Mehwesh and Ahsan's Ramadan story

Cultural Heart People of Adelaide

Mehwesh and Ahsan, aged 37 and 43 - from Pakistan

Mehwesh and her partner Ahsan have called Adelaide home for the past three years and enjoy their city-fringe lifestyle. It’s a refreshing change from their last home base of Karachi.

“I have lived in many small cities due to my father’s job before settling in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. Karachi is a cosmopolitan city where the hustle and bustle never stops. We moved to Malaysia in 2009 and then eventually when our immigration application was approved, life brought us to Adelaide in 2017.”

Below, Mehwesh shares a little of her personal experience of Ramadan in the two countries she has lived – and what she looks forward to with the coming Eid-el-Fitr celebration.

What does Ramadan mean to you?
“We start fasting at a very young age and although it sounds very difficult for those who have never done this, for us it is a month we all look forward to. The festivity around this month makes it very appealing when you are young. It is a matter of pride to stay without food and water from sunrise to sunset. But as I have grown, I have started to value the spiritual importance of this month as well and now I aim to maximize the benefits of being in a state of prayer 24/7. I have started to incorporate the core values of fasting, self-control and empathy, in my everyday life even after Ramadan." 

What practices do you undertake through this period?
While the basics remain the same, cultures vary in what is cooked and eaten at pre-dawn and after breaking fast. There are some delicacies that are only cooked in this month. We always break our fast with a date and have something sweet to eat. We watch out for friends and family, making sure that they have woken up at the indicated pre-dawn time. We look out for the underprivileged by providing them food and other basics. Charity and donations increase many folds.”

Mehwesh and ahsan in park

L-R: Mehwesh and her husband Ahsan.

How is Ramadan in Adelaide different to Karachi?
“When I step outside of my house, it feels like any other day in Adelaide. The food shops being open and other people eating during the day used to feel strange in the beginning. We had to learn to cook our Ramadan-specific dishes at home as we could not get them anywhere. It may not be as festive and as grand as back home on a collective level but, it is a personal journey at the end of the day and being away from all the hustle and bustle gives you more time to be reflective. I feel that I do more because of limited socialising.”

“Adelaide has been very accommodating. In my first job where I was the only Muslim in the company, I was allowed to use my break to pray in the meeting room. I have heard similar stories of understanding employers and companies – something that warms my heart. There are many community groups and organisations that do amazing charity work during this month and offer support to those who need help.”

How have you adapted through Ramadan with the COVID-19 restrictions?
“We have missed visiting our friends and sharing our iftar table with loved ones this Ramadan. Congregational prayers could not take place and it felt as if a very important element was missing. Many people organised special prayers at home which motivated others to participate and join in. Eventually families came together to pray where fathers or brothers led the prayers at home. We shared food in limited quantities by sending it to our friends keeping in mind all the safety precautions.”

What are your favourite things to break fast with at the end of each day during Ramadan?
“One thing that is a part of my menu every single day is Fruit Chaat. It is sliced fruits mixed together with a bit of salt and black pepper. Another favourite is our traditional drink Rooh Afza, which is a red-coloured concentrated squash believed to be made of natural ingredients. It is quite refreshing and soothing, especially during Ramadan. Also, these two create a nostalgia that takes you back home.”

Mehwesh briyani

Mehwesh and Ahsan are looking forward to having briyani this Eid.

How will you celebrate Eid al-Fitr?
“Eid al-Fitr is one of the big celebrations in the Islamic calendar. After fasting for a month, we treat ourselves with three days of festivities. Back in Pakistan, in the last days of Ramadan, people start preparing for Eid. Homes are cleaned thoroughly as guests are expected. Most people buy new clothes and girls go for matching accessories, bangles and henna. The shops stay open all night and people go shopping after completing their prayers. It gets crazier in the last days when tailors have to meet deadlines and there are long queues for henna application. Yet, we would not like it any other way.

“I always dress up for Eid whether we are to meet anyone or not. I get my fancy Eid clothes sent from Pakistan by my mother. I make sure that I make our traditional dessert, Sheer Khurma, before my husband leaves for Eid prayers and be ready by the time he returns. We call our families back home and visit friends when possible. Even though it can sometimes be lonely but, when you have fasted for a month, there is a special joy in celebrating Eid that you just can’t miss!

"This year Ahsan, and I have paid our obligatory charity called Fitrah online as we will offer Eid prayers at home instead of at the mosque. We will listen to the sermon that will be streamed live through Islamic Society of South Australia. Since our unit is quite small and we cannot invite our close friends with family over while maintaining the required distance, we plan to spend time together in an outdoor setting. Biryani and Sheer Khurma are on the menu and we are praying to have a good sunny day."