KUALA LUMPUR: Spending his third Ramadan in Malaysia, schoolteacher and Rohingya refugee Arfat Ganumia is not at all optimistic that the newly democratic Myanmar will be rolling out a welcome mat for the Rohingya anytime soon.
The forecast looks the same for this ethnic minority, even as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) takes the mantle to build a democratic bedrock in formerly authoritarian Myanmar.
However, not all is gloomy.
Arfat, who teaches some 130 children at the Al-Akhlas Rohingya refugee school in Selayang, appreciates Malaysia for its peacefulness, tolerance and generosity, especially during this time of the year.
Back in Myanmar, he said the biggest challenge during Ramadan was for Muslims to perform congregational prayers at the mosque for the five daily prayers andtarawih.
“Sometimes we would get stopped and questioned when we headed to the mosque in a group,” said Arfat, 33, recalling three decades of Ramadan in Myanmar.
There were even times when they were attacked or arrested, he said.
In fact, the Law degree holder added, Rohingya families are happy to be able to celebrate the holy month as Malaysian Muslim families do. They can fast, cook, eat and pray together without worrying about systematic mistreatment due to their identity.
The Myanmar government’s ethnic pigeonholing scheme does not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group, causing them to be stateless.
“Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), I have a good life in Malaysia. I have everything,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
At the Al-Akhlas school, Ramadan is marked by the spirit of charity from both outside and within the community. This is because the Rohingya are not just free to celebrate their Islamic culture here, but their children are also free to learn.
Checks by The Star at the school showed children aged five to 15 studying English, Burmese, Malay and Mathematics.
Ramadan also typically sees more volunteers arriving at the school’s doorsteps bearing food, clothes and books.
In return, Arfat distributes instant noodles and rice to the families of the Al-Akhlas children and the other schoolteachers.
The families would then prepare and distribute halim among the school community. Halim is a dish made of rice and meat diluted in broth, similar to Malaysia’s bubur.
As of April this year, there are 53,410 Rohingya refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia.