Opinion

Ramadan 2020: COVID-19 Or Not, Eid Is A Celebration

It'll be hard to be apart when Eid is usually a time for togetherness—but I'm grateful for a faith that adapts and holds steady.

Ask me what time sunset is when it’s not Ramadan and I’ll likely have to pull out my phone. Ask me in the holy month and I’ll answer before you finish the question. Every day during Ramadan, the last few minutes before sunset seem interminably long, as I sit, date in hand, waiting for the clock to release me from my daily fast.

The last days leading up to the celebratory Eid have always seemed especially long. My mom recently said she’s felt that sentiment since her own childhood. “We’d shop for Eid clothes, we’d get excited and ready, and then we’d wait forever,” she remembered. “It felt like Eid would never come.” That’s not to say we want Ramadan to end. As I’ve said, this is a month of heightened blessings. It’s just that Eid is exciting—the feasts, the gifts, the sense of accomplishment.

But this year, there was no slow burn. Ramadan seems to have come and gone within a matter of moments. Usually, the holy month requires simplifying aspects of our lives to ensure there’s more time for introspection, worship and togetherness. This year, although Eid will bring back lunchtime, my schedule will largely remain unaffected. The annual anticipation doesn’t exist as much because our days are uniform and they’ll probably continue to be that way for quite a while—except now I’ll get to snack again.

For the past month, I’ve used this column to reflect on everything from how Ramadan cooking and eating changed during the pandemic, to dealing with anxiety and mental health in a time of heightened spirituality. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is a small moment of national unity: cities across the country relaxing their noise bylaws so that mosques can broadcast the evening call to prayer over outdoor speakers, to mark the end of a day of fasting.

I’ve always found the call to prayer, called adhan in Arabic, moving and poetic. It is a beckoning, a reminder, when the one giving it calls, “Hayya ‘alas-Salah, Hayya ‘alas-Salah, Hayya ‘alal-Falah, Hayya ‘alal-Falah.” Come to prayer, it instructs. Come to prayer. Come to success, come to success.

We grasp at straws these days when it comes to creating a sense of togetherness, and the broadcasted adhans felt meaningful. So when I read about the pushback to this small act of goodwill towards Canadian Muslims—petitions in Mississauga trying to end the broadcasts—for a moment I allowed my heart to falter. I thought of friends and community members who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19, who are observing their first Ramadan ever without them and must do so in a pandemic, without communal support.

I thought of the Muslim women I wrote about last week, sacrificing their own needs to uplift their communities, and Canada at large: some of them are healthcare providers, risking their own health, working extremely long hours, and still fasting. I don’t expect the public calls to prayer will happen again—it’s likely a hallmark of a pandemic Ramadan. Why can’t they let us have this, I thought of those who protested the mosque broadcasts.

But despite the dissent, the caller’s voice still rings in Mississauga and Edmonton and Vancouver as skies descend into darkness. Every day, during Ramadan, the beckoning to success extends far past mosque walls and reaches families across Canada.

In writing this column, I’ve realized how personal of an endeavour this month really is. I think that’s the experience of being Muslim, too. We all assess our spirituality differently. Fasting is easy for some, difficult for others. The things we pray for are varied, the cultures that inform which foods are on our tables at iftar differ from one person to the next. But when that call to prayer is made, and we’re asked to hasten to prayer and success, we answer it together—even if we’re apart.

Even as the end of Ramadan approaches, there are new fears. Some have told me about family disputes over celebrating Eid during COVID-19, and how risky it would be to host or attend a gathering. And of course I’ll miss the sight of dozens of prayer mats rolled over freshly cut grass, people sitting in neat rows under the sun, waiting for Eid prayer. There will be no visiting the homes of friends and family, sampling different cuisines and filling up on pastries before heading back for the much coveted Eid nap. This year will look different and it will be hard to be apart, but as of now, it’s still our duty to observe social distancing.

Those who have accepted that are coming up with innovative ways to stay connected, from mosques distributing sweets and loot bags at drive-thrus, to different households ordering the same meal, then eating together via Zoom. For me, I’ll still wake up for Eid prayer and stream the sermon online, but with a three person congregation. Maybe my siblings will come and eat foods laid out for them in the backyard, we’ll hang at a distance. And then, just as swiftly as it came, it’ll be gone.

I’ll miss the rush of Eid morning, getting up with the birds and scrambling to shower and get ready in fancy clothes laid out the night before. But I remind myself that through everything, the blessings of Ramadan and of Eid itself remain true. I feel immense gratitude for my health, for the capacity to take part in another fast, for a faith that adapts and holds steady even through the most harrowing of circumstances.

And I’m grateful for you, that you took this journey with me. It’s been a great honour to share this experience with you. I sincerely pray this is the last pandemic Ramadan we’ll ever see.

As always, you can share your thoughts with me at letters@chatelaine.com or @radiyahch on Twitter.

Oh, and Eid Mubarak.

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