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In a way, it’s a Ramadan like countless others. I am spending most of it in my home country, Singapore, with average daylight times that, over thirty days, vary by only ten minutes. Breastfeeding my two-year-old son has dwindled to a handful of comfort-seeking times a day, so I am able to fast with a body that feels more or less normal again. I am now already used to waking up to eat a simple sahur for just two, a meal of eggs and oatmeal that is nothing like the more complicated meals at my parents’ house.
But I can’t seem to get a state of mind back; the one that wanted to go to terawih prayers at night, something that is now even easier because I live close to three different mosques and a partner who is always willing to care for our son while I go; the one who wanted and did not forget to pray five times a day.
I think that some of it came from living in an Islamophobic country where religion in general and Islam in particular was something shameful to wear. Even though I grew up feeling proud of my cultural and religious upbringing, living in the Netherlands for five years took its toll.
I feared outing myself as a Muslim by hanging a ‘Happy Ramadan’ sign on my window because maybe the people who smashed my Turkish grocer’s window would also come after my house. I hesitated over a cup of tea at my in-law’s house because she said that “fasting is dangerous”. I made and ate daylight dinners for my in-laws because we did not meet more often than once every few months.
It became easier to pretend I had no religion than to deal with the hate speeches disguised as objective truth, information from mainstream media, and watching looks of surprise, then caution wash over someone’s face.
Since moving back to Singapore, I’ve also been surprised to not be assumed to be a Muslim, despite the fact that almost all Malays are Muslims. When I’m out with my son, who is fairer than me, I’m often assumed to be his Indonesian or Filipina domestic worker. A few weeks ago, I spoke to an Indian-Muslim family, who mentioned Ramadan and I never let on that I was also going to fast. It was as if I didn’t even feel safe to be Muslim in the country I grew up and know by heart.
Maybe this Ramadan will change things. Maybe it might take another few years to rid myself of that fear. Whatever it brings, I’m still waiting with hope.