Fasting, held from dawn to dusk during Ramadan month, is one of the five main pillars of Islam. In Muslim societies, this month has always been a time to celebrate family ties and loved ones. For 30 days, Muslims gather at iftar, the fast-breaking meal at sunset, for the ever-enchanting sense of affinity and friendship. This practice is so widespread and well-endorsed by Islam that solitary iftar meals are considered a sad affair.
That brings a much-anticipated question to mind: how can Muslims observe the month of Ramadan in its true essence during times of lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing and a pandemic?
Well, for the white-collar employees, who usually do not or cannot find the time to spare for loved ones due to heavy workloads or daily chores and the busyness of “big city life,” this Ramadan may be an unexpected opportunity.
Embracing the reality
Whining all day about the grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic is helping no one. One can spend their time pondering what-ifs, like what if China had managed to contain the virus in Wuhan, and if onlys, like if only people practiced self-quarantine, social distancing measures and hygiene rules. One can continue to worry about the scores of people that have been infected and died all across the globe. But what help is all this complaining? Complaining may be a human trait, but realism is the way to go. This virus is still at our door and we just have to continue to stay home for a little while longer.
So, with mere days left for Ramadan, what is the most logical thing to do? Stop whining and act, for starters, one can fully accept the upcoming period as it is and cherish the unusual atmosphere it is going to offer. Yes, this year, Muslims around the globe will not be able to attend congregational iftars, practice muqabala (reciting the Quran to each other at mosques) or go out for a cup of coffee after the evening adhan, which marks the time to break the fast. But such times may also provide some surprising opportunities.
Digitizing the traditions
We are some of the luckiest people to ever exist. Why? Because we can order food online, do our shopping online and can even “exist” online with all the social media profiles we have.
So why not observe Ramadan online as well?
Last Ramadan, some of us may have forgotten to call our uncles or aunts. Or perhaps some of us forgot or straight out did not care about inviting parents to an iftar dinner. This Ramadan could become a time to self-reflect and better appreciate loved ones.
Technology’s wonders render what was impossible 30 years ago into a usual occurrence. FaceTime, Skype, Discord, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo and Houseparty will all do the trick, and you will be videoconferencing with family members and friends in no time – but maybe avoid Zoom, currently mired in several webcam hacking scandals. With a simple setup, like a cheap tripod and your phone facing the iftar table, you can dine with your loved ones in real-time.
Preparing a suhoor, the meal before starting the daily fast in the morning, or an iftar meal? Why not go live on Instagram for your family and friends, so that they can draw inspiration from your recipes or even prepare the same delicious specialties you have to offer?
Ramadan is not only about fasting and iftar meals, but it is also a time to repent, rebond with the creator and reflect upon one's deeds.
During daytime in Ramadan, Muslims flock to mosques for muqabala. As we are going through a dangerous pandemic, this practice will not be a good idea this year.
So instead, why not find a muqabala partner – perhaps a sibling or a parent, relatives or friends, and recite the beautiful words of Allah to each other in real-time? A simple app and a phone will be all that is needed.
Perks of living together
Even though Taraweeh prayers will be individual-only for people living alone, families or housemates living under a single roof can perform the prayer together, just like at mosques.
Only two people will be enough for a Taraweeh in the form of salah al-jama’ah (congregational prayer). So, if a Muslim has a housemate or a spouse, they can perform a congregational Taraweeh at home and experience the spirit of unity during the month of Ramadan.
Keeping aware of the coronavirus danger
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, taking precautions will continue to be mandatory for a while longer.
As Prophet Muhammad ﷺ warned 1,400 years ago: “If you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place."
Celebrating, no matter what
Ramadan is the time of year all Muslims look forward to. Faithful around the world have been waiting for those 30 beautiful days to reconnect with Allah. If we look at the current state of the world from a strictly religious perspective: this year, being alive and well during Ramadan in self-quarantine may even be the first and foremost thing to be grateful for.
As Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, once said in his poem, “There is no worthy thing like prosperity among the folk. There is no prosperity like a breath of health in the world.”
Observing Ramadan, this year will evidently require some extra effort. While staying at home, all people need to continue to strictly abide by the rules of hygiene. Instead of going to fancy restaurants for a pricey iftar meal, everyone can create their own feast.
Again from a religious perspective, being thrifty is already one of Islam’s many teachings, so this also may be a chance to reflect upon some possibly extravagant habits. Instead of spending a lot of money on a simple meal, it is possible to realize the wonders of food for a fraction of that sum.
This Ramadan will indeed be a prime chance to self-reflect and celebrate loved ones and friendships. May all Muslims worldwide welcome the next Ramadan with the honor and resolve of having left all their difficulties behind.