13 Jun 2016

Ramadan: What young Muslims want you to know

9:13 am on 13 June 2016

"If you ask most people who fast", says Ahmed Bashir, "I think you'd find the most common question is 'Are you not hungry? Are you not thirsty?'"

No caption

Photo: 123rf.com

"The funny thing is, we try not to think about the fact that we hadn't eaten... that question brings food back in our minds and then the real struggle begins," he says.

Right now, about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan. It's the ninth and most sacred month in Islam which began last week with the waxing crescent moonIn New Zealand, Muslims are the most rapidly growing religious group in New Zealand, meaning Ramadan is becoming a significant part of thousands of Kiwis' lives.

The number of Muslims in New Zealand, according to the 2013 census, is 46,149, up nearly 30 percent from 36,072 in the 2006 census. Muslims now constitute about 1.2 percent of the population, the fourth largest religious group.

Most of us will probably know Ramadan as the time our Muslim friends stop eating and drinking during the day but, as these young Muslims tell us, it’s about way more than that. 


Zaahira Bennett, 25


"Ramadan is about appreciating the beauty of Islam. It is the month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him)*, we listen to or read the Quran every night.

It's not just food and drink we abstain from during Ramadan; raising your voice, swearing, smoking, kissing and any other "sensual" activities, gossiping, etc, can actually break your fast.

Ramadan is also a time to think of our loved ones who have passed, and those that are far from us. It's important to break your fast with family and friends.

This month is all about being pure of heart and intention. Fast if you're able to, and if you really and truly want to for the sake of Allah (SWT)** and His rewards. It's an opportunity to open your heart to be more sincere and empathetic to those who have less than you."


Ahmed Bashir, 22

"From a young age, I anticipated Ramadan with great excitement. It was a time where I used to compete with my siblings and cousins on who can fast the most days and who can get the most money at the end of the month.

No caption

Photo: Unknown

But with age, we begin to take on a different perspective. Since my final years in high school when I began to face more challenges, Ramadan always seemed like a perfect time for genuine retrospection and to review what we want from life. It allows me space to place my problems in a greater context.

If you ask most people who fast, I think you would find the most common question is "are you not hungry? Are you not thirsty? I have no idea how I'd be able to do it". The funny thing is, we try not to think about the fact that we hadn't eaten, and that we have seven more hours till we break fast. That question brings food back in our minds and then the real struggle begins.

People are generally really awesome about it and incredibly supportive, to the point that you have to tell them 'Dude, it's actually not that hard'. Then you kind of come off as that person who tries to play down a heroic act. It's great." 


Shasha Ali, 32

No caption

Photo: Unknown

"Ramadan is a month of self-reflection, deepening a spiritual connection with the One we call Allah. Whether it be practicing more patience and humility in your day-to-day routine, or taking on a new book, challenge or new activity, it does put you on a test to strengthen your holistic resilience.

When non-Muslim people ask me it must be hard, and why am I hurting myself through fasting, or "aww it must be difficult and painful", I feel like responding; "Actually, you have no idea what good it is doing to me!"

People who do not understand may not be able to appreciate beyond the physical character of Ramadan and see it is an act of self-deprivation. It doesn't help maybe that I'm also a Muslim vegan, so some people think that I'm self-destructively unhealthy - which is so far-fetched from the truth!

I make vegan food for a living, so food culture and the community experience surrounding food is huge in my life - but I don't see it like am depriving myself during Ramadan or anything. I still cook and serve others, I still develop ideas, meet people and go to my coffee meetings without having to eat or drink. Ramadan teaches me that you can overcome the desire of wanting and when you do, your attentiveness and focus actually feels sharpened!

When you think about how it is a challenge for you to take on positively, that it is part of a holistic body and soul cleansing process and appreciate what the reality of "hunger" is as a daily experience for so many people around the world, it really isn't that hard to commit to the practice.

If there's one thing I would like people to stop asking me is if I am fit to work in my "condition". Fasting is not a disease, it's a choice that I make as a Muslim, and I am fine."

Ashna Siraj, 23

No caption

Photo: Unknown

"Every year I look forward to Ramadan as a means of self-reflection. As a busy student growing up in a western country where Islamic culture and traditions are not commonplace, it is hard to take time to reflect on my identity as a Muslim and set goals for myself in bettering my commitment to Islam.

This month is beneficial to me as it serves as a reminder of the true values of peace, patience and humility that I should strive to obtain. It is like my re-set button guiding me back to my religion and reminding me that I belong, I have my roots and I know where the foundations of my morals lie.

As a young adult, with so many distractions and trends to follow, my identity can get really confusing at times but I am so grateful to have this Holy month as it anchors me in strengthening my faith and closeness to God and it is through my closeness to Him that I gain strength and become a more confident and content person."

*This is a phrase translated from the Arabic 'alayhi as-salām' that is usually added after naming the prophets of Islam. It is considered a sign of respect.

** These letters follow the mention of God (Allah) and stand for the Arabic words Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala, meaning "Glory to Him, the Exalted."