My Ramadhans used to be filled with encouragements to share our values, generosity and kindness with our non-Muslim neighbours and acquaintances, but how is it to practice Ramadhan in a neighbourhood where nearly everyone is Muslim? This is the life I now surprisingly lead on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. It is definitely a far cry from the block of flats where we used to live in South East London!
Approximately 78,000 Muslims live in Trinidad and Tobago. Because of its geographical location, the fasting timetable remains more or less constant throughout the years, generally beginning fasting at 4:30am and ending around 6pm. In Trinidad the fasting day begins in darkness, amid the sound of the night time chorus of crickets, frogs and other insects. Breezes rustle through the nearby palm and coconut trees, while stars twinkle above the vast sugar cane fields.
The night that we stand on our back porch looking for the sliver of moon to commence the sacred month, we can hear the laughter of children and the muffled conversations of our neighbours in the street. If we miss the sighting, we can always check the Islamic Broadcast Network (IBN), a local Muslim TV station. IBN confirms the start of Ramadhan in conjunction with the Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago Moonsighting Committee. Once announced, the brothers on our street, decked out in jubas (gowns) and topee (hats), can be seen heading to the mosque for the first taraweeh.
While the rest of the country sleeps, lights go on and toes touch the bedroom floor to make their way to the kitchen for suhoor. There is not a typical local meal that people have for pre-fasting. Those who like fruits generally opt for local fruits of watermelon or papaya, roti is often preferred and in my household it’s a case of cereals, toast and tea.
Peering through the window at 3:30 am I can see the lights on in the houses of my Muslim neighbours, including Zalina, Nazma, Aisha, Sauda, Saleema, Aneesah and Naila. SubhanAllah! It is indeed a blessing to have many Muslims living on our street, providing comfort, security and warmth as a Muslim community, especially during Ramadhan. Often before dusk, the phone will ring, with a sister saying, “Assalamu ‘alaikum, I am sending something for you, insha Allah.” And soon someone is at our gate with food to enhance the breaking of our fast.
We wait to hear the adhan called from the neighbourhood mosque to break our fast or we can tune into the radio or TV for confirmation. Special Ramadhan radio programmes are hosted in the early morning before dawn and in the evening before sunset, consisting of Islamic information, nasheeds and reminders of the niyyat (intention) to start/end the fast. We also watch live coverage from Makkah.
In Trinidad, we don’t go very far to get to the nearest mosque, ours is within walking distance and three more are a 10-minute drive away. There are about 85 mosques nationwide, most designed with large central domes, tall slender minarets and ornate archways.
The mosques are especially well attended this month, with “Ramadhan mubarak” being heard throughout the neighbourhood. Some mosques spread their iftars on the floor, whereas others provide dining hall settings. The Muslim business community organises the provision of water, drinks or dates. A typical plate that is served includes a date, samosa or potato/chicken pie, seasoned boiled channa and pholourie (pronounced po-lor-ree) which is a savoury fried split pea dough served with a sweet-peppery chutney. Drinks are juice, water and some mosques offer tea, ginger tea or coffee. For those remaining at home, IBN televises a delayed recording from earlier mosque iftars.
Before the end of Ramadhan, the government will announce a public holiday to observe ‘Eid-ul–Fitr. Immediately after the official sighting, the nearby mosque will light up the sky with a half-hour of dazzling fireworks after ‘Isha. “‘Eid mubarak!” we say, as we unite with our Muslim neighbours, family and friends around the world in observing the joyous festival of ‘Eid–ul-Fitr.
Nadia Ali is a freelance writer who was born in the UK and now resides in the Caribbean. She is the author of the U.S. debut picture book “Alhamdulilah! For My Mommy.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.