Opinion

Ramadan 2020: Social Distancing In The Month Of Gathering

This year will be different than any Ramadan I’ve ever experienced before.

Ramadan Mubarak! Today marks the beginning of a month-long spiritual journey for Muslims around the world. While it’s most commonly known as the time that Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, Ramadan is about much more than just fasting. It’s also about learning, charity and most of all, community, all important aspects of my faith that keep me grounded. And so to mark this Ramadan, I’ll be chronicling my experience here every Thursday, until the end of the month.

This year will be different than any Ramadan I’ve ever experienced before. Typically, it’s a month of gathering, and mosques are usually packed with worshippers hoping to make the most of this month of blessings. For me, Ramadan has always meant going to the mosque nightly for special prayers, standing side-by-side with people I rarely see throughout the year. In 2017, I experienced my first Ramadan away from my family while living in Washington, D.C.: the first thing I sought was community and I found it in people’s homes, mosque basements and Muslim-owned restaurants.

But COVID-19 has shifted the way most of the world operates. When Ontario declared its state of emergency, mosques across the province shut their doors indefinitely and events, including Friday sermons, moved online in an effort to uphold social distancing. Because of that, for the first time in modern history (or at least in the 73 years my father has been alive, which is how I gauge how rare something is), Muslims will not get to spend this month together.

Because we only eat two meals a day—one before sunrise to provide sustenance through the day (suhoor) and one at sunset to break our fast (iftar)—a lot of gathering happens around meals. I’ll miss the iftar parties and fresh, free food offered at mosques nationwide. The loss of those meals will be hard on those who rely on them for sustenance: Ramadan is a time for charity, and this year, it highlights where we should focus and expand our efforts. Not sharing prayers or meals with other Muslims will be strange. But social distancing is necessary. It’s our duty to keep safe and to ensure we’re doing our part to keep our global community safe, as well.

And so, we have to adapt. Various mosques across Canada are offering online courses and lecture series. Facebook groups will bring community to people who live alone, so that they can break their fasts with others virtually. This month is one of spiritual fulfillment and growth, and attaining those things can happen anywhere.

Many of us put aside our daily distractions from everyday life in favour of activities that might benefit our souls. Ramadan is the month that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammed, so a popular goal is to read through the entire book. Others opt to learn about Islamic history and spirituality. I plan on taking a break from my intense Grey’s Anatomy marathon in favour of podcasts, video series and books that might help me better understand my faith and get closer to God.

While I’ll certainly miss congregating, a lot of my traditions will continue—I’m lucky to be able to break fast with my family. Growing up, my dad and I would embark on a grocery store adventure to buy a bunch of treats before Ramadan started. Originally, it served as an incentive to fast the whole day. Now it’s a fun, nostalgic practice that brings back the excitement I had for Ramadan as a child. I’ll still break fast with a date and a glass of sharbot—a concoction of water, sugar and lime. And I’ll still do nightly prayers, though this year it’ll be at home.

I know it’s a bizarre time for all of us, but I look forward to sharing this with you. Next week, I’ll be writing about food: my favourite meals during the month, foods that can help us stay energetic and healthy while fasting and possibly lamenting about my new caffeine-free life. I’m interested in what dishes you look forward to breaking fast with—please send me photos and stories at letters@chatelaine.com or @radiyahch on Twitter. I know this quest looks different for everyone, and I’d love to hear about your experiences and traditions, old and new.


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