On the eve of the sighting of the moon to mark Ramadan, I taught my four-year-old son to say “Ramadan Mubarak” which he excitedly wished to friends and family as we shared the warm tidings of the blessed month over phone calls.
Every cheery wish contained an undertone of sadness though, thinking about how this year too will be different.
With only a few days left before Ramadan ends, Coronavirus is alive and kicking. Amid all the depressing news on TV, I decided to reflect on all positives that have come out of lockdown.
I asked friends and family how they adjusted their Ramadan rituals while at home. Here’s what we came up with!
Home: Creating safe prayer spaces
The greatest adjustment that Muslim communities have had to make is with Taraweeh night prayers, which are a fundamental part of Ramadan.
While traditionally Taraweeh is offered as a communal prayer in local mosques, I observed families turning rooms and various corners within their homes into prayer corners.
In this time of fear and uncertainty, it is beautiful to see families coming together and offering prayers in congregation among themselves and involving children in the practice.
Among all the fear of the pandemic, families have been engaging their little ones in decorating their prayer spaces with lights and artwork so that they feel safe and can enjoy Ramadan. Alhamdulillah!
Community: Fewer iftar gatherings, yet more sharing of food
Iftar is not the same in Pakistani households unless it is shared with friends, families, and neighbours, which takes place in the form of large get-togethers.
We love sitting together and enjoying an array of traditional snacks like dahi baray (chaat made with sweetened curd, tangy chutneys, vegetables and chaat masala), pakora and fruit chaat (a variety of fruit cut into small pieces and tossed in tangy juices and light spices).
These tasty dishes are often prepared by hosts and guests together, followed by congregational prayer and of course, they’re common practices every year.
There is sometimes also an extra special gathering with hearty meals on the occasion of a young family member’s “roza khushai” (first fast).
While in-person iftar gatherings have been made impossible due to social distancing guidelines here in Pakistan, communities are upholding tradition by preparing iftar platters and sending them over to loved ones’ homes – just like in the olden days!
Isolation: Offering time for greater self-reflection
Ramadan is a special time for spiritual reflections. For me, it is a time for self-correction in attempts to rekindle my relationship with Allah (SWT) through charity, prayers and du’a.
Families all around the globe come together in his time and finish the Qur’an. A cherished tradition for a number of Muslims is to collectively pool money together and prepare food to feed the lesser privileged families in the entire month.
Physical interactions may not be possible but families are staying connected through digital platforms and attending online Qur’an classes.
Isolation has given individuals an opportunity to fully dedicate their time to worship, without any external worry or distractions.
Eid festivities: Celebrating at home
Perhaps the greatest difference that the Muslim communities will feel once again this year is during the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.
Eid marks the official end to Ramadan and is one of the most cherished celebrations for Muslims all over the world. Here in Pakistan, it’s especially important.
Every year on Eid, my family gathers in our home city Multan, in South Punjab. All my family members travel from different cities just to spend three days with each other and celebrate.
It doesn’t matter to any of us if it’s 45°C outside, we still get together!
The first day of celebrations starts with the men in the family getting dressed in traditional shalwar kameez and attending Eid prayer in the beautiful blue Khudakka Mosque, which is adorned in centuries-old kasha kari (mosaic art).
Meanwhile, the women in the family prepare traditional sweets like Sheer Khurma (a sweet dish made from condensed milk and dates) and vermicelli. They also dress up in their finest clothes and adorn their hands with henna.
Here, the three days of Eid are all about family. Coming from a really big one, my Eid is filled with festivities, food, and exchange of gifts and Eidi (money) for the children.
However, just like last year, this Eid will be spent at home away from loved ones.
So, what hasn’t changed?
Gathering with loved ones and following cherished traditional routines sadly wasn’t possible during Ramadan. However, the spirit of giving is more alive than ever.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the vulnerabilities of people in our communities and across the globe, there is an increased need for charity in this inopportune time.
Alhamdulillah, communities are donating more, sharing more and caring more than ever. What hasn’t changed in this time is the mutual love that Muslim communities share with each other, and the heartfelt passion for giving to people in need during this blessed month.
No matter what the scenario, the call to prayer will be heard several times a day and pious Muslim men and women turn to Allah (SWT) like never before, opening their hearts out in prayer and remembering Him constantly.
As Muslims across the globe continue to experience a different kind of Ramadan, we find ourselves in a situation that may be new to us but the same for so many others.
As we fast and deal with hunger and thirst, we are reminded of the daily suffering of those who are not as fortunate as us.
Spending this Ramadan, and then Eid, in quarantine, self-isolation or lockdown, away from friends and family is also a reminder that this new experience for us may be a constant reality for some.
As we use this time to reflect on our lives, let us also cultivate a healthy dunya (life) for not just ourselves but for everyone.
Wishing everyone a very happy Eid Mubarak!