Making the Most of Ramadan 2021 in Spite of the Challenges of COVID-19
Every year as the holy month of Ramadan approaches, Muslims gear up in anticipation of the blessings, joys, and rigors of the month. It is the month when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad, a month of dawn-to-sunset fasting from food, drink and sensual pleasures, a month of increased prayer, devotion, good works, and mosque attendance, a month of community and family gatherings for the nightly breaking of the fast, a month unlike any other. Muslims await Ramadan like a bride awaiting her wedding. But last year, COVID-19 wreaked havoc across the globe, and the experience of Ramadan forced Muslims to abandon many beloved traditions.
For the second year, the pandemic is impacting Muslim experiences of the holy month of Ramadan. Connecticut was in full lock-down last year when Ramadan arrived near the end of April, so the lightening up of some congregational restrictions as infections decrease and vaccinations rise is a ray of hope we welcome with gratitude. Yet, many religious and community practices of the holy month still require modification and many Muslims have to once again break their fast at home rather than in large mosque events followed by prayers among hundreds. Once again, many of us must seek spiritual connection in devotions performed at home. For Muslims living alone or just with a spouse, this may dampen the communal spirit that the large mosque services inspire. Though most mosques in CT are open for Friday prayers and are holding tarawih, the additional night prayers performed during Ramadan, the 6-foot distancing between attendees, masks, and number restrictions mean that many of us are missing the spiritual energy that the melodic nightly Quranic recitation among throngs of our Muslim brothers and sisters create during Ramadan. For many Muslims, it just does not feel like Ramadan.
But a second year of Ramadan in a waning pandemic may actually offer even greater spiritual experiences and personal growth opportunities if we alter the criteria for what constitutes a good Ramadan. First of all, if we are still here to welcome another Ramadan we are immensely blessed. Gratitude is one of two main Islamic teachings; the other is patience. Second, if we forego the attachment to “the way we’ve always done it,” and look for the benefits in our current situation, we may find ourselves going deeper toward our Center in solitude or smaller, quieter family gatherings. We may spend less time preparing or attending elaborate feasts, and we may consume in greater moderation, pondering those the fast of Ramadan is supposed to make us mindful of—the extremely poor, who in many countries are lucky if they break their fast with even one sweet date and potable water. And with that realization, we may resolve to eat only as much as we really need, spending less on food and donating more to feed others. We may find more time for spiritual practices that benefit not only ourselves but others. We may reflect on our blessings more deeply, using the month to cultivate beneficial knowledge, and work on our own shortcomings.
COVID-19 has certainly catalyzed all sorts of innovations in the way we all teach, learn, meet, gather, and pray. Since the virus continues to mutate, we must continue to innovate and accept change as the only constant. Traditions give us comfort; religious traditions open a sure-footed path. And a well-trodden road engenders a sense of security. But for tens of millions around the world, security is non-existent and only chaotic wilderness, danger, and deprivation lie ahead. As American Muslims experience another Ramadan which continues to offer uncertainty and denies us some of our longed-for traditions, we may take this challenge to find the spiritual benefit in facing the unfamiliar and unsettling. Pondering not only the effects of the COVID crisis on ourselves but on our brothers and sisters world-wide, we may be moved to positive action of many types.
Where do we stand in relationship to the crises of hunger, war, dislocation? Which spiritual practices help us answer these questions and which ones don’t? How can we make the most of Ramadan to achieve health and well-being and help others in this regard too? Another COVID Ramadan may not be our cup of tea but it is just what the Divine Doctor, our Healer, ordered. May we find meaning and benefit in exercising patience and generosity this month as acts of healing wherever and whenever we can.
Dr. Colleen Keyes, MCCT Board Member