THE popularity of Malaysia as a higher education destination continues to climb steadily as more than 122,000 international students are residing and pursuing their studies in this country.
Many of them are Muslims who have just recently witnessed the end of the holy month of Ramadan and ushering in Syawal away from their families.
While some of these foreign students are getting used to the new experience, others are first-timers. They shared a glimpse of the international Muslim student community’s Ramadan experience and celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri in the country.
Saima Islam, 20, from Bangladesh, said fasting here was a challenge for her as she was so used to her mother preparing food and waking her and her siblings for sahur (pre-dawn meal).
“Now that I’m all alone here, I have to be responsible to wake up and prepare food on my own. However, my Muslim friends and I tried to make the experience as fun as possible by going out for sahur in the nearby mamak restaurants.
“The food for iftar (breaking of fast) here is also different. Back home, we break our fast with a platter of mostly fried delicacies. But Ramadan here is also exciting and festive with the bazaars and decorations.
“In Bangladesh, it is more relaxed. I get to focus more on my prayers. I do not have much responsibility and do not need to do household work that much. But here, managing studies and household work along with the prayers can become a little difficult.”
For 20-year-old Nurul Amanie El Nahta from Egypt, her first day of Ramadan in Malaysia was tiring because she had back-to-back classes. Back in Dubai, she did not have to attend classes during fasting month.
“I think the best part about fasting in Malaysia would be the time difference between Malaysia and Dubai. It is much earlier here, so I would snap a photo of my food and send it to them. All in good humour, of course.
“My friends and I visited the bazaars that are close to the INTI campus here in Nilai. There were also mosques nearby the campus so it made it easier for us to pray terawikh,” said Nurul Amanie.
Suleman Jamshed Qureshi, 24, from Pakistan, said Ramadan had always been a holiday for him back in his hometown. But here, he had to juggle his time in between fasting and classes. “After sahur and prayers, I usually would take my time to rest and relax my mind before going to classes and break my fast with my friends.”
His fellow countryman Khaldoon Gul, 25, is happy that fasting in Malaysia was fewer hours compared when he was in Pakistan where the Muslims have to fast for almost 16 hours.
“The weather in Pakistan made it difficult for us to fast without drinking water. But thankfully, in Malaysia the weather is not that humid.
“My routine included attending classes, completing my prayers and calling my parents back in Pakistan before breaking fast. I made it a habit to talk to my mother every day, especially during this month.”
Fatima Soualhi, 23, from Algeria, said she has celebrated Hari Raya here a couple of times. She usually celebrates it with her friends at the local mosque.
“Fortunately, my family is here with me in Malaysia so I get to celebrate Hari Raya with them,” said the second-year student in BBA (Business Administration) with Collaboration UH (University of Hertfordshire) at INTI International College Kuala Lumpur.
Fatima misses the traditional food she used to eat back home. However, she loves the rendang with lemang and not forgetting the Raya cookies.
“I try to incorporate some religious acts such as reading the Quran and doing charity throughout the day. I also try to spend time with my friends, apart from studying.”
For young Yemeni Rana Hesham Abdulaziz, 18, growing up in Indonesia makes it easier for her to observe the fasting month in Malaysia due to the many similarities between two countries.
Rana had so far enjoyed Ramadan as she said it gets better each year. “It has been a good experience. We usually gather with our friends to break our fast and eat sahur together. This helps people get closer to each other even more.”
Celebrating Eid here is also a familiar scene for her. “My family and I would come to Malaysia every year from Indonesia to celebrate Eid here. The last time I celebrated Eid in Malaysia was last year. Thankfully, I have never celebrated Eid alone,” said the Sunway College student, who is pursuing a Pre-U Canadian International Matriculation Programme.
Mohummud Riffai Purdasy, 21, from Mauritius, said his mother was his best alarm clock and she cooked delicious food during Ramadan back home. However, in Malaysia everything solely depends on him.
“On a daily basis, I set the alarm pretty early so that I can put food on the table in due time to eat sahur. The past Ramadans were during the semester. After sahur, I usually prepare myself for my morning classes and if I had classes in the afternoon I use this chance to sleep till then.
Saad Saeed, 20, said in Pakistan, the fasting period is much longer due to the time difference. “Normally, after my prayers, I usually try to keep my activities to the minimum so that I don’t get tired easily. The Ramadan bazaars back here in Malaysia were great, so I visited them to buy food to break my fast.”
Saad, who celebrated his first Eid in Malaysia, said being far away from his family during the festive season is something difficult for him to do mentally and emotionally.
“But thanks to other Muslim friends, I eventually got used to the customs, along with the multiracial culture here that makes me feel more like home without missing my family so much.
Saad is pursuing his Degree in Business Administration, at INTI.
Nurul Amanie found out that being away from the family was rather difficult.
“But luckily, my friends back here make me feel welcomed. I also took the opportunity to go to some interesting places in Kuala Lumpur,” said Nurul Amanie, who is pursuing her Bachelor in Physiotherapy (Hons) at INTI International University.
However, welcoming raya on foreign soil is not something new for Saima, who is enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts (Global) at Monash University, as she recalls her misery during her first Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
“The first time, I was disheartened that I was going to celebrate Eid away from home for the first time. I was not expecting anything as I had only arrived in Malaysia a month before Eid.
“But throughout the month, I made a lot of friends and we would go for iftar together.
“On Raya day, it turned out to be way better than I had expected. I went to International Islamic University Malaysia with my friends for the morning prayer followed by a Burmese restaurant for lunch.
“My friends were all international students who were also celebrating Eid away from family. The experience was unique and exciting as the Eid celebrated here was multicultural. In such a way, we bonded and celebrated Eid together like a family,” said Saima.
Suleman said he has been living in Malaysia for quite a while now and have experienced the festivities of Eid over the years. Having said that, his most memorable Raya was when he visited Langkawi.
“It wasn’t as bad as expected. My friends were with me, allowing me to forget that I was away from family
DIFFERENCES IN CELEBRATION
Saima feels that Eid is laidback in Malaysia compared to back home. “It was much louder and hyped up back in my country. We usually wear our traditional salwar kameez or saree on the day, which is special for us as it is something we no longer wear on a daily basis.
“Food is probably the most important part of Eid as we make a huge effort in preparing a grand feast. I also get Eid money from my relatives on the day, which is clearly not the case if I am celebrating Eid here.
“Here, we go out and have fun at malls or other public places but back home the whole day is a course of visiting relatives or them coming over. We get to meet a lot of relatives we haven’t seen in a while due to our busy lives. It can be refreshing to see everyone together and bonding as a family.
“Applying henna on my nails during the eve of Eid is a must whether I am home or here, some traditions just naturally live on. I also attempt to make some dessert on the night before Eid,” said Saima.
“The biggest difference I have seen is the practice of giving ‘duit raya’. Back in Pakistan, the elders usually give you the money in hand, while here in Malaysia they use the little colourful packets. It is really interesting to see,” echoed Saad.
Nurul Amanie said the noticeable difference between celebrating Eid in Malaysia and in Dubai is the fact that the celebration here is much grander. “Most of the malls here will play Raya songs and it adds to the mood. In addition, the bazaars make it extra special. I guess Eid in Malaysia is more lively than in Dubai.”
Suleman said the celebrations are mostly the same apart from the attire and the food. “It took me a while to get myself accustomed to the food. In my country, we usually go out to eat with friends on the day of Eid and our outfit comprises what we call a shalwar and a kameez.”
In Algeria, Fatima said the most obvious similarity is that as Muslims, they go to the mosque early in the morning to perform the Eid prayers no matter which country you are in.
“The difference in celebrating it in Malaysia is the fact that we also celebrate it with friends from other religions or races.”
Rana said: “In Malaysia, I have a lot of people I know, like cousins and friends, more than the people we know in Indonesia, so it is fun to celebrate Eid together with them because it makes me feel less homesick and it gives me the festive atmosphere.
“On the eve of Eid, we usually clean the house and prepare our clothes that we are going to wear the next day. We also plan places to go. Then, on the first day of Syawal, we prepare some sweets and drinks for our guests.”
Mohummud said back home, after Eid prayers, they head out to pay their respects to the deceased. “Thereafter, we meet and wish the people in the vicinity ‘Eid Mubarak’, whereby delicious snacks are shared. Close friends and relatives would drop by our house to share the joyous moment and we all feast together during lunch.
“During the night, we head to our grandmother’s place for dinner, where all the family members are united and we enjoy each other’s company. We always have biryani cooked by my grandmother. There is no particular traditional outfit for the occasion, but the men would normally be wearing kurta.
“Here, my friends and I grabbed lunch and dinner at any of our favourite places and throughout the day we would be hanging out, enjoying each other’s company and having a great time,” he said.
Khaldoon said this is his second time celebrating Eid in Malaysia since he arrived last year. “I was rather sad last year as I missed my family very much.”
Mohummud Riffai, who is undergoing his final year in BSc Actuarial Science at Sunway University, said this is his second Eid here.
“It is different to celebrate such a festive moment away from home, given it is the time to spend with family and relatives. However, I have met such amazing people here, that I consider them my family,” he said.
Being a Hindu didn’t stop Suvashish Chakraborty, 22, from celebrating Eid from a young age. Growing up in a Muslim country, he was surrounded by friends of the faith in his neighbourhood in Bangladesh.
Uniquely, he and his mother would cook them dinner with delicacies like biryani, korma, haleem and kebab, and sweet dishes such as shirini and sheer khurma. This tradition, he said, has been going on for the past six to seven years.
Entering into his second year in Bachelor of Computer Science at Monash University, Suvashish came to Malaysia to pursue his interest and passion for the subject.
“Even since then, I have celebrated Eid in this country with my newfound Muslim friends. The first time was awkward since everything was new to me, but my friends made the experience worthwhile by sharing their culture and celebration.
“We went to a friend’s house bearing gifts consist of dates, fruits, chocolate, and some traditional sweets. Though I missed my family and friends back home, I felt so welcome at the Malaysian home that the feeling has subsided,” said Suvashish.
In his hometown, the traditional attire is Panjabi-payjama for boys while girls wear the saree.
Suvashish said there is not much difference in fasting here and Bangladesh, except for the food served during iftar, which mostly start out with sweets such as jalebi, shondesh, firni, before moving on to spicy food such as, haleem, and chola with a side of mashed potatoes or puffed rice.
“I sometimes fast with my friends, so during that time I follow the Ramadan timing and wake up early in the morning for sahur, fast until dusk and wait for the azan (calling for prayer) to start our iftar.”