On Being the Only Muslim in Town
by Shamsydar Ani May 03, 2017
Little Mosque on the Prairie was one of my favorite TV shows back when I was in university. Set in a little town in Canada, it tells the story of a growing community of Muslims living with the Anglo-Christian majority.
I was always intrigued by the existence of Muslims in areas where there weren't any Islamic governing bodies or authority. Having born a Muslim and lived in a country and region where Islam thrives, it is pretty much easy to take everything for granted.
Halal certifications are aplenty in Singapore, and halal certified or Muslim-owned cafes are sprouting like wild mushrooms. Across the Straits we have Malaysia, where almost everything is halal for Muslim consumption. Needless to say, Singapore and the Southeast Asian region makes being Muslim fairly easy. I never had the chance to live abroad but my wanderlust needs have brought me far and wide across the globe in search of my true existence as a Muslim.
I struggle with my faith sometimes so traveling helps me to strengthen my love for Islam and my Creator. In my few years of traveling, never have I been faced with a huge challenge until quite recently.
Bowl of Salad on my food photography journey
I packed my bags for Daylesford, Victoria in Australia for a food photography workshop with Ewen Bell and Iron Chef Shellie. Truth be told, I did not do a lot of research for this trip. I did not look at the map to figure out where exactly Daylesford is, and neither did I Google "halal restaurants in Daylesford". Shellie did most of the cooking and baking, so I merely wrote in to Ewen saying that I do not mind seafood, but strictly no meat of any kind.
The best thing about Australia to me is the ease of being vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, kosher, halal and whatever-allergies-or-food-preference-you-have. The diversity coming from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds is taken into account to form an accepting and open society. Sure, there will be always a small minority who thinks the whole world is against them and stir up trouble, putting a bad name on the beautiful and kind majority of Australians, but empty vessels make the most noise.
On my way to Daylesford with another participant, Atlanta, we discussed the food scene in Melbourne because after all, Melbourne is the city to be in if you are a foodie, cafe enthusiast, caffeine addict and avid Instagrammer. Basically, hipster was born in Melbourne. It was a very exciting experience for me to hear first-hand stories behind the ever-thriving food industry in Melbourne. Atlanta is a manager of a Middle-Eastern restaurant in the city so she would definitely know a thing or two about running a restaurant.
Upon our arrival in Daylesford, I was greeted with even more food lovers. Olivia is a stay at home mum who makes everything from scratch - even butter; Winston is an avid cook who runs his own blog; Leslie is a grandmom who takes beautiful photos and of course, there's Ewen and Shellie.
I was to spend my weekend with not just foodies - they were food connoisseurs. And there I was, the city girl whose biggest accomplishments when it comes to food is to make her own pasta and lasagna sheets. Needless to say, I was about to get schooled about food and my biggest assignment was to ensure they were halal for my consumption. It was a "rusa masuk kampung" moment whenever I entered a restaurant for dinner as heads turn towards me. I felt a bit like Cinderella because I stood out from the rest with the obvious headscarf covering my hair. I had no clue on what to expect during the first dinner.
We had the Degatanstation menu where food magically appears for 5 or 8 courses. It was my first experience with fine dining and I was superbly excited. Thankfully, Olivia is a vegetarian so I didn't feel like such a party pooper for having a special dietary requirement. I went vegetarian for the entire weekend and truth be told, vegetarian food has never been so delicious. Although there were times the beef or quail or chicken the others had look amazingly delicious, and there I was with puppy eyes wishing I could have some.
On top of making sure there was no meat on my plate, I had to ask about every single thing that was on my plate. I really did not have to worry but I wanted to be sure I knew what I was eating. One of the entrees we were served was a garden of seasonal vegetables and flowers, and it was served with some black little crispy things which I thought was blackened garlic. To my amusement, it was in fact a type of edible soil. It was a literally "makan rumput' (eat grass) moment for me.
While I wished I could have some of the chicken or kangaroo meat that was served, I relish the fact that I was able to experience something out of the ordinary during the workshop. Food is such an integral part of my life, and experiencing food in a way that was beyond amazing is something I am thankful for. I came back from the weekend inspired and ready to try out some flavours and vegetables I never knew would go so well together. I am thankful for living in a city where halal food is readily available, and I can only emphatize with Muslims who live in far-flung places having to always question how halal the food is for their consumption. It is certainly not an easy task, to dictate for yourself and put in real effort as to what is halal and what is not given your living situation but it is also a blessing because it is when you are the only Muslim around do you really test your faith as well as your understanding of the religion your believe in.
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