Observing Ramadan on Pulau Tengah, Malaysia

Author: Katie Temporal

On the evening of March 22, 2023, the new crescent moon was spotted, and the holy month began.

Over night Tengah Island was transformed into a gathering place during suhur and iftar for those participating in Ramadan. I followed friends to the mainland and joined them in eating their favourite meals before fasting began. We indulged in ayam tom yum, mie goreng, and roti chani. Living in a Muslim dominant community, I had the intention of observing Ramadan from the sideline but quickly found myself intrigued by what became the new everyday norms. I live in close quarters with my coworkers, and I was already waking up to their 5am alarms for suhur, so I decided to join them. Staff across the island encouraged me to fast, but I wanted to do it in a way that appropriated the celebration that has been observed for over 14 centuries. I didn’t want to fast until I understood why they were doing it, and until I had reasons of my own to take part. Many cultures participate in fasting; some for 30 days, some for one, some without food or water and others without meat. My intention this month was to connect to myself on a spiritual yet earthing level while observing the Ramadan and Malaysian traditions surrounding me.

One evening at Long Beach Daniel asked me, “how do you pray, Katie?” and I was shocked at the impact of a simple question. It sent me back in time to memories of Sunday church and Catholicism – a religion I have not belonged to in over a decade. It was then I replied, “I swim”. I have longed for a connection to a higher being and in recent years have found comfort in Buddhism and spirituality. It was from that question, I found my reason, my ‘why’. I began fasting the next day. During Ramadan my coworkers prayed five times a day, and so did I. I prayed the only way I knew how to, through movement. Swimming, dancing, and free flowing are the ways I have grounded myself regardless of where I am. I prayed to the rising and setting sun with salutations and breath of fire, and drenched my body in the forgiving sea. These weeks I’ve given space to move my body throughout the day, sometimes in solitude, sometimes in laughter with friends before sprinting off to iftar. No matter where I am, I seek community, and here it comes in abundance.

I didn’t expect to learn so much from a short period of fasting. The weeks have been and continue to be dedicated to reflection, prayer, and community. Focusing on ways to energize your body and soul without external factors like food and water. I’ve indulged in nothing but the love I have for myself and have used that to fill me. I am ending this short season feeling refreshed. My community taught me to allow space for rest, for love, and forgiveness. My 30 days of observing Ramadan are coming to an end but the appreciation I have learned will continue. I am endlessly grateful for the support I received and for those who helped me find my ‘why’. I hope everyone fasting, regardless of their religion, has found theirs as well.

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