The mosques are closed. The hotel iftars are cancelled.
Many families won’t gather to break bread, for the first time in their collective memory.
With all of this change, I understand why many feel a sense of trepidation about this Ramadan, which is due to start around April 23 or 24.
If you are, don’t feel guilty: we are approaching the holy month in unprecedented times.
The questions and doubts are pervasive: how can there be a Ramadan without the usual Taraweeh prayers? Will I feel spiritually nourished without my daily visits to the mosque? How will I cope with a lack of food and liquid during the day while being cooped up in my apartment with nothing but my kitchen for company?
Despite all of these genuine concerns, I remain optimistic. More than that, I am positive we could be on the cusp of our greatest Ramadan experience ever.
I know the world is in a terrible place, but stay with me.
Stripped of the fun yet unnecessary luxuries of big iftars, Ramadan shopping deals and countless personal and professional engagements, this year could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to focus on the true meditative essence of Ramadan.
More than that, the holy month, in the time of the coronavirus (or “Coronadan” as I now call it), could be the great spiritual reset many of us have longed for during Ramadan, but have never quite reached.
Connecting instead of networking
Every year, I approach Ramadan with a keen sense of preparation. The goals are both spiritual and social: they range from starting and completing the Holy Quran to reaching out to heal rusty or ruptured bonds with family and friends.
But then life gets in the way. Before I know it, my week is full with back-to-back iftars and suhoors to attend. The daily Quran-reading sessions only happen every two days, then once a week and then I’ve only read a few pages for the month.
Before long, iftars and suhoors lose their lustre. They can begin to feel not like a way to genuinely connect, but instead a chance to network. Contacts instead of insights are shared and I return home mentally drained and physically stuffed.
This year, I won’t have those excuses.
The pandemic wiping my diary clean for the foreseeable future could be the unexpected blessing I need to help me totally focus and achieve the spiritual goals that have long eluded me.
Ramadan in isolation may help me experience some of the true aims of the fast ...
Done correctly, the fast should engender a sense of empathy for those who are struggling. The lack of sustenance, even if it’s for 15 hours or so, helps us think of those who are less fortunate.
For those who usually break the fast with big families, having a quiet iftar at home may provide a glimpse of the experience of those who live alone around the world, including in the UAE, to work and provide for their families abroad.
One should also feel engulfed with a sense of gratitude at the end of a fast; and in these trying times, many of us have a lot to be thankful for. First and foremost there are the medical professionals across the UAE and abroad who are fighting the pandemic.
Then there are also the grocery workers and food delivery drivers who will continue to work tirelessly to ensure our families are fed.
Those of us who have our health, and the time to reflect, should feel more grateful than ever.
And then there is that uneasy chestnut of forgiveness: Ramadan has often provided emotional strength for conflicting parties to heal rifts. But this year, I hope and expect this important gift will be handed out even more generously.
Because, if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to not take anything for granted. Just over a month ago, we were planning our summer holidays to travel and meet family and friends. Now many of us simply don’t know when we will see our loved ones again.
That worry is compounded further as we hear daily stories of people, young and old, passing away from Covid-19.
In such times, holding a grudge seems not only unimportant but also detrimental to our already fractured mental states. Forgive, or at least make peace and move on.
4. And finally, reflection in isolation ...
Reflection in isolation, a practice called “khalwa”, has always been viewed as a key spiritual tonic throughout Islamic history. The Prophet Mohammed and his peers followed this practice throughout their lives to strengthen their faith.
As we are about to enter our own period of khalwa, may this upcoming Ramadan be full of the insights and lessons we all need, so when the day comes that we can all leave our homes, we emerge more graceful, better and kinder human beings.