The holy month of Ramadan will soon be upon us and Muslims around the world are eagerly awaiting its arrival. Fasting from dawn to dusk is part of the requirements for Muslims throughout Ramadan. Ramadan this year will be observed differently due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Nevertheless, Muslims will still perform one of the Pillars of Islam sincerely.
Normally, Ramadan in Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia is a major celebration whereby many religious activities are arranged in mosques and suraus. These include breaking fast and Tarawikh prayers. Not to mention the cornucopia of food and beverages available in bazaars and restaurants that can make one drools. The excitement is also felt by non-Muslims who try to fast and break fast alongside their Muslim friends and family.
But what about Muslims who celebrate Ramadan in non-Muslim-majority countries such as Taiwan? Mrs. Zaharah, a representative of the Chinese Muslim Association of Taiwan (CMA) shared the fasting experience on the island. Mrs. Zaharah is a Taiwanese who converted to Islam seven years ago.
I believe Ramadan preparation is almost the same wherever you are. In Taiwan, usually we will wake up around 3am to 4am to prepare food for sahur. To provide us sufficient energy to go the entire day without food or drink, we choose to eat yogurt, eggs, bread, milk and dates. Some choose to eat heavier food such as noodles or rice with meat.
Activities throughout Ramadan
The activities that the mosque and CMA usually arrange are sahur and iftar gatherings, Tarawikh prayers, as well as religious talks and classes. These activities are not only for Muslims alone. We welcome non-Muslim visitors to join us for them to better understand Islam. There are also talks and dialogues with scholars and representatives from other religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity to discuss Islamic subjects.
Breaking fast together
In Taiwan, there is no big Ramadan bazaar like in Malaysia. Every Friday afternoon, there will be a small bazaar that sells halal food in the mosque. The mosque will also prepare food for iftar throughout Ramadan for everyone without charges. We usually receive about 600 – 900 visitors every night and break fast together. There are also those who prefer to break fast at home or in restaurants with family and friends. Sometimes we invite our non-Muslim friends to join us as well.
If in Malaysia you have bubur lambuk, there is no special cuisine in the month of Ramadan in Taiwan. Nevertheless, our break fast meals are diverse with Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani and Taiwanese cuisine. Dates, a must have sweet every Ramadan, are easily found in hypermarkets, dry fruit shops and Muslim-owned stores.
Challenges and acceptance by the Taiwanese
On average, we will fast for 15 hours a day in Taiwan. Therefore, having to work and fast at the same time is one of the challenges we face.
Since Taiwan has many cultures and religious beliefs, the Taiwanese are open to celebrating together. Alhamdulillah, the acceptance of non-Muslims in Taiwan about Ramadan is very good. Most of them understand that we Muslim fast because of our faith. No one makes complaints. Rather, they are curious how Muslims are able to work and continue their daily routine while fasting. The support from Taiwanese government is also strong. Every year there will be celebrations and events for Eid in different cities. We take the opportunity to celebrate together regardless of race or religion.
Ramadan and COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, mosques in Taiwan are closed and no prayer congregations are being held. If the situation worsens, the CMA and mosques will cancel the mass iftar event and Tarawikh prayers. Of course this saddens us, but Allah-willing we will persevere through this challenge.