It is going to be a very different Ramazan this year due to the Covid-19 global pandemic and the social isolation laws. For 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, the cultural traditions and customs of this religious month of fasting will have to be forsaken for the safety of the global community. As an introvert, I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing inwards, without the burden of social responsibility.
Ramazan in 2020 means no communal gatherings in mosques for “taraweeh” night prayers, no large “iftar” dinners with family and friends at sunset to break the day’s fast,and, sadly, restrictions on celebrating Eid, the biggest social holiday for Muslims signalling the end of Ramazan.
Ramazan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, and involves fasting from food, water and marital relations from dawn to dusk for 29-30 days. Though cultural traditions have depicted Ramazan as a month of “feasting” and socialisation, in reality, the pure religious tenets stress Ramazan as a month of extreme self-discipline and self-mastery, concepts that I constantly strive for.
The current coronavirus rules involve hygiene practices that muslims are encouraged to do in general daily life. Muslims believe that cleanliness is half of faith, and we perform “wudu”, which is a ritual purification that involves handwashing and washing the face, arms and feet five times a day before each obligatory prayer.
Self-discipline when it comes to physical acts of worship is a part of the heritage of Islam. However, the true essence of Ramazan has been diluted, and dare I say, lost, through the generations. The struggle for us today lies in the matters of the heart and the soul, and connecting at a deeper, more authentic level, to our sense of self and to our creator.
How will the coronavirus pandemic change Ramazan for Muslims?
Unfortunately, today Muslims often subjugate themselves and put the needs of others over our own physical, mental and spiritual needs. We frantically prepare large family dinners, and with the lockdown and children at home every day, this struggle can be magnified. It could simply be a matter of perspective, where a shift into a spiritual reflective state – a state of being rather than doing – could help maximise our affinity.
The focus of Ramazan can move away from food preparation and “eating at sunset”, to self-improvement and self-discipline. There can be a tendency to overeat at these large iftars due to the spread of food available. However, now, without the self-induced obligation of hosting or attending iftars, meals can be prepared with a focus on simplicity and aligned with Islamic principles.
Islam teaches that any food consumption should be to the fullness of one third of the stomach, with another third for water, and the last third for air. Muslims are highly discouraged from overeating and from wasting. Furthermore, any food that is consumed must be “halal” and “tayyib”. Tayyib means that the food eaten must be wholesome and good for you. Ramadan is the best time to discipline the self to eat healthy fresh food and in smaller proportions.
Ramazan is also known as the month of the Qur’an, as this is the month in which the Islamic scripture was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. We Muslims place a heavy emphasis on connecting to the Qur’an during this month, through daily recitations and reflections, or attending the mosque for congregational night prayers (taraweeh) where the Imam aims to recite the entire scripture in the prayers over the month so that we can reflect as we listen.
In this time of physical distancing, as Muslims we will be forced to reconnect to our God and the Qur’an on a deeply intimate level. Interestingly enough, this is the authentic practice of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He would isolate himself for days in a cave at the top of a mountain to introspect, reflect, worship and connect with God. During the last 10 days of Ramazan, he was known to self-isolate in a spiritual seclusion practice known as “itikāf”.
I believe the authentic spirit of Ramazan is one of self-discipline, introspection, self-discovery and self-development. Ramazan during the global pandemic may seem disheartening at a superficial level, however I honestly feel that it arrives at an ideal time.
You have the choice to embrace this Ramazan with a focus on deep connection and one-on-one intimacy with God through prayer and reflection. I plan to spend this next month practising self-compassion and self-mastery, and I invite everyone to join me in this journey of holistic growth and connection.
The opinion piece originally appeared in The Guardian