23 / 04 / 20
Our Fundraising Officer Rakin Sayed seeks a ray of light during Ramadan in Lockdown
Around the globe, Muslims will be observing the most blessed month in the Islamic calendar. I have seen many Ramadans pass me by and can say with almost full certainty that this one will be like no other. This Ramadan will be under lockdown, in isolation – and very different.
Ramadan is a month where Muslims are commanded in the Qur’an (the Islamic holy scripture) to abstain from food, water, gossiping, sexual relations, angry behaviour, and habits that would be regarded as counterproductive to the spiritual development of the individual and community at large. The fast takes place daily between dawn and sunset.
One question I’m surprised I don’t get asked a lot is what does Ramadan mean? I don’t mean on a philosophical level (don’t worry we will delve into that in a moment!) but what does the actual word mean?
The word Ramadan comes from the three-letter root word R-M-D which denotes a sense of intense burning. Looking at the meaning of the word gives us an insight into what the month is all about – burning. You’re probably thinking ‘you’ve lost me now’ but Ramadan is all about burning away the excesses of the self that do not positively serve our spiritual growth, leaving the pure essence. A sort of spring cleaning of the soul.
Ramadan is a month of mercy, an opportunity for worshippers to strengthen their connection with God. The author A. Helwa puts this beautifully in their book Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the heart of Islam,
“In the month of Ramadan we are called to use the polish of prayer, the chisel of fasting, and the cleanser of charity to break the veils of separation between us and Allah.”
So with this in mind, how do Muslims draw closer to God, their community, their families, the Qur’an during a time of lockdown and pandemic? Traditionally, Ramadan is a communal affair. Fasts are broken together, Mosques are usually packed with worshippers throughout the night, and generations come together to observe this truly remarkable time – it seems this Ramadan will be a new experience for all of us.
Although the word isolation seems so heavy and burdensome to carry in conversation, there are traditionally a lot of positive connotations in Islamic history. For example, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) would often retreat into a state of isolation in a cave – the very state and place he received revelation in. So perhaps I can use this period of isolation to re-centre, prioritise, and align myself to things that matter most to me and I acknowledge that it will look different for each person.
This isolation has also exposed many of us to feelings that we may not have previously had to grapple with – one of which is loneliness. Whilst we are not surrounded by our usual support network and our routines have turned upside down, it can be difficult to adjust and admitting that is ok.
With Ramadan approaching, I think more and more about the many Muslims who have spent years observing the holy month by themselves. Perhaps they have recently converted to Islam and are yet to find a community, perhaps they live in an area with few Muslims and Islamic centres. I imagine Ramadan must be difficult for them and my heart goes out to anyone experiencing loneliness during this beautiful month.
COVID-19 is demonstrating how precious life is, how economies can falter, and routines can be turned upside down instantly. So many have lost their lives and it is impossible to go through this month without considering that. This cannot be like any other Ramadan and as we enter this blessed month, I wonder what the coming weeks will look like.
As always, faith communities have proven resilient in the face of adversity and we’ve seen a great level of creativity and innovation across the globe from sermons and Seders over Skype, Langars during lockdown and Ramadan will be no exception. Across the globe, organisations, communities, and individuals are rallying together (at a socially acceptable distance that is) to connect the Muslim community whether that be live-streaming evening prayers, Iftars (breaking the fast) via Zoom, Islamic lectures and workshops on YouTube – you name it, it’s there!
COVID-19 has certainly brought out the creativity and sincere innovation in faith communities. The plus side is that now I can access Islamic lectures from different countries and time zones as they are all recorded, I can connect with friends who may not live locally, and I can invite people to share a meal with me at the click of a button.
This Ramadan will be under lockdown, it will be in the midst of a pandemic, but it will still be Ramadan.