By Siti Zulaikha
NTU is known for its vibrant hall culture and is often described as one’s home away from home. For me, accompanying this new home is a chosen family and environment created from living under the same roof with people from all walks of life. The best way to build a bond with this new family is through shared experiences and cultural immersion.
Over the past year, I was fortunate enough to attend different activities that introduced me to certain customs and practices that exist in other cultures. This is through celebrating Mid-Autumn festival, attending Chinese New Year events in hall, and even learning Mahjong as part of the experience. As the friend belonging to a minority race, I see it as my duty to return this lesson and include my second family in the customs that I have too
What is Ramadhan and Hari Raya Eid al-Fitr?
I am sure many of you have heard of your Muslim friends fasting for a month before being able to feast on good food during Hari Raya. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims observe a fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is considered a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, and acts of charity. It aims to develop self-control, devotion, and empathy for the less fortunate.
During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. Ramadan ends with Hari Raya, also known as Eid al-Fitr or the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. On this day, Muslims gather with family and friends to celebrate, give thanks, and exchange gifts. They also attend special prayer services and often prepare and share traditional foods. It is also a time of forgiveness, unity, and gratitude.
This year, I decided to involve my hall mates by getting them to fast for a week during Ramadhan.
Past Attempts at Fasting and Expectations of this New Challenge
Amongst the pool of people, I convinced to fast for a week were a few who had previously tried and failed. Based on their accounts, what I kept hearing was that “It was too difficult” or that they “Couldn’t make it past Day 2”. Personally, I think they only felt this way because they only attempted to fast for a day and would usually skip breakfast. This time round, I encouraged them to try for a week and document how they felt as they progressed through the first day, mid-week, and final day.
I was thrilled that they were willing to take on this challenge, but most of them were doubtful that they would succeed through the week. However, we were all pleasantly surprised by their progress as the days went by.
How It All Went Down
Credit: Siti Zulaikha
The first day was met with exhaustion to stay the least. If they could describe it with one word, it was “hangry”. Fasting, as I quote from one of my friends, was “a test of one’s willpower”. Hunger pangs were felt throughout the day, leading to a constant feeling of emptiness in the stomach. The fact that they could not eat made them think of food even more, making it challenging to stay focused and concentrate.
One of them said that “It feels like your body is trying to adjust to a new reality. We’re so used to eating throughout the day that we take for granted the impact these meals have on our mood and functionality.” But as the sunset drew near, their excitement to break fast for day one grew.
As breaking fast is conducted at the specific timing where the sun sets, many of them said that time seemed to past especially slowly in the final minutes before they could eat. They even began counting down the seconds left until they could take their first sip of water for the day.
Credit: Siti Zulaikha
Enthusiasm to wake up on Day four was much better than the initial struggle of the first day. Many of them felt like their bodies were finally adapting to the new pattern. They found it fascinating how they were able to adjust to the lack of food through conditioning their minds instead.
While the hunger pangs persisted, they occurred much less frequently. Despite lower energy levels, there was a stronger willingness and sense of resilience to make it through the day. Knowing that they completed the first two days also set out a sense of determination to keep pushing forward.
It’s at this point that many of them reported a “newfound appreciation for the simple things in life”. They found that not fixating on when they can break fast made the process a lot easier. Every small thing that happened became more prominent and they started to pay attention and appreciate the little milestones throughout the day. Being more focused on one’s wellbeing, actions, and self-helped a lot in making the fasting experience more bearable.
Amid this struggle, some noted that they felt a “heightened sense of clarity and focus”, as if the act of fasting is helping to clear their mind and sharpen their mental acuity. One of them even went so far as to describe it as “a fascinating paradox that highlights the complexity of the human experience.”
It was at this point that I saw a turning point in their reactions. It transformed from a series of rants and exhaustion into an understanding of the deeper meaning and spirituality that fasting possessed. I was proud that they were able to feel the intended outcome beyond just depriving themselves of food.
Credit: Siti Zulaikha
Then came the long-awaited Day seven. By the time the final day of fasting came, I was pleasantly surprised by my peers for making it this far despite the lack of confidence at the start. At this point, there was a certain sense of euphoria that emerged from them. From the start of the day all the way to the end, they were energetic and enthused over the thought of concluding their journeys. The sleepiness and lethargy that followed them over the past week were gone, and they were no wonder whining in the way that they did in the first few days.
The journey of fasting transitioned from one that centred around with holding food, to one that focused on building a stronger attachment to their inner selves. By this day, they said they felt more in tune with their bodies. They also realised how over the past few days, the hunger and frustration would dissipate so quickly upon breaking fast, and it felt like a representation of how one’s struggles and pains could be alleviated so quickly.
As NTU Perbayu was having a mass Iftar (break fast) session, some of them got to join in the experience. This enabled the sense of brotherhood and community within my peers as they got to experience the joy of enduring a day of fasting together and eating as part of one big family.
Advanced Hari Raya in NTU
As Hari Raya Aidilfitri fell on a weekend during finals week, celebrations were held in advance where everyone got to show off their traditional costumes. Thanks to the earlier mass dinner, they also got to learn of the different customs and purposes and better understood the Malay and Muslim culture as a whole.
Fasting on a yearly basis has become such a norm for me, so I thought it was quite interesting to see how they progressed as mostly first-time triers. It’s clear that fasting is a challenging but rewarding experience for many people.
While the physical challenges of hunger and lower energy levels cannot be denied, there is also a sense of mental and emotional growth that emerges from this process. There is often a reflection of individuals feeling more in touch with their bodies, and more appreciative of the simple pleasures of life. Moreover, fasting can also serve as a reminder of the privileges we have, and the abundance of food that many of us take for granted.
Ultimately, whether it’s a one-day fast or a week-long journey, the act of fasting can be a transformative experience that highlights the power of the human spirit to overcome challenges and grow stronger in the face of adversity.
In all, I believe my friends had quite an enriching experience, so if you ever have the time, I hope you get to go through this experience with your friends, too. Not only will you understand the practices of others better, you may even come across some spiritual enlightenment along the way.
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