KUALA LUMPUR: Zikir, which occurs before the start of fasting, azan at iftar, and the chatter of neighbours as they proceed to the surau for Tarawih prayers are cherished by Zayn Al-Abideeen Gregory, who was born in the United States.
“Perhaps these are not significant events, but in a non-Muslim country, it is not easy to experience these sounds of the surau,” said the 38-year-old when contacted by Bernama recently on his Ramadan experience in Malaysia. He currently resides in Kuching, Sarawak.
Zayn, who teaches agriculture at a local university in Sarawak, was raised in Detroit, Michigan. He converted to Islam in 1992, at the age of 17. He married a Malaysian citizen in 1997, and the family moved to Sarawak in 2003.
“During the ten years I fasted in Michigan, Ramadan was in the winter, when the days are short and the nights long. Sometimes we would fast for only 11 hours. Now my friends back home are fasting for 17 hours in the heat of summer,” said the father of seven children.
However, Zayn misses the ‘simplicity’ of Ramadan in the United States, where there are no elements of ‘commercialisation’ in the blessed month.
Aidilfitri celebration in the United States though is ‘anti-climactic,’ he said because the American Muslim community is so diverse that a shared or common Muslim way of celebrating Aidilfitri does not exist.
He added that since Muslims in the United States are scattered across the country, it is difficult to visit one another during Aidilfitri. This is not the case in Malaysia, where relatives and friends live in close proximity.
“The neighbourly warmth that I have experienced in Malaysia during Aidilfitri is remarkable,” he said, adding that the tradition of visiting family and friends enhances children’s social skills and etiquette.
According to Sufiana Sarisae, 29, who is from southern Thailand, since Ramadan is a month of blessings, observing the holy month anywhere in the world is the same. However, she noticed that Muslims in Malaysia place emphasis on Tarawih prayers during Ramadan, while Muslims in Narathiwat recite the Quran for long periods of time.
“I enjoy going to the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah mosque in Gombak for Tarawih prayers. People from all over the world gather there for prayers,” said Sufiana Sarisae, who has been residing in Malaysia for the past five years.
When Bernama asked Imene Tabet, a 20-year-old Algerian student, about her views of Ramadan celebration in Malaysia, she replied that the celebration of the holy month in Malaysia is more spiritual .
“During Ramadan, people should examine their thoughts and change their behaviours to become better individuals. When people celebrate Ramadan away from home, they tend to be more focused on prayers,” she said.
Imene has taken a liking to Malaysian food, and her favourite dish for iftar is ‘Nasi Ayam’ (chicken rice). She believes that Nasi Ayam is easy to digest, which is why she consumes the dish before carrying out Tarawih prayers.
She will celebrate the month of Syawal by travelling to other Malaysian states to learn about Malaysian traditions. — Bernama