By Wajahat Ali
April 23, 2020
The Prophet Muhammad once told his followers never to enter or leave a town that has the plague, to avoid spreading the disease.
That advice seems timely for this year’s Ramadan. The annual Islamic holy month is upon us, during which Muslims fast from food, drink (Not even water? No, not even water) and sex from sunrise to sunset. Thanks to social-distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, most of us won’t be leaving our homes, let alone our towns, this month. My family’s Google calendar is completely empty. There are no community iftars, the fast-breaking meals. The local mosques are all shut down.
A man praying in the courtyard of the Eyup Sultan Mosque, in Istanbul, on Wednesday for the upcoming Ramadan.Credit...Eredem Sahin/EPA, via Shutterstock
In the years before this pandemic, despite the hangry, exhausted moments that tend to accompany fasting, Ramadan always left me with a faint smile. I’d relish the memories of the month’s daily rituals and the beautiful chaos of a community in constant motion.
This time, everyday life has been upended, and we will confront a different kind of chaos. How can there be community engagement and worship, which is as central to Ramadan as the fast, during a lockdown and quarantine
During a normal Ramadan, we feast on a delicious spread of food every night, at someone’s home or at the mosque. This gathering is especially important for people without families and those without income, which is unfortunately common right now. Nobody wants our most vulnerable community members to be breaking their fasts alone in their home.
This year, we’ll have to improvise.
Recently, a friend proposed this: Families cook a meal, meet in the parking lot and leave our dishes in our open trunks so that everyone can enjoy a self-serve buffet. My wife, a physician, quickly said this sounded like the perfect recipe to get infected.
Another friend, Brenda Abdellall, tried to refine the idea. She wants to attempt “social-distancing potluck iftars,” where we each cook a meal and leave samples on one another’s doorsteps and the doorsteps of those who might need help providing food for their families. My wife says this sounds reasonable (so long as I’m the one cooking — a skill I’ve finally picked up while stuck in the house).
Mohamed Magid, the imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, a large Virginia mosque, told me he would normally expect 600 people to show up for communal prayers each night during Ramadan. This year, he’ll instead offer nightly Zoom sessions featuring a rotating group of Quran reciters so that everyone can listen from home. A social worker will organize and coordinate grocery deliveries to vulnerable members
It’s challenging to adjust. But he told me that any time he feels like complaining, he thinks of the Rohingya Muslims he visited in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Even in the most dire of conditions, he said, they fasted without complaint.
“God tested the Prophet, peace be upon him, during Ramadan many times,” the imam said. “It’s a month where we learn perseverance and patience. We will make the best out of it.”
I am always inspired by such stories, but I confess I’m also prone to moments of doubt and fear. How do I concentrate on godliness when I’m trying to avoid the virus to protect my immuno-compromised daughter who just survived cancer?
I know I’m not alone in my anxiety, but I also know there are people in much more difficult situations this Ramadan. I especially think of the front-line health care workers, putting in long hours and without adequate supplies, who will be fasting alone while trying to save lives.
Original Headline: We Will Make the Best Out of It’: Ramadan Amid a Pandemic
Source: The New York Times