KARACHI - As the clock is ticking toward the start of the holy fasting month, thousands of Pakistani Muslims working abroad, particularly in non-Muslim countries, are packing up to welcome Ramadan at home.
There is no comparison between the way we observe the holy month of fasting here and abroad, Rana Naveed, who works in a garment factor in Manila, The Philippines, told OnIslam.net.
The fervor and the reverence that you feel here (in Pakistan) are simply non-existent there (abroad).
Expatriate Pakistanis working abroad began to return to their home country to spend the holy month of Ramadan, to start next month.
Usually, Pakistani expatriates start returning to their hometowns in the second week of Shaban, the eighth month of Islamic calendar, but many like Rana managed to reach a month before Ramadan.
If I explain in very simple words, I would say, Ramadan is hardly seen and felt in Manila, whereas it is seen and felt everywhere in Pakistan, Rana said.
Everyone around you is eating and drinking. There is no Adhan (call for prayers) or announcement that tells you about Sheri and iftar, he said, referring to early morning fast.
In many cases, you do not have even time to sit and Iftar. You have to break your fast while walking, Rana said.
But here in Pakistan, everything is redesigned in accordance with Ramadan.
That's the difference which propels thousands of Pakistanis like me to spend Ramadan in our homeland, he said.
I and my many other colleagues do not take offs during the whole year so that we can utilize them for Ramadan and `Eid Al-Fitr.
According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, there are 6.7 million Pakistanis working abroad.
Other countries with large concentration of Pakistanis include the United States (0.9 million), Canada (0.3 million), Oman (0.2 million), Kuwait (150,000), Greece (90,000), Germany (78,000), France and Scotland (60,000 each), Denmark (30,000) and Australia (27,000).
Rana enumerates the attractions that compel him to return to his hometown Gojra, 200 km off Lahore in northeastern Punjab province.
I remember my childhood days when I and my cousins would wake up in the wee hours and go to market to get fresh yogurt every day, he recalled.
The entire market remains open from 3 am to the Fajr prayers. People do not buy Sehri groceries during the day but prefer to procure in the late hours to enjoy the fanfare in the market.
Yogurt is considered an essential part of Sehri, particularly in summer in order to counter the thirst in the wake of sizzling heat in most of Pakistan.
In small towns and villages, people generally do not buy packed yogurt. Rather, they prefer to get fresh yogurt, which is available on milk shops.
Grocery stores also remain open till Fajr prayers during Ramadan.
Roza Kushai (ceremony held to celebrate the first fast of a child), iftar dinners with friends, and iftar at mosques are among other events that attract expatriates to spend Ramadan back home.
Rana and his cousins still wake up much before Sehri and go to the market for shopping if he is in Pakistan during Ramadan.
It's been my 13th year in Manila, but attractions like that and others are not available there, he said.
It seems if you are the only one fasting there, said Rana, who is going to observe his 6th Ramadan in his hometown during last 13 years.
For Nafees Jameel, who works in Hayel city of Saudi Arabia, afternoon swimming in his village canal is his main attraction to spend Ramadan in his home country.
Just imagine, the blistering heat wave, you cannot eat or drink anything, and there is pleasantly cold running water under the shadows of trees. Is there anything worthwhile than that? a hilarious Nafees, who hails from a village of the textile city of Faisalabad, told OnIslam.net.
Nafees along with his friends enjoy the afternoon swimming during Ramadan.
Taraweeh (nightly prayers) are yet another attraction, especially for expatriates residing in non-Muslim countries.
We did arrange Taraweeh prayers in Manila three years ago, but hardly half a dozen people could turn up due to long distances and tight schedule, while here in my town, huge gathering at Taraweeh tells you that there is Ramadan.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net