Muslims refer to themselves as one ummah – a community – and Ramadan is usually the ultimate communal fest.
We break fast together, pray together, empathise with one another about our hunger pangs, and then feel guilty about complaining about the lack of food. We do it all, side by side.
But the global coronavirus pandemic means many traditions will be done differently.
Worship will become a private affair, without the large congregations we’re used to.
The Taraweeh prayers and iftars (breaking the fast), which were once enjoyed with all our loved ones, will now take place with only the people we’re in isolation with.
That means families and friends will be separated in a month that is usually made easier with companionship.
But it’s a small sacrifice to make to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure everyone is safe and healthy.
Recently there have been some reports claiming Ramadan could cause a spike in coronavirus due to the communal spirit of the holy month.
Muslims, however, dispute it and have argued that Ramadan makes it uniquely easy to socially distance from one another: fasting through the day means having hardly any energy to socialise. Meanwhile, nights are used to eat and worship.
All places of worship are also closed as per government guidelines.
Muslims will be practicing remotely and privately during Ramadan as we have done during Friday Jummah (congregational) prayers which have been followed at home via online sermons.
Harun Khan, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain tells us that Muslims won’t pose a threat to the pandemic any more than any other group.
He says: ‘Ramadan for British Muslims will look markedly different this year with the current social distancing measures in place, but mosques and Muslim organisations across the UK are working to ensure a remote Ramadan can still be spiritually uplifting.
‘Many mosques and scholars are already doing daily livestreams of prayers and sermons, with many more looking set to follow during Ramadan.
Ramadan in mourning
It’s no secret that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected BAME communities, including many Muslims.
The first four NHS doctors to die of the virus were Muslims and many of the thousands of British nationals who have died are also of the Islamic faith.
That means for the rest of their family, this will be their first Ramadan without those loved ones.
Even for those who haven’t personally lost someone may still be mourning for the lost members of the ummah.
But this Ramadan will be provide extra time to pray for the dead and take worship to a higher level.
Harun adds: ‘Whilst Ramadan is usually spent with friends, families and communities, Muslims this year will be looking at how to make the most of the holy month in their homes.’
Ramadan in isolation
While many Muslims live with family, there are those who are living alone or in a flatshare with non-Muslims.
This Ramadan may be particularly lonesome for them as they can’t break fast with their loved ones. But, imam Noor Hadi says mosques and Islamic leaders are trying their best to alleviate loneliness among their Muslim networks.
He tells us: ‘This year as our mosques will be sadly closed, this means our Imams will take their classes online and will be teaching Muslims of all ages how to pray, read the Holy Quran and also deliver enlightening lectures on a range of topics regularly.
‘We have also set up a way for us to stay connected to the community by uploading videos consisting of daily reminders relating to Ramadan, fasting and its importance, nutritional tips, fitness videos, quizzes and online challenges with the wider community where we can fast with our neighbours who wish to try out of solidarity.
‘We’re also planning on doing a big iftaar online where the community will be opening their fasts together.
‘We are not anxious or worried. We pray and place trust in Allah. We will show resilience. It’s important for imams to lead by example. To give others hope.’
Exercising in Ramdan
While in lockdown, many of us are conscious of how much or little exercise we’re doing now that we’re no longer commuting to work and generally being out and about.
Most of us are either going for a daily walk, frequent runs or doing home workouts.
During Ramadan the response to exercise is hotly varied. Exercising in the day without being able to drink water poses some difficulties. But after iftar, one is often too full to be able to move and risks indigestion.
A lack of exercise, while the body is deprived and running on low energy, can take a mental toll too. It means we’re not getting that kick of endorphins and dopamines that we normally get while eating or exercising.
This year, as Muslims won’t be getting our exercise from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, we’ll have to be extra mindful of how much we eat, what we consume and how often we are moving.
Writer and personal trainer Maryam, 21, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I’m really anxious about trying to fit my workout regime in. I might do it an hour before iftar, so I can eat (and drink) right after.’
But, she adds, there are ways to get in some much-needed movement: ‘The best possible time is in the evening around 7 pm (iftar happens at sunset).
‘You shouldn’t be as tired, you’ll have the incentive of eating right after so more motivated and your metabolism will be pretty high which will help you burn calories and fats.’
Family life in Ramadan
Chores are gendered in any society – women tend to bear the brunt and sadly this is highlighted during Ramadan.
However this year with the mosques closed, meaning men can no longer attend for the long prayer they’re required to, more men will be at home.
That may mean helping their partners with the domestic work load.
It’s something female Muslims seem to be looking forward to.
Working full-time plus coming home to prepare large meals and tidy away has been laborious for the women as the men have previously left the home to attend mosque.
This year, some women are excited by the prospect of joint domestic efforts.
Farhana, who lives at home with her brothers and sister-in-law expects a domestic shift. She is also a key worker so won’t be home unlike the men in the family.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘This Ramadan, I expect a change in terms of them helping out more, as they don’t have the excuse of “I need to sit for a while before I go to Taraweeh” so it will only be helpful if they actually realise this and make the effort to help out.
‘And with me being one of the only two people at home going to work during this lockdown, and with my sister-in-law postpartum, I fully expect them to help out way more!’
Ramadan in poverty
While most of us are lamenting the loss of community during this holy month, for the most vulnerable members of society, particularly in poorer countries, lockdown is a major blow that affects their survival.
The pandemic has been unbearable in countries such as India and Bangladesh where citizens are left on the streets and the slums without food or income.
Low-paid and migrant workers are some of the people who have been hit the hardest. While their respective countries are under lockdown, they have had to queue for hours in unsanitary conditions to get food.
While Ramadan is not mandatory for the poor, often they are spiritual and wish to observe the fasts.
But the pandemic will certainly make it difficult for the poor to fast and have access to food without relying on government help.
And as fasting is dictated meticulously by timing, it would be hard for this group to access food within the appropriate intervals.
Even in the UK, poverty is real, particularly for BAME communities.
Those that are unable to fast may rightly excuse themselves from fasting as food sources are already scarce.
Whatever situation Muslims find themselves in this Ramadan, most will be sure to make the most of their spirituality – it’s not often a global pandemic comes to press pause on every other aspect of life, making it easier to worship.
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