For Muslims, Ramadan is normally a month for reflection, spirituality and giving thanks. During this time, those who are capable fast during daylight hours, congregate for prayers and share meals as a community at local mosques.
However, the threat of the pandemic has interfered with many of these social activities, making for a truly unique experience this time around.
Throughout history’s wars and other catastrophes, Muslims have always gathered to profoundly experience what constitutes as one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. As such, the invisible and daunting enemy of COVID-19 should not hinder our conviction in espousing and spreading the universally human values this experience brings to light.
Ramadan’s focus on spirituality arises in part from the belief that it was during this month that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad received the first divine revelation of the Quran 1400 years ago. Reciting, listening to and studying the holy book is, therefore, a common practice, and one that need not have suffered under the pandemic.
By extension, it should serve as a reminder to devote more time to educating ourselves in general. This is not only to quell the ignorance we all have to some degree, but also to avoid the quarantine by-product of laziness. For students, this could very well mean keeping up with spring and summer classes with the same fortitude with which we’ve already adapted to remote teaching methods.
The trademark practice of abstaining from all food and drink from dawn to dusk, as tedious as it sounds, is an ultimate test of patience, self-discipline and selflessness. Aimed at directing the soul away from worldly activities, it allows us to empathize with the plight of the poor and less fortunate.
As a result, acts of generosity and charity are especially common, with Muslims often paying their Islamically-prescribed zakat — a percentage of one’s income that must be given to the poor — within the month. This is especially in accordance with the belief that good deeds are more handsomely rewarded during this time.
But this is not a time of generosity for only those who practice Islam — with the pandemic, we must all be compassionate and generous with one another. Donating to the foodbank is one way of doing so, as it helps families with young children receive the most basic necessities they need during this difficult time.
Restrictions on social gatherings considerably limit the scope of another key tradition of Ramadan: iftar, or the evening meal to break the day’s fast. Normally, mosques serve as both religious and community centers where iftar is routinely provided for the multiethnic Muslim community either before or after evening prayers. Closures, while limiting iftar to the household, put a renewed emphasis on family.
And as many of us may know all too well, the dinner table is often a ripe setting for conversation ranging from casual pleasantries to the occasional outbursts of familial tension. An iftar at home, then, is a given opportunity for the development of closer family ties and a focus on what brings people together.
Perhaps the most disheartening of restrictions enforced by the pandemic are those on the holiday marking the end of Ramadan: Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Typically lasting for three days, it is a time for gift-giving, celebration, and feasts with friends and family.
While such festivities were necessarily carried out largely at home and online, it is important not to forget the true purposes of Ramadan. Chief among them being individual self-betterment, gratitude and compassion for those in need, they are without doubt all the more apparent in a world brought to its knees by COVID-19.
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor