A Very Different Ramadan? Practising Faith during the Coronavirus Crisis
A crisis – with challenges and new openings
The spread of the coronavirus has caused a crisis that poses challenges many of us have never had to deal with before. We are affected by it in different ways, depending on who we are and where we live, but there are very few who do not find dealing with the situation difficult on some level. At the same time, many have also pointed out positives in the crisis, silver linings, which those of us who have the very basics secured (such as health, safety, appropriate accommodation, sufficient food, a stable income), may enjoy. These may include more time with the people we live with, more time to focus on ourselves, a moment of respite for nature, an opportunity for (more) reflection and critical analysis.
Faith at times of crisis
This duality of positives and negatives during a crisis also extends to faith – both in terms of people’s beliefs and how they and their communities practice it. Faith can help dealing with a crisis, it can help encourage reflection, and motivate action for the common good. At the same time, the closure of places of worship and the ban of public gatherings in many parts of the world are also likely to affect believers of most religions in very practical terms. Jewish and Christian believers worldwide have already had to celebrate Pesach and Easter under lockdown. And now Ramadan is around the corner – another major religious occasion observed by millions around the globe.
Observing Ramadan apart from the community
As in most other religions, community plays a rather significant role in the practice of most Muslims, too. Communal iftars (organised by Islamic centres, community organisations or at home with extended family and friends) and late-night tarawih prayers at the mosque are a common part of Ramadan for many believers. Communal meals and spending time with family and friends are aspects of Ramadan that many Muslims valuable – including those who might not otherwise practice their faith. With mosques being closed, lockdowns in place, and social distancing being encouraged, the way many Muslims usually observe Ramadan is inevitably going to change this year.
For many of us, the crisis is the norm
This had led many in the community to stress that this Ramadan – Ramadan under lockdown, with no communal gathering and no access to the mosque – is going to be “very different”. However, this narrative overlooks that Ramadan without communal elements are the norm for many Muslims. For many of us, what is perceived to be a crisis by some is indeed the norm. Converts, single parents, parents who are stuck at home looking after young children (which, for cultural reasons, often affects mothers more than fathers), refugees, international students or professionals with no family in this country, people with illnesses or disabilities that restrict their mobility, Muslims in rural areas or small towns with no mosque or sizable Muslim community, people who don’t welcome in the mosque for a variety of reasons… the list of Muslims who are used to lonely Ramadans away from the community is long.
Creative and innovative faith responses to the crisis
Responses by faith communities to the new situation caused by the threat of Covid-19 have been varied. There are the inconvincible, who defy the rules and risk spreading the virus even more. (Luckily, despite Islamophobic rumours to the contrary, these seem to be in the minority.) There are those who have called for Muslims to use this crisis to reflect on our practice of the faith. And then, there is a clear trend towards moving things online, with people organising virtual iftars and online lessons. To see this innovation and creativity in the community is great, but in a way, it is also a bitter sweet experience… because it took the privileged majority to be affected for change to happen. We did not come up with these solutions when mothers, the disabled, and the unmosqued required them – but when the crisis affected those who have never had to experience how lonely Ramadan can be without any Muslim family, neighbours or friends around.
A myriad of experiences that might benefit you, too
So if you are worried about how to practice your faith this year with no access to the mosque or any face-to-face Islamic events, maybe consider asking your single-parent or refugee Muslim friends how they have been coping in the past – when there were no virtual iftars and limited access to Islamic online events. It is quite likely that they’ll have a myriad of experiences (on how to balance the benefits of isolation with the best a connection to the community can offer) to share that might benefit you, too. And maybe, once the crisis is over for you, you will remember those for whom ‘crisis’ is the norm.