For most of my childhood, Ramadan and fasting were just things that other people did. I was vaguely aware of it and tried to be nice to my hungry Muslim friends, but for the most part I never really thought about it.
Then my mum converted to Islam.
This happened back when I was a teenager. At the time, it felt like a big change. Yet at the same time, nothing really changed at all.
Sure, we no longer ate pork, but it’s not like we were having it every day before that anyway. Sometimes my mum would be praying on her prayer mat, but if we needed to talk to her we’d just wait until she was done.
The big thing, however, was that now she would fast during Ramadan. And considering that we live in Malaysia, that’s a pretty big deal.
The Burger King Scandal
If you’re not a local, it can be hard to understand how seriously some people take Ramadan around here. While the vast majority of Malaysians try to be respectful and considerate about each other, during this time of year there are always some people that take things way too far.
In April 2022, a local TikTok user whipped up a storm online after posting CCTV footage from a Burger King showing three Muslim women eating.
“To the three women wearing hijabs that ordered 9pcs of nuggets, cheesy fries and ice lemon tea and dined in, don’t you feel bad for the customers who are still fasting?” said the video’s caption.
And Malaysians Took That Personally
As of the time of writing, the original video has been deleted and the owner’s account was made private.
No matter what their initial intentions might have been, it turned out that a lot of netizens really didn’t like the idea of being potentially recorded and shared online because some random Burger King employee wanted to chase likes on TikTok.
A few days later, the company itself got involved as Burger King Malaysia denounced their employee’s attempt to shame customers.
“It is with much regret that we confirm the post was made by an employee of Burger King Malaysia. However, we do not condone such behaviour and appropriate action will be taken,” they said in a statement.
However, this apology has not stopped the discourse from circulating online. Some social media users pointed out that the women might have a good reason to not fast, while others worried about the idea of being recorded without their consent.
While the majority of netizens agreed that the original poster should have “just minded her own business”, there are some who believe that this whole thing could have been avoided if the three women had just packed up their food and left.
But It’s Not Just Muslims Who Need to Worry About Being Named and Shamed During Ramadan
In April 2022, national diver Datuk Pandelela Rinong Pamg took to Facebook to share her own experiences of being mistakenly identified as Muslim. Hailing from Sarawak, Pandelela described the awkward scene while trying to order food at a restaurant in Ipoh.
“First time in my life being asked if I’m a Malay trying to order high tea during fasting month,” she said, drawing comments from fans who were surprised that none of the restaurant’s staff had recognised the Olympic medal winner.
It’s incidents like this that cause me to sigh in relief at the end of every Ramadan season. It’s happened to me too, after all.
As I mentioned earlier, my mother is a converted Muslim who fasts during Ramadan. However, she looks like a very typical Chinese woman, so nobody ever realises unless she tells them.
I, on the other hand, am a Chindian who looks very Malay. Which means that during the Ramadan season, I’m the one who gets odd looks if I decide to eat outside. There were times when I even had to show my IC in order to convince the waiters at a mamak restaurant that it was alright for me to have had my dinner before buka puasa time!
In the vast majority of cases, it’s just a simple misunderstanding that’s easily cleared up. But you never know when some self-righteous busybody might decide to do something crazy like posting a recording of you eating online as an attempt to shame you.
“But why don’t you fast, then?”
“Even if you don’t want to convert, shouldn’t you do it to support your mother?” some might ask.
The problem is that I’ve tried before, and it really didn’t work out. I felt faint. I couldn’t concentrate. I was dizzy, shaking, sweating… there was one point where I actually passed out!
“How does everyone go through this every year?” I thought. “If I miss even one meal I feel like such a mess, but they can go a whole day without eating and feel fine.”
And then I got diagnosed with diabetes and realised that these were all actually symptoms of low blood sugar.
Putting my own embarrassing experiences aside, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, approximately 1 in 5 adult Malaysians are suffering from some level of diabetes.
And diabetes isn’t the only medical condition out there. Even apart from issues such as periods or pregnancy, there are many ill Malaysians — especially over the past few years! — who may not be able to fast even if they wanted to.
In this age of social media, it is important to remember not to make judgements so quickly. It’s not fair that someone who may already be suffering from a medical condition should have to worry about being named and shamed online during the fasting season because of random busybodies.
Let’s All Be A Little More Considerate During the Next Ramadan
I think it’s safe to say that all of us enjoy celebrating Raya. For millions of Malaysians, this year’s Raya holiday has been the first chance to see their extended families in years. Even if you’re not a Muslim yourself, it’s easy to relate to that balik kampung feeling.
But whether you’re currently enjoying a family reunion or simply taking the chance to rest during a public holiday, it’s important to be kind to those around you. After all, isn’t that more in line with the spirit of Raya than being nosy or judgmental?
And now that Ramadan is over, we can all eat again to our heart’s content. To help you choose the perfect meal, be sure to check out: