Hong Kong Muslims reflect on a long, hot Ramadan ahead of Eid festival
Faithful didn’t find it hard to go without food, but not drinking all day in the summer heat wasn’t easy. Still, worshippers say they’ll miss the simplicity and spiritual connectedness of the fasting month
When the sun sets in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Ramadan will come to an end for the city’s 250,000 Muslims. Preparations will begin for Eid al-Fitr, the festival that takes place the following day to celebrate the end of the Islamic month of fasting and reflection.
Muslims will clean their homes ahead of Wednesday’s festival, which is a day of feasting. As part of celebrations for Eid, worshippers will also visit relatives, with children eagerly anticipating gifts of money from older relatives, much like lai see is handed out at the Lunar New Year.
Every year Ramadan begins about 11 days earlier than in the previous year, because the Islamic calendar has only 354 days.
With the summer solstice occurring during the Islamic holy month this year, the hours of fasting were long – and it was hot. Daytime temperatures reached a peak of 36 degrees Celsius in June, and going without water all day was particularly challenging.
During Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims abstain from food, drink, stimulants such as nicotine, and sex during the fast between daybreak and nightfall. The act of fasting in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Jenny Nimaga, a Hong Kong resident from Kenya, says she often felt parched in the of heat of Ramadan this year. “I didn’t feel hungry,” says Nimaga, 34, “but I did feel thirsty when I saw people walking past carrying cold drinks.”
Nimaga, a court interpreter, appreciates the fact she spends most of each working day in an air-conditioned environment. It’s harder for those who spend a lot of time under the blazing sun, she adds.
“My job requires a lot walking [to visit people] so I am often outdoors,” says Asma Bibi, 29, a Pakistani who works for the Hong Kong branch of International Social Service. “I definitely got very thirsty.”
Ramadan is a time when peace-loving Muslims are encouraged to seek spiritual guidance and rid themselves of bad habits.
Bibi kept to a simple schedule during Ramadan. While most Hongkongers were still sleeping, she woke up at 3am each day to prepare her pre-dawn meal before commencing the fast. She then went about her daily tasks as she would on any other day, until nightfall, when she enjoyed a much-needed cup of tea before evening prayers.
Although many non-Muslims may think going without food and drink all day is a hardship, Bibi says it was convenient for her.
“I have more time during Ramadan because I don’t have to think about what to have for lunch, or spend time eating out,” she says.
Wednesday’s feasting contrasts with the simple meal eaten by local Muslims when the fast is broken after sunset during Ramadan. Dates and other fruit are staples for Muslims all over the world, but also simple fried foods, which in multicultural Hong Kong vary depending on Muslim families’ country of origin. A staple beverage is rooh afza, a bright-red squash that turns pink when milk is added.
Although Hong Kong is thankfully a peaceful and tolerant society, Ramadan has been marked by a large number of deaths around the world at the hands of Islamic extremists this year.
Rashid Mahmood, joint secretary of the Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran mosque in Kwai Chung, in the city’s New Territories, says: “Minhaj-ul-Quran International sets the record straight for Muslims. It promotes everything that Muslims should stand for, including peace, tolerance, interfaith harmony and education. It also aims to tackle extremism and terrorism, promote women’s rights and empowerment, and engages with young Muslims for religious moderation. It is the best representation of Islam.”
The mosque is part of Minhaj-ul-Quran International – the only Islamic organisation recognised by the United Nations.
Many devout Muslims spent July 2 recuperating after spending the whole night in prayer to mark the holiest time during Ramadan — the “Night of Destiny”. The Koran says worshipping on the Night of Destiny, which usually falls on the 27th night of Ramadan, is more rewarding than worshipping for 1,000 months, as the doors to forgiveness are opened.
“On this night, God’s blessings are abundant,” says Muhammad Naseem, Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran’s chief imam. “It is a very powerful night.”
About 150 people stayed for overnight prayer at the mosque, then had sehri – the pre-dawn meal – together.
“I stayed awake the whole night to pray,” Bibi says. “Muslims should pray more on the 27th night as the Koran was revealed to the Messenger of God on the 27th night of Ramadan.”
Although Wednesday’s Eid-al-Fitr festival is a time for celebration, many Muslims miss Ramadan when it ends.
Despite being outdoors, in the heat and unable to drink water, Bibi says: “I feel sad to see it go, so I wasn’t looking forward to the last day of Ramadan.”
Nimaga believes Ramadan makes Muslims feel happier and more at ease. “We become healthier and we reflect a lot, which makes us feel closer to God,” she says. “I feel sad to see Ramadan ending because after a month of worship and spiritual connectedness, many people go back to their old ways of life.”
The five pillars of Islam
Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
Zakat: giving alms to benefit the poor and the needy
Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
Haj: making a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city of Islam