home artikelen lezingen e-books videoblogs

Ramadan for a Dutch Muslim

By: Nourdeen Wildeman
Date: August 24th 2009
Where: IslamOnline

Traffic jam after another workday! Definitely there is no accident on the road, but this highway is known for its heavy traffic. Driving south from Amsterdam with five miles an hour, I decided to roll down my car window and breathe in some fresh air. Right next to the highway, the farmland starts with a beautifully restored old windmill on my right next to a small pond. Turning the radio on, I just remembered the yearly 2 minutes of fame which the Muslims' month of fasting has with its start on the national news broadcast. At that time, I was not part of the experience, but now it is all different.

Many Happy Returns of Ramadan

I remember that feeling when I was just a little kid preparing for my birthday party; it feels the same waiting for Ramadan. Who believes that it has been one and half year since I did my Shahadah (Testimony of Faith) and became a Muslim. I am so anxious for this year's Ramadan that I cannot sleep at night. For me, every single day of Ramadan is better than any other day. Just imagine having your own birthday thirty days in a row! This yearning however has to be verified with some heavy preparations for the holy month of fasting. Last year, my first Ramadan as a Muslim was an intense experience for me. This year, I want to make use of that experience to have a better performance in sha' Allah.

Preparations for Ramadan

Muslims have been living in my country for quite some time proving that Islam can find its own way in the Netherlands. The Arabic word "Ramadan" can be found in every Dutch dictionary and the month itself with the concept of fasting is known to almost all Dutch people. Even `Eid Al-Fitr has its Dutch equivalent: suikerfeest (which means Sugar party).

Working during Ramadan is not a problem in itself. Everybody at my office knows that I am a Muslim. In most cases, my colleagues try to find a way to make it easier for me during the holy month. Sometimes they forget and offer me a full glass of fresh orange juice or invite me to eat a piece of a pie someone brought because some business deal was signed. Those moments are a bit hard, but it is really not a big problem.

But what I really miss in my country during Ramadan is to be with some other Muslims. However, I have determined that this year's Ramadan, by Allah's will, will be a good opportunity to know my deen (Islamic religion) better, to increase my taqwa (piety), to ask for more knowledge about Islam.

In order to stick to my plan, a very serious step has to be taken. I submitted a vacation leave for four weeks. Thankfully, I got the approval on a three-week vacation; meaning that I have to go to work only for the first week of Ramadan. After that, I would have all time I need for worship during the holy month. My next steps after I have achieved the first one successfully are as follows: I intend to spend most of my time in the Mosque worshipping Allah; I bought some books that I want to read such as Fatawa Islamiyyah (Islamic Verdicts) and Tafseer (exegesis of Qur'an and Sunnah) by Ibn Kathir, and I will also stick to some very helpful elder men and imams so that if I have a question, I can ask them.

Ramadan and the Mosque

Speaking about guidance, I have to mention C.Sabab, a man to whom I owe a lot. He is the treasurer from the local Moroccan mosque community where I live. Before and after my Shahadah, he accompanied me to the mosque, got me in touch with some nice brothers, and gently pointed out my mistakes in Prayer. Today, one of his tasks is preparing the mosque in my area for the month of fasting.

"Ramadan here is much more different than in Morocco. People don't come to the mosque to break the fasting but only do this at their own homes. Even if they would like to break fasting here, we're not equipped to provide for them," Sabab explains. "Right after the meal, everybody does come to the mosque. We use every square to fit all Muslims in it. But the real challenge is to manage the Tarawih Prayer. Because the time for Tarawih Prayer is now later than during the previous years, our regular brother who used to be the imam for those prayers cannot be in charge this year. In order for him to be the imam for Tarawih Prayer, he has to travel back to Amsterdam every night. We are still searching for someone to replace him."

Besides holding the Tarawih prayers, the mosque organizes a number of lectures. "We need to make sure all lectures are in Dutch," brother Sabab firmly states. "Most of our kids understand Dutch better than Arabic and we seriously need to get the message across. Also, we want to make sure our lectures are accessible for non-Muslims as well. Inviting them to our mosque for a lecture in Arabic doesn't work." Hearing those words made me happy because my Arabic is very weak. I know that I should learn Arabic and have the intention to do so, but I cannot guarantee that I would be professional in Arabic this year. One more thing is that if you want to do da`wah (inviting people to Islam), you must use the language of the person you are trying to reach out.

Ramadan Gathers New Converts

Indeed it is a good step to have sermons and religious lessons delivered in the country's mother tongue especially with the rapidly growing number of converts like me. Even if the number of the converts is not publicly noticed to be increasing, new Muslims themselves have decided to form an organization to reflect their strong existence. The National Platform for New Muslims (LPNM), the first Muslim organization in the Netherlands for new converts, has a special program for 2009's Ramadan. "This year, God willing, we organize the "LPNM Ramadan Tour." With a team of native Muslims, we are organizing lectures all over the country. The main focus is to present ourselves to the Muslim community and lay out our perspectives and role in the Netherlands," Mark Reuvers, member of the LPNM, speaking very passionately about the organizations' plans for Ramadan.

"The month of Ramadan offers us great opportunities, because more Muslims frequently come to the mosques more than usual. This means that more people can get to know us. We intend to have short lectures, for instance, on the conversion of the early Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Then we can have an open debate in some important topics such as 'native Muslims should build bridges' or 'would I allow my daughter to marry a convert.' The main aim is to be in dialogue with the Muslim nation we are all a part of." Reuvers is an enthusiastic and ambitious brother that he eagerly asked me: "Can you help us organize the event at your Mosque? Come on, I know you can!"

Yes indeed I can; one more task on my to-do list, happily so!

Funny Standard Comments

Back to the general Dutch attitude toward Ramadan, it seems that the public awareness of such Islamic methodology does not go much further beyond the idea that "Ramadan means no eating, no drinking, and no smoking from sunrise to sunset for Muslims." As a result, there are a few remarks that you will face as a Muslim nearly ten times a day until the end of the month. First, everybody forgets that Ramadan lasts for a full month and after a week or so people start asking you "What, are you still fasting?!"

Second, non-Muslims associate "drinking" with beer or soda and in a very nice way they say "I know you're in Ramadan, no cola for you! Here's a glass of water." The shock on their face when you explain you do not drink anything is priceless.

Third, non-Muslims mostly do not look at fasting as a theological but more as a social activity. People usually say something like: "well, you can have this candy bar now, nobody is watching."

Forth is the question why we, Muslims, do not know when the `Eid starts, explaining that it is determined by a clear eye sight of the moon sounds so strange to most people that they think you are joking.

Last but not least is when non-Muslims know that Islam does not use the sun-based calendar but the moon-based one. They are so glad to unveil to you the fact that in a few years from now Ramadan will be in mid-summer. Yes we know. Yes, these days will be longer. And one more time, yes, fasting will be harder, but I will not fly to the North or South Pole to avoid that problem.

The good thing about all these remarks is that they are all standard. You encounter the same ones over and over again so you can easily memorize the answers. The challenge lies in the fact that most topics are only related to the "how" of fasting, not the "why." So, the goal is to use the opening point that the non-Muslims use for the dialogue and start explaining why we fast, what we believe, and why we even like to fast.

Surely you agree now that Ramadan in a country like the Netherlands where Muslims are the minority is quite an adventure. Personally, I cannot wait to get started. Trading Atheism for Islam was the best choice I have ever made in my life. Last year, I learned a lot, but this year, hopefully, I can repeat the good deeds and work on more by Allah's Will.

Ramadan mubarak to us all!