the teachings of Islam. As I enter my third year of being a Muslim, I keep asking myself if I'm mindful of how I'm praying. Do I understand why I'm doing this? Am I aware of the significance of the surah I'm reading? Truth be told, it's extremely difficult and it's something I struggle with everyday.

There's one part of prayer that helps me with being mindful - the tashahhud (or attahiyat) - where you sit at the second and fourth rakaah. The words we say in every prayer are actually a direct conversation between Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he ascended to Heaven.

"All greetings, blessings and good acts are from You, my Lord. Greetings to you, O Prophet, and the mercy and blessings of Allah. Peace be unto us, and unto the righteous servants of Allah. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger"

Every second of the tashahhud is significant. It's an intimate meeting between man and God and a declaration of faith from Prophet Muhammad to spread mercy and blessings to the righteous. We say this every day and it's easy to slip into a routine and take it for granted. To be mindful and say this with purpose and meaning is difficult but it's so important.

I used to think fasting was purely physical, but now I know, it goes so far beyond that. It's not about how much you do but how much you perfect being mindful.

[P.S. Need some inspiration for Ramadan? Here are 8 blessings of the holy month you need to know.]

2. Being responsible Muslims

One thing that's different during Ramadan (and Eid) as compared to other months is the abundance of food. Yes, we're blessed to have many bazaars and buffets during Ramadan but this has also taught me to be more mindful of what I eat. Islam teaches us to eat moderately and to not be wasteful. It's an even bigger challenge in Ramadan because we're faced with so much food.

While it is a blessing to savour good food during this festive season, I find myself asking this question - "What is my obligation as a Muslim to this world?" For one, the excessive meat that we might consume during Ramadan or Eid comes from cattle, which is one of the biggest sources of deforestation and methane release. We also tend to waste a lot of plastic when we go to Ramadan bazaars and contribute a lot to food wastage.

Allah entrusts us to be khalifah (steward) of this world. We're given this huge gift of being present in this world and He made it so beautiful for us so it's our duty to protect it. The Quran says,  “…waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters (Al-Quran, 7:31)"

Credit: giphy 

If we're not mindful of what we eat and fail to see what impact it has to the environment, our furry friends up North might really end up not having a place to stay in future ?

Here's a good example of my colleague, Khaliesah, our office's resident "green ambassador". She doesn't use plastic cups, straws and even brings her own container. It might seem like a simple gesture, but if everyone is mindful of the environment and practises this, we can do our part to protect the Earth that Allah has bestowed upon us.

[P.S. If you don't know where to start being mindful of the environment, here are 10 useful tips to avoid being wasteful this Ramadan!]

3. Being more considerate of other Muslims

During Ramadan, there's a heightened sense of spirituality in the Muslim community. Everyone is reading more of the Quran, revisiting lessons from the Prophet (pbuh) and getting close to Allah. But this is also the time where Muslims are the hardest on themselves, especially when it comes to who's fasting or who isn't, who's praying or not and so on and so forth. We tend to turn to judgment which is something we shouldn't do, especially not during the blessed month of Ramadan.

When one can't or doesn't fast, we shouldn't think bad of them or impose on them. A lot of women feel that they cannot eat openly when it's that time of the month for fear of being judged. But this judgment is not necessary and we should be more considerate of other Muslims.

Allah already mentioned in the Quran that some people do not need to fast for obvious reasons:

"Yet if one among you is sick or is on a journey, (such a person shall then fast) the same number of other days (Al-Quran, 2:185)"

So, who are we to judge when only He can judge?

4. Importance of family

A lot of new reverts seem to think that you can only sahur and iftar with other Muslims or alone, and non-Muslims are not in the picture. Coming from a Buddhist family, my father objected to the idea of me reverting to Islam, but Alhamdulillah, now he understands. We have iftar together in Ramadan and during the first day of fasting this year, he bought halal ingredients and prepared a halal meal for us. Though he usually has his dinner at 6pm, he'll wait for us to break fast, and I'm grateful for that ❤️

I've learnt that family is still a very important part of your life, even though you may practise different faiths. As a revert, I've learnt to be proactive - there's a lot of planning to be done and a lot of thinking especially when it comes to having meals together.

If there's a valuable tip that I could give to new reverts, it's to not forget that you have a family, no matter how tough the journey towards Islam might be. Try to find common things or eat in places where everyone can enjoy. Reverts need to do a lot more to make everyone feel comfortable; we need to extend our hand in bridging ties. It has to be a conscious effort on our part.

What I've learnt as a husband

It's the second year that Suzana and I are spending Ramadan in our own home. Having our own home is of course, a milestone for us, but it’s also taught me a lot about independence and responsibility, and that’s especially true during a time like Ramadan.

5. Household chores are everyone's responsibility

With chores like preparing iftar and sahur, coupled with increasing ibadah and daily tasks like work and household commitments, Ramadan is always a month of added responsibilities. But I've learnt that both husband and wife are responsible for household chores. Suzana and I split the chores and we have our own roles and responsibilities at home. For instance, I'd prepare food for iftar while Suzana would take care of the rest.

In a lot of Asian cultures, it's very easy to fall into the idea that the man of the house doesn't have to do anything and women are expected to do everything but this is something that I don't believe in. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself did household chores even though he had other commitments.

When Aisha, the Prophet's wife was asked what the Prophet did in his house, Aisha answered, "He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for prayer, he would go for it." (Bukhari)

In another report, Aisha said, "He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed." (Adab Al-Mufrad graded sahih by Al-Albani)

This is a sunnah that many often neglect. If the Prophet is the perfect example of a man then shouldn't we strive to do our best in being responsible at home too? Taking care of the house is indeed a conscious effort of both the husband and wife.

[P.S. Curious to know what other sunnahs of the Prophet we're encouraged to do? We've rounded up 8 sunnahs that you can practise this Ramadan!]

What I've learnt as HHWT co-founder

Regardless of the time of the year, the HHWT vision will always be to inspire Muslims to travel and by doing so, foster peace between Muslims and non-Muslims. And this is made even more challenging as there is more responsibility to enforce this vision despite it being the fasting month.

This year is another exciting year for HHWT as we are working on several projects. We've been working on our marketplace and getting vendors from all around the world to create unique and customisable tours for Muslim travellers, like you! Our wish is for Muslims to have immersive experiences and explore new places without having to worry about finding halal food. Do keep a lookout for it on our platforms soon ?

We're also working on major projects with brands and organisations such as Singapore Tourism Board, Tourism New Zealand, Hong Kong Tourism Board, Klook, Visa and more. On the tech front, we're rebuilding our app to give our users a better experience and also reviewing our systems, making it a platform where it's easy for anyone to share their travel experiences.

6. Keeping calm in the face of adversity

In HHWT, everything moves quickly and every day is a different challenge. It's easy to get frustrated especially when things don't go my way. At times, they hardly go the way I've envisioned it in my head. Sometimes, things are delivered late or the quality isn't there. A lot of things will trigger me such as people being rude and so on and so forth.

This is when I've learnt to reflect on the fundamentals and trials of being a Muslim and to be mindful that it's a struggle I have to overcome. Like many other Muslims out there, there are many things I'm worried about and those that challenge me. But there's one ayat that I always find comfort in:

"Verily, with every hardship comes ease (Al-Quran, 94:6)"

7. Finding time for ibadah

One thing I love about Ramadan is the opportunity to learn more and seek more knowledge. My goal at the end of every Ramadan is to be more knowledgeable than I was at the start of the month. I've learnt to maximise my time by squeezing in religious sharings on Youtube especially when I'm doing laundry or other housework.

As I'm usually more strapped for time in Ramadan, it's even more important to find a way to include ibadah in my daily routine, and to be conscious of allocating time for learning. It's something I love doing too ?

[P.S. If you need more ideas on how to juggle ibadah with a busy schedule, we've got 6 ways on how to make the most out of Ramadan as a busy Muslim!]

What I've learnt as a cat daddy

This Ramadan is different because we have a cat, Meeko. You might have seen him on our Traveller Thursday segment on Instagram stories ? Believe it or not, he's also been a significant part of our Ramadan this year!

8. Patience

In the first few days of Ramadan, Meeko was awoken when we were having our sahur. He was quite shocked to see that we were awake so early but now he joins us for sahur. He really likes to figure out what we're doing and half the time he'll disturb us when we're eating and smell our food ? Can you imagine how that's like trying to push him away when we're trying to finish up our meal before Subuh?

But if there's one important that Meeko has taught me, it's patience. He's been having stomach problems and diarrhea and we have to have to feed him hypoallergenic food. Not to mention sending him to the vet too. As odd as it might sound, having a cat is like a gateway to having a kid, especially since Meeko isn't very healthy ? It's amazing how when you're committed to something you love, you'll do anything for it. It's definitely not as lonely now that we have a cat; Meeko has brought joy to our lives ❤️

My third year as a Muslim-revert has been meaningful, to say the least. And especially in Ramadan, I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to strengthen my faith, increase my knowledge of Islam and to be more mindful of my actions. As I go through the rest of Ramadan, I hope to continue learning more, InsyaAllah.

Have a blessed Ramadan everyone ? Let us know in the comments how your Ramadan has been so far!