Having spent two Ramadans in the Netherlands now, I still can’t get used to the lonely and isolating experience of fasting without an extended network of family and friends. But I must count my blessings. I have a wonderful husband who doesn’t think twice about helping to cook sahur and iftar, and I have amazing friends sparsely distributed in several towns around my own. When we manage to get together once in a few months for a meal (and one iftar), it means the world to me.
I still find it difficult to cultivate an atmosphere of spirituality without community support. The only mosque I am comfortable enough with (and whose sermons are given in a language I can understand) is relatively far away, so it takes a lot more effort to go for an iftar or a tarawih prayer and meet other Muslims. With the long hours of fasting, tarawih at midnight is hardly an option for two people who rely on bicycles and public transport.
My biggest challenge this year was overcoming others’ perceptions of me, and my own perceptions of myself. It started with hanging a paper decoration in the window. This is typically Dutch, as they announce the births of their children this way. I cut out letters that spelled out ‘Gelukkig Ramadan’ – the Dutch approximation of ‘Ramadan Mubarak’.