Te Waha Nui report by Bruce Lee
From July 21 to August 18, Muslims round the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. But many New Zealanders are unaware of what Ramadan actually is.
To most Kiwis, Ramadan is simply a month of fasting in which Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to dusk.
The fasting is from sunrise to sunset, and there is more to it than just abstaining from food and drink.
Muslim AUT student Maryam Dadabhai says it is a time of spirituality and purification.
“It is a chance to refocus on God as well as self-sacrifice for the sake of God.
“During Ramadan, it is also compulsory for Muslims to give charity to the poor.”
The Fast-a-thon event that was held on August 9 saw donations and sponsorship proceeds directed to relief efforts for Syrian refugees.
University of Auckland student Tarik al-Diery says students are working together to spread awareness of Ramadan and help people.
“The Auckland University Muslim Association [is] encouraging non-Muslim students to try one day of fasting without food and water.
“And all the sponsor money will go to Syrian refugees and the people inside Syria.
“It’s getting two birds with one stone.”
While the presence of Islam and its traditions are better known now, many Muslims agree that there is not enough knowledge of Islam in New Zealand.
University of Auckland science student Nur’ain Janah criticised a recent New Zealand Herald article that described Ramadan.
“I did feel a little offended by the fairly superficial New Zealand Herald article [describing Ramadan] because I was like, ‘It’s more than that!’ and I wish someone would tell them.”
The feeling that New Zealand does not have enough awareness of Ramadan and Islam is echoed by Dadabhai.
“There is a lot of about Islam in the media, but more often than not, the information is either misdirected or only partially explained.
“The fault is somewhat with the fact that there aren’t liaison personnel within Muslim communities for the media to approach or clarify issues.”
With the September 11 attacks in America more than a decade ago, the Western media has showcased the Middle East and Islam in a way that has upset many Muslims.
Ali Akil, the spokesperson for Syrian Solidarity, says despite the media’s treatment of Islam, there is an increase of converts.
He explains that while there are many who are apathetic or against the religion, some become curious and learn more about Islam.
“Most of these guys actually go on to convert, and this explains the very rapid increase [around the world] in the number of Muslims since 9/11.”
But even so, the level of awareness of Islam in general among New Zealanders is still not enough, he says.
“Some people don’t know Ramadan at all while others don’t know what it really is.
“Some people know that we fast, but that’s about it. Most people don’t know the actual reasons behind it.”
Dadabhai summarises the reasons why Ramadan is special to Muslims: “It is special because all Muslims around the world are celebrating this beautiful, festive month and are all in the exact same boat. It reminds you that [we] are all one.”