This year, Ramadan is ushered in under extraordinary circumstances never witnessed before: half of humanity is remaining indoors, and places of worship, including mosques, remain closed in much of the world. And yet Ramadan can provide the spiritual support needed as we face the Covid-19 pandemic, reminding us to count our blessings and elevating the virtue of patience. At a time when Muslims cannot gather to pray at their local mosque, or visit the holy sites of Islam, the spirit of Ramadan and worship provides solace during a challenging period.
The challenges of Ramadan this year offer us an opportunity to reflect upon what is truly essential in our lives, and to cherish the things and the people we may have taken for granted prior to the pandemic.
The coming month is also a golden opportunity to remember what Ramadan is really about. It is a time for Muslims to steel themselves, to further their spiritual practice and to learn humility and compassion by putting themselves in the shoes of those who cannot afford to eat three meals per day. It is a time for the wider community to be reminded of the value of these qualities too.
One of the most cherished traditions during the holy month, in which Muslims are called upon to undertake a daily fast, is the ritual of iftar, in which family and friends gather in the evening to break the fast together. It is an occasion in which spirituality intermingles with lighter social moments. During this time, worshipers often read passages from the Quran to deepen their understanding of Islam. Muslims take the time to relax together during suhoor, the final meal before starting the next day’s fast.
New television series are also released every Ramadan throughout the Middle East, with new episodes airing daily after iftar. This year, several of these series – including some of the most iconic – have been postponed.
This Ramadan will be particularly challenging for Muslim essential workers. In recognition of their outstanding efforts, the Emirates Fatwa Council has issued a ruling permitting front-line medical staff to refrain from fasting.
Eating out, watching TV with family and friends, praying together – these communal moments can no longer take place in the same way in the age of physical distancing. But Muslims around the world are finding creative ways to celebrate with loved ones without putting them at risk.
In the UK, for instance, the Ramadan Tent Project is set to host the country’s largest virtual Iftar, uniting millions through Facebook and Zoom, a digital video conferencing application. Others elsewhere can do the same, and spend quality time with friends and family around the world, perhaps watching their favourite series or praying together. Muslims and non-Muslims alike can now visit some of Islam’s holiest sites from the comfort of their homes. The holy Kaaba in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem are both open for virtual tours. This is an unprecedented opportunity for anyone in the world to experience Islamic heritage and to share in the intimacy of Ramadan from their own home.
Among the most important of its traditions, Ramadan is a month of compassion and giving to the poor in their time of need. Measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on the global economy, leaving many people out of work or struggling to make ends meet on reduced salaries. In the spirit of giving, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has announced a 10 million meals campaign, to be launched this Ramadan. He described the move as a “human and societal priority” in a time of crisis. So let us remember those in need this Ramadan, and contribute to alleviating their suffering as much as we can.
While much remains uncertain at this time, what we do know is that reflection, generosity and patience are essential pillars of Ramadan that are much needed at this time.
The National wishes everyone, in the UAE and beyond, a blessed month and Ramadan Mubarak.