Some of my favourite parts of the month include celebrating with friends and family, but that’s not something I can do this year
For many Muslims, Ramadan is the most wonderful time of the year. Think Christmas, but as a one-month countdown to an even more festive day known as Eid.
Muslims around the world look forward to Ramadan every year, as the month is a jovial time for family and friends to come together, gather, break their fasts, reflect and grow within their faith and among the community. But as COVID-19 continues to spread and government and health officials stress that the public continue staying home to flatten the curve, it’s becoming obvious that I can’t put off my worries much longer.
The pandemic won’t end before Ramadan — projected to begin April 23 — so now I’m forced to think about how I’ll celebrate in isolation. To elaborate, an average Ramadan day typically starts at dawn and ends by sunset. Throughout the day we’ll do our regular activities, whether that’s going to school or work or taking care of any responsibilities.
But before the end of the day, Muslims gather to prepare feasts and break their day of fast together with extended family, hosting friends and occasionally going out for the evening. After tea and socializing, Muslims attend special nightly prayers at a mosque. While overall simple, these little traditions help keep the spirit of the season, setting it apart from the rest of the year. At the end of Ramadan, on Eid, Muslims dress to the nines, and spend the entire day celebrating with family and friends. These festivities usually take place outdoors, such as picnicking or taking road trips for the day.
With social distancing procedures in place, mosques and non-essential services like restaurants for dining in have all closed. In addition, public parks are closed off and there is a limit on the number of people who can attend social gatherings. My favourite parts of the month are stripped away, leaving us to celebrate quietly. I’m privileged to be living at home and to have my immediate family around me, but Muslims living away from home, newly reverted Muslims or frontline workers will be hit the hardest.
The heightened fear surrounding the increasing cases of COVID-19 around the world also put a damper on the overall situation, leaving most people anxious or simply just sad. So the truth is, I don’t know what to expect, or how I’ll celebrate Ramadan joyously, because this pandemic certainly didn’t come with a how-to manual.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in feeling this way, because other religious and cultural communities have been tackling this issue too.
Last month, the Canadian Iranian and Afghan community celebrated Nowruz, the Persian new year, on March 19. While social distancing measures had already begun taking place at that point, an initiative that caught my eye on social media involved hosting speakers, singers, poets and dancers, all to bring together the community virtually.
Additionally, Passover and Easter are also communal holidays recently observed. A USA Today article detailed a step-by-step on how to host a virtual seder, from the kinds of foods to cook to the virtual recitation of texts. The ritual feast is a Jewish tradition for Passover, which was observed from April 6-18 this year.
Most churches have also closed their doors but held Easter services virtually to connect families together with the rest of their community. People also came up with creative ways to hold egg hunts for children by hiding them indoors or spreading them around neighbourhoods — far enough apart so the children could avoid being too close to each other.
Despite these unprecedented times, people are coming up with different ways to connect with one another without sacrificing the traditions they value. It speaks to nothing if not the resilience of the human spirit and our ability to persevere when the going gets tough.
As for me, I’ll miss getting ice cream after late night Ramadan prayers, or making a run right before fasting hours to what used to be the 24-hour Tim Hortons nearby. I’ll miss seeing my friends and having potlucks, and laughing over dessert with my extended family. Mostly, I’ll miss going to my local mosque.
But in just a few short weeks, classes, services, lectures and virtual communities have been founded catered toward bridging the gap caused by COVID-19, thus rapidly accelerating a sense of connectedness and making our communities accessible to everyone. It has shown me the power of remaining present, even at home. It has also made me consider the benefits that come from distancing, like how to turn inwards spiritually or how to help others from afar — after all, solitude and self-isolation aren’t meant to be self-centred.
Serving others, spirituality and a community connection are enhanced by physical presence, but their essence and intention come from the heart. And while I’m still unsure what Ramadan will look like this year, I know that with the right mindset, it can be just as special as previous years. In the words of the great poet Rumi, “Ours is not a caravan of despair.”