Ramadan is a holy month filled with spiritual cleansing, unity, sharing, and communal gathering. With COVID-19 knocking on our doors, religious communities of all ages and backgrounds are forced to change their approach to practicing faith.
Imams in New York and other U.S. cities now turn to live streams for sermons and Friday prayers and the holy Kaaba in Mecca was empty for the first time in 24 years. How will Muslim communities around the world celebrate Ramadan in 2020?
Ramadan is usually a busy social month for Sally Elbassir, a travel blogger and social media manager who lives with her family in California. Sally’s family host guests for Iftar (breaking fast time) but this year will be different. Sally and her family plan on taking turns to cook a special meal for each other on a weekly basis. “Ramadan will be easier this year because some of us are working from home, we don’t have to worry about commuting through the busy LA traffic.” Although Sally’s trips and business collaborations have been hit negatively she tries to keep a positive mindset. “I tell myself that we aren’t forced to be at home, but we get to be at home for self-development.”
Down in Texas where Mouad Al Krmagi works as a field engineer, business goes on as usual despite COVID-19. However, Ramadan will still be different for Mouad. “I wouldn’t be able to pray Taraweeh (night prayer usually done during Ramadan), which is one of my favorite Ramadan rituals,” he says. Mouad’s job allows him a week off after every two weeks of working in the field. “Since there will be little distraction and less social interaction this year, I plan on using my time off to devote to prayers and reading the Quraan.” He feels reassured that this pandemic will end soon leaving us as better people and nations.
At the heart of the second-most badly affected European country, Noha El Heddad an emergency physician is right in the middle of it all. “I see COVID-19 patients every day, they are coughing in front of me. I am in full contact with the disease.” In the beginning, Noha was terrified for fear of passing the virus to her loved ones at home but reflection and meditation are avenues she seeks to stay sane while facing the unknown.
Noha is a social butterfly and outside work, she runs an organization that empowers women and coordinates travel around Europe. Between the demands of tirelessly treating COVID-19 patients and being socially isolated, Noha’s objective is to keep her mental health in check. She plans to use this Ramadan to do a lot of resting, self-reflection and spending more family time during her days off from work.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an award-winning social advocate, writer, and broadcaster currently based in London. From spending time with family and community to spending it alone during the years she worked on oil and gas rigs, Ramadan has often been varied for Yassmin. Although she is used to change, COVID-19 adds an extra twist. She confesses that being away from family, friends, and community will be the most difficult part of Ramadan this year. “There are probably going to be a lot of Zoom calls, especially at Iftar. I will have to be creative about ways I incorporate faith. Perhaps watching more lectures on YouTube.” Yassmin states, adding she believes she will be able to focus on strengthening her faith this Ramadan.
This year’s Ramadan was going to be special for Hanan Challouki, managing partner of Allyens and co-founder of MVSLIM. As a newly-wed, she was excited for her first Ramadan with her partner. “My husband and I thought that we would be busy visiting each of our families. But after the lockdown, it was like, ‘ok, it’s just gonna be me and you now'.” Hanan believes that Ramadan this year will be a month of spiritual reflection. “There will be no social pressure. I don’t have to dress up 5 times a week for festive Ramadan outfits to go to iftars. I kind of like that,” says Hanan.
She plans on connecting virtually with loved ones through video calls. Despite her positive outlook, she does admit that Eid ul Fitr will be particularly challenging this year but she remains hopeful. “A Belgian mosque raised €38,300 to donate to local hospitals and restaurant owners have been preparing food for the elderly that live alone. These acts of kindness would be what keeps us together during this Ramadan.”
Family and community are the central core of Ramadan for Fatma Makame, a Tanzanian radiologist. “I occasionally pray Taraweeh in the mosque. This is something I will miss. Also this year, we wouldn’t be able to come together as an extended family.” Fatma doesn’t think that Ramadan will be especially difficult due to the role technology plays in her life. “My family and I always stay in touch through phone calls, WhatsApp, and text messages. We also send financial assistance via mobile money. We are still able to do a lot of what we always do.”
“COVID-19 has put a lot of things into perspective,'' says Hakimbo Hakim, a business development manager working from home in Singapore. “You realize how many things we take for granted especially now when visiting family suddenly becomes lethal.'' Praying and breaking fast together with family is one thing he usually enjoys about Ramadan.
This Ramadan will be a lonely one, however, he sees it as an opportunity to self-reflect. The annual donation Hakimbo usually makes during this time of the year will remain the same. “ I’ve already cleaned up my closet in preparation to give away my clothes,” he says. Cooking, housework, and watching Netflix are ways Hakimbo stays sane during this difficult time.