Experiencing Ramadan as a Non-Muslim

Iftar (Photo: Park So-hye)

Interested to experience the Ramadan month that Muslim celebrates this month, I then decided to take my own little adventure.

Although I was born and grew up in Indonesia, world’s largest Muslim country, and as a non-Muslim, but I am pretty familiar with the Muslim’s culture.

I remembered, as a child I used to wake up before dawn to have little chitchat with my boy friends who joined the Muslim man adults to go around the neighborhood to call people to prepare themselves for Sahoor or early breakfast before they start fasting.

It was one of the tradition Muslims in Indonesia do. The other interesting was we like to join our Muslim friends for meals after they break the fasting for that day.

Living now abroad, away from my home country, I met some of Muslim friends in Seoul, Korea. I wondered how would it be for Muslim to go through fasting month in a country where majority’s belief is not Islam.

The experiences then began. I have a Malaysian Muslim best friend here in Seoul. We are going to the same university. I went for a sleep over at her place and joined her to experience her tradition of fasting.

Muslim does fasting from the sunrise to the sunset. They bare the thirst and hunger the whole daylong. It is summer now in Seoul so day is longer then in Indonesia. In Indonesia Muslim do fasting for around 12 hours, but here they fast for 16 and half hours a day. But the period keeps changing everyday following the sun.

I found that my Malaysian friend’s tradition is quite similar with the tradition my Muslim friends did in Indonesia. I guess it is because of the geographical of our country. Indonesia and Malaysia is a close neighbor.

At 7pm, my friend and I started cooking for meals after she breaks her fast. Last time we cooked meat with chili sauce or what she calls it “Sambal” in Malay, means chili. And then we ate together when she was done her fifth prayer. Muslim has five prayer times a day. And in Ramadan month, they have one extra prayer called Taraweeh.

While waiting for the time for Sahoor, we watched a Korean reality show. At 3am then we went to the kitchen and started to cook for Sahoor. This time we cooked fried vermicelli with mushroom, egg, and paprika. Because she lives alone here so she said that she does not want to bother to prepare for a fancy food for Sahoor or Iftar (meals after the fast period done or can be said as dinner).

Indonesian Fried Vermicelli (Photo: inforesep.com)

Fried vermicelli is a common dish in both Malaysia and Indonesia, even though the ingredients are not exactly the same but I could still feel the similarity of our traditions. Fried vermicelli usually consists of vermicelli, meats, cabbage, meatballs, shrimps, eggs, green onions, carrots and red onions.

It was exciting to experience cooking in the middle of the night and had super early breakfast, especially to share the moment with a best friend.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience another tradition of Ramadan month. I went with the editor in chief of The AsiaN, a photojournalist and another intern in The AsiaN to Istanbul cultural Center to attend an Iftar gathering.

When we arrived at 7pm, many people already gathered there. The Istanbul Cultural Center was beautiful. It was not in a big building like some kind of museum in my thought, but was in a place like a house. It felt so homey, with a simple garden in its front yard.

Around 30 people were there, Turkish and also some Korean.

Around the house, there were a lot of photos of people and scenery of Turkey hanging in the walls.

(Photo: Kris Min)

Before the Iftar, the managing director of Istanbul Cultural Center, Huseyin Yigit, gave a presentation of Ramadan or what they call Ramazan in Turkish. He also introduced Turkey and its culture to us with his fluent Korean.

Yigit described Ramadan as a holy month, which for Muslim is a time for a reflection.

“Ramadan means tolerant and understanding. In a Ramadan month you go help the poor and contemplate yourself as a human being and realize your weaknesses.” Yigit said.

People have turkish food for Iftar

Then we had Turkish dishes for Iftar. In the kitchen, some Turkish women cooked and served food for the guests. And the Turkish men and other Korean guesses sat together in a living room, shared talks and enjoyed the company of each other while also enjoying the delicacy of Turkish dishes.

They served us Tas Kebabi with fresh vegetable salad and also soup. The Tas Kebabi was made of lamb, potatoes, tomatoes and Turkish traditional spices.

Turkish ladies prepare Irmik Tatlisi for dessert

For the dessert, we had a traditional Turkish cake called Irmik Tatlisi made of wheat and milk. And it came with Turkish black tea. It was perfect for a dessert.

The dishes were delicious and the Iftar gathering was lovely. But the most important thing I found in this experience is no matter what religion you practice, when you spend time and open your mind to get to know each other, you would find the beauty and peace of living together with people in diversity. And in the end of the day you might realize that this is what makes life so interesting.

Meidyana Rayana Intern Reporter news@theasian.asia

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