International students away from home for Aidilfitri

Wednesday May 27th, 2020
By Zulita Mustafa

With 85,000 international students in Malaysia, some of them who are Muslims stayed on in the country as they observed Ramadan and Syawal under the Movement Control Order (MCO).

For Ousmane Sow, 20, Ramadan was special as it allowed quality time with family and friends through prayers, breaking fast, and sahur.

"This year, I have to do them alone," said Ousmane, whose family is back in his home country of Guinea.

Despite being away from his family, Ousmane, an American Degree Transfer Programme student at INTI International University, said he was fortunate that his meals were provided by the university.

"Getting food during Ramadan under the MCO was not difficult because the university prepared free meals for students on campus. And when I felt like a change, there's always an option to order online."

Though being confined in his room on campus can get pretty boring, Ousmane said technology had been instrumental in keeping him caught up with his classes online, as well as with family and friends.

"Online learning is going well and it did not affect my activities during Ramadan. In fact, I had more free time for my Ramadan activities."

Celebrating Ramadan and Syawal in Malaysia for the first time, Mohammed Mahir Daiyan Rahman, 21, could not return to Bangladesh due to the pandemic.

The Taylor's University student said he performed various activities to avoid negative feelings throughout the MCO.

"Being away from my family is heart-wrenching. But with the presence of my Muslim friends at the hostel, we tried to make Ramadan as festive as possible by cooking together," said the International Business and Marketing student.

Since the government extended the MCO, Mahir Daiyan and his friends cooked sweet desserts and distributed them to others in the hostel.

Hassan Mursal Hassan, 25, of Somalia said this year's Ramadan was quite challenging.

"That spirit of togetherness that surrounds Ramadan was missing on the first day," said the Islamic Finance degree student.

To make Ramadan more meaningful, Hassan, who studies at International University of Malaya-Wales (IUMW), said the international students council came up with an "Iftar meet" via Google Meet and a donation programme for asnaf families affected by Covid-19.

"On the first day of Syawal, I stayed home and called as many people I know to wish them," said Hassan, who is also the international students representative in the Student Council.

Dania Jonid Al-Sabbagh, 21, said she did not have to worry about her daily commute to campus during Ramadan.

The third-year Bachelor in Professional Communication student at IUMW said staying at home allowed her to cook together with her three housemates for iftar.

"Even without the Ramadan bazaar this year, our dining table was filled with a variety of food and eating together made it more enjoyable," said Dania, who hails from Damascus.

Dania nonetheless missed going to a street in Syria called "Al-Midan", which is famous for Ramadan and Aidilfitri traditional sweets and decorations.

"Of course, celebrating away from my family seems pretty different. I feel quite alone, especially during the pandemic.

"However, staying in Malaysia for three years has become less and less challenging."

Having adapted to the Malaysian culture, people and lifestyle, Dania considered Malaysia as her second home.

"This year, I celebrated the first day of Syawal at home with my housemates. We baked some sweets and dressed up to help feel the Aidilfitri vibe."

For Emran Huda, 26, celebrating Ramadan away from his close family was not something he looked forward to.

"It was a bittersweet experience for me. As we practised self-isolation in our own space, it was easy to get lonely.

"But in hindsight, the experience enabled us to continue communicating with them virtually and helped me cope with the process better," said the Master's research student in Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM).

As he couldn't return to Bangladesh, Emran could not follow his earlier Aidilfitri plan.

"Prior to the pandemic, I got a few invitations from some of my friends to visit their open houses or join them on their 'balik kampung' journey, which I would love to do.

"But for now, I will just have to follow the government's decision as we are still under the social distancing rules."

Staying in an apartment above a supermarket made it easier for Yasir Ahmad Mahmood, 40, to get his groceries and prepare food at home.

Luckily for him, as he lives with his own family, he could break fast and sahur together.

"We usually make phone calls to our families back in Iraq before the MCO. However, being away from them is quite sad and I pray that the pandemic will end soon so that we can visit them."

Yasir, who is pursuing a doctorate in Quran and Sunnah at USIM, spent most of his time at home during the MCO by teaching Arabic and Quran online.

He also enjoyed cooking for iftar and performing terawih prayers with his three sons.