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Ramadan – Why is so important for Muslims and how I spent it in Sri Lanka by Azhani Lee – Wellington

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Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar & the holiest month. Every year, Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours. This means waking up before dawn to eat, hydrate and pray. Once the sun rises, Muslims abstain from food and drink, including water, until sunset. They repeat the gruelling routine every day for a month. Other acts of worship such as prayer, reading the Quran and charity are also encouraged during the holy month.
Muslims also believe the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam & is meant to bring worshippers closer to God through steady remembrance, reflection, and sacrifice. Daily fasting, combined with five daily prayers and extended evening prayers, challenges worshippers to focus on their actions, deeds, and thoughts, rather than on material desires and instant gratification. Fasting is a requirement in Islam, a reset for the mind, body and soul. Muslims are expected to show self-control and deeper spirituality during Ramadan.
It’s also a month of gratitude. By abstaining from food and water during the day, the faithful are reminded of those less fortunate. Each night during Ramadan, mosques and aid organizations set up tents and tables to serve free evening meals for the poor.
How do we fast?
To prepare for the fast, Muslims wake for a pre-dawn meal called “suhoor”. Growing up in Sri Lanka I remember my Nanay (Grandma) & Mum waking up up around 3.30am to prepare our meal. I would patiently sit on my little ‘Bankuwa’ in the kitchen watching them. Each morning it would be a delicious meal of my Nanay’s special Pittu, beef curry, katta sambol & a hard boiled egg. On the odd day we would have rice & curry.
Muslims traditionally break their fast like the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago, with a sip of water and some dates at sunset. After sunset prayers, a large feast known as “iftar” is shared with family and friends. Iftar is a social event as much as it is a gastronomical adventure.
In our home, we would break fast with a couple of dates, rice kanji lovingly prepared by Nanay & a glass of faluda. She would prepare a massive pot which she would distribute to family, friends & neighbours. She was well known for her rice kanji.
Dinner was always a table full of delicious Malay food prepared by Nanay. The month of Ramadan was my favourite as every evening would be spent with the cousins coming over to eat, listen to stories of the ‘good old days’ as my Nanay called it and teaching us the ways of giving to the less fortunate.
How do we mark the end of Ramadhan?
The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship as Muslims ask to have their prayers answered during “Laylat al-Qadr” or “the Night of Destiny.” Muslims believe that on this occasion, which is usually observed on the 27th day of Ramadan, God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed the first verses of the Quran. After these intense nights of prayer, the end of Ramadan is met with a holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Children often receive new clothes, gifts and cash.
My day would start with helping Nanay, Mum & Umma (Aunty) in the kitchen preparing the food while my Dad, Kakay (Granddad) & Uncle went to the Mosque. Then a shower and into my nice new clothes that my Mum & Dad got me. Then the waiting for the Men to come back from the Mosque as you always got money from them.
Then the wait for the cousins to arrive, exchange of gifts and the feast to begin. One thing that was always done in our house prior to us eating was that we distributed food to the less fortunate & the sick who were

unable to prepare a meal for themselves, then the neighbours who were patiently waiting for their Biriyani & Wattalappam which was a yearly ritual.

My Nanay, Gnei Rahima Singha Laxana – Hamin but fondly known as Adeline by many was a force to be reckon with.
She was the Matriarch of our family and The Queen of my heart. She taught me everything I know and who I am today. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 101 years on 06th November 2018 leaving behind two of her four Children, five Granddaughters who will carry on her legacy, one Grandson & eight Great Grandchildren.
This was her recipe for her special rice kanji.

For Bawang Goreng (fried Onion to go on top):
4 shallots, finely sliced
2 pinches coarse sea salt
Plenty coconut oil
For the Kanji:
250g of beef, diced into small pieces
200g white rice, washed
2 cups coconut milk
1 Tbsp ghee (optional)
2 Tbsp shallot oil (from making Bawang Goreng)
4 shallots, diced
8 garlic cloves, finely diced
5cm fresh ginger, finely diced
1 pandan leaf (Rampe), tied into a knot and the ends cut off
First, we need to make Bawang Goreng.
Place finely sliced shallots on a plate with kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt in order to make them sweat. Leave for around 30 minutes while you prep the Kanji ingredients and then dab with more kitchen paper to remove excess moisture. 
Fry shallots in enough coconut oil to completely cover the shallots. Stir shallots continuously as to prevent them from burning and fry them until they have turned brown. Strain shallots and leave on kitchen paper to soak up the excess oil. Leave to cool until garnishing time. Do not throw the oil from cooking the shallots as it will be full of flavour and be used in the Kanji.
Fry shallots in a combination of ghee and shallot oil until slightly translucent. Add garlic, ginger & pandan leaf and fry until fragrant.
Add beef to seal the meat and then add rice; combine well and then water. Bring to a boil and then simmer on a low flame for 10 minutes or until the rice has broken down and has become mushy. Season to taste.
Add coconut milk and stir in well and then remove from the heat. At this point you can play with your desired consistency; if you like it less mushy add more water or coconut milk. 
Finally, garnish with parsley & Bawang Goreng.
Azhani Lee
Lower Hutt, Wellington
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