There are many sides to Ramadan – it is a spiritual practice, a religious obligation for Muslims and a community effort. It is also a time for family, so when the coronavirus struck in 2020, this important social aspect of the holy month was badly affected.
Letting go of many Ramadan activities was difficult for millions of Muslims around the world. Prayer services were curtailed, Ramadan tents and majlis events disappeared, many mosques lay empty, and iftar and suhoor gatherings faced restrictions.
Fast forward to 2023 and we are in a very different place. This holy month is the first one that can truly be called a post-Covid Ramadan. It is an important moment that calls for some reflection.
In 2020, Ramadan began on April 23. A little under three months before, the UAE authorities revealed that the first case of a new respiratory disease called Covid-19 had been detected in the country. This was the beginning of a chain of events that upended generations of Ramadan tradition.
That year saw nightly stay-at-home orders. Flights ground to a halt. Limits were placed on the number of people who could congregate. Businesses and schools scrambled to adapt as employees and pupils began to stay home, and face masks became ubiquitous.
The UAE moved swiftly and decisively to contain the mysterious new disease. But many of these necessary and life-saving changes had a serious side effect, disrupting the social gatherings and family visits that are an intrinsic part of the holy month.
Ramadan in 2020 was a time before vaccines, and scientists were still trying to understand how this menacing new virus worked. Even mass testing for Covid-19 was in its early stages. It was a tense period for many people, and it wasn’t until May 18, during Ramadan, that a glimmer of hope was seen – it being the first day that the number of recoveries in the UAE surpassed the number of new cases.
However, over the next three years, despite the grief caused by the deaths of many loved ones, the UAE and the world gradually got to grips with the pandemic. This Ramadan is being held with none of the restrictions that overshadowed previous celebrations.
But while people in the UAE and several countries can be thankful that this interregnum is over and that life has returned to normal, for millions of Muslims this Ramadan is taking place amid other challenges. It is just weeks since the cataclysmic earthquakes in Turkey and Syria flattened entire towns and cities. People in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are counting the cost of the tremor that struck on Tuesday evening. And in Somalia, people will observe the holy month amid a catastrophic drought that has claimed about 43,000 lives, according to a new report.
Many religious traditions encourage their believers to practise gratitude – for their health, for family and for friends. This Ramadan, which signals a return to continuity, is the perfect time for all of us to count our blessings.