Stranded students, Australians seek solace in second ‘iso-Ramadan’

Muslim international students and converts are spending a second Ramadan away from loved ones.


A second Ramadan “in iso” for Muslims. Photo: Hasan Almasi / Unsplash (CC BY-SA)

Indira sits outside a classroom waiting for her very overdue graduation ceremony.

She completed her diploma of Media and Communications at La Trobe College last year just before the world as we knew it came to a standstill.

What was meant to happen last February is taking place in the next few minutes, but with multiple screens open on her laptop, Indira is fervently typing, trying to meet assignment deadlines for the bachelor degree she’s now doing.

She misses her family back home in Indonesia, especially now that it’s Ramadan.

“This is my second Ramadan that I’ll be spending alone because I didn’t get to spend it with my family last year, either – I wouldn’t say that it’s more lonely because last year I was pretty much isolated in my room because of lockdown – that was very hard,” she says.

The holy month of Ramadan is highly anticipated by Muslims around the globe for whom, simply put, it’s like Christmas and Easter rolled into one.

It’s a time when families come together to have their last meal for the day (suhoor) in the wee hours of the morning just before sunrise, and then gather again to break their fast (a meal known as iftar) at sunset.

“It’s going to be hard obviously, not seeing my family back home but I feel this year is going to be easier knowing that I can go to places and see people, so I’m not isolated alone in my room,” Indira says.

After a month of fasting, Eid or Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan which is also known as the ‘festival of breaking fast’.

Households become lively with the hustling and bustling leading up to the big celebration; massive feasts are prepared for up to a month’s worth of anticipated festivities.

This is a time when the entire family comes together to celebrate this much anticipated day but now – after COVID – not everyone is so fortunate, as Tanya, a new convert to Islam, explains.

“The main challenge I face is isolation – outside of Ramadan and during. When I look at the people raised in a Muslim family around me, Ramadan for them is like family time,” she says.

As a convert, where you don’t have any family members who are Muslim, you’re basically on your own.”

Tanya embraced Islam last January. As someone new to the religion, she relishes spending time with fellow Muslims although such opportunities can be few and far between, especially since COVID.

“It’s not that the other Muslims do it on purpose or anything – it’s family time. It can be quite hard, and there’s only so many Iftar’s (breaking of the fast gathering) you can go to every single day,” she says.

“You need more than that, you need to be with someone for that journey.”

Her parents had a hard time accepting Tanya’s decision to convert to Islam.

Taking a job offer in regional Victoria, Tanya moved out last year, which was also when she experienced her first Ramadan during the Victoria-wide lockdown.

“I found that I couldn’t even be honest with them that I was fasting during Ramadan, because this was the period where my parents were really not supportive of that,” she says.

It’s now been a year since the first ‘iso-Ramadan‘.

Tanya’s parents have ‘calmed down a lot more,’ she says.

“They actually came for a weekend during Ramadan to see me. I’m grateful that this year I can at least be honest and tell them that I am fasting,” she says.

Halimah has been Muslim for a large part of her life, including through two unsuccessful marriages.

While she has had her fair share of challenges, she’s found ways to navigate them to make her life as a Muslim a more fulfilling one.

“I’ve experienced racism from people who are from Muslim families and grown up as Muslims and I’ve also experienced racism from Australians thinking that I am not Australian or that I’m a traitor,” she says.

“That’s been pretty huge, being seen as a traitor, seen as someone that can’t be trusted in my own Australian community, and that’s very hurtful,” Halimah said.

When it comes to the month of Fasting, Halimah says she has had both positive as well as negative experiences. While the support has been outpouring from the Muslim community, Halimah feels content spending Ramadan by herself.

“I can’t expect other people to fill my void. Ramadan is about earning rewards on my own merit, not about what other people can do for me. It’s nice to eat with other people but I’m okay to break my fast by myself. I’m fasting for myself and for Allah’s blessings,” she said.

With assessments piling up during the holy month and spending the month alone, Indira finds her eating patterns have been drastically affected.

“Because I’m so drowned in assessments, I tend to forget and skip dinner and just eat at suhoor…just keeping up with eating, especially when you have to cook for yourself, is hard,” she says.

“I usually do meal preps but because of this hectic week, I don’t even have time to.”

Clamping her laptop shut while reminiscing about the Indonesian classic Ramadan dish ‘opor ayam’, Indira gathers her things together.

It’s time for that long-awaited graduation ceremony.