Keeping up the spirit of Ramadan during lockdown!

Ramadan (also called Ramzan) – The ninth month of the Muslim calendar and the Holy month of fasting began a week ago for all the Muslims across the world with a day’s lag for some of the countries compared to the Middle East countries. Ramadan is said to be the month of introspection, communal prayer and reading of the Quran. A month to build and retain faithful intentions, be both retrospective and introspective about ourselves, our beliefs and trust in our Deen (faith), rebuild our relationship with the Almighty, fast with complete faith and focus on prayers for forgiveness and guidance.

The current COVID-19 situation across the world has crippled our lives and our memories of our family bonding,  that we had always cherished during the times of Ramzan. Personally, I have felt the vibes of disappointment and depression amongst my family members and peers with the current situation worldwide and with Ramzan around the same time, we have all begun to miss the usual get together, positivity and brotherhood during this holy month. There are families who survive on daily wages to feed their families and it is disheartening to think of them going through struggles for meals even during this holy month.

The holy month of Muslims – Ramadan.

A usual day in the month of Ramzan starts with waking up for Sehri (before dawn), to have a meal and fill your stomach before you fast for the entire day. We have a fixed timing before which you need to ensure your meal is over.  Having a meal as soon as you wake up between 3 to 4 am is always a herculean task for our parents and us. It is a usual thing for women to wake up really early to prepare the meals and then wake up the other family members so that they can quickly have their meal, pray and then go back to sleep around 5-5.30 am. It is not easy to do so. It requires patience and determination and Ramzan as a month helps you build all of these virtues and helps you keep up the strength and respect of your faith. Sehri or Suhoor (the meal before dawn) is said to make or break your day. If one eats this meal, fasting gets much easier. Most people prefer to skip Suhoor and directly eat in the evening when the fast is broken. But this is not considered a healthy option at all.

Throughout the day you fast, without having even a sip of water or fruits – we just gulp our saliva in and go about with our usual home chores, business, work, office schedules and everything under the sun. When the sun sets, we approach the time to break our fast – Also called the Iftar in Arabic, where we break our fasts at the time of the call to prayer for the evening prayer. We generally assemble (be it at office or at home or at your shops/business places etc wherever people are busy that moment), pray and break our fast. The first thing we have is a glass of water followed by a date /dates. Dates are said to be very sacred in Islamic tradition and as the history goes by, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was believed to have opened his fast in this simplest manner by sipping a glass of water followed by some dates.

People usually have fruits and any other snacks around this time. The snacks you have at this time is said to be kept light because it becomes too much for your stomach to handle post a 12 hour abstinence of food and water and choosing healthier options compared to fried stuff is always the rule but no one really goes by this rule. People usually have a get together with relatives coming over or with neighbors exchanging snacks or special items with one another just before the time of Iftar as Ramzan also gives importance to the value of sharing and caring. We even reach out to the most needy by giving or sharing with them a bowl of fruits or snacks out of care.

Mosques are filled with people performing the usual Namaaz (daily prayers 5 times a day) and a special prayer in the nights during the month of Ramzan called the Taraweeh. These special prayers involve reading long portions of the Qur’an, as well as performing many rakahs (cycles of movement involved in Islamic prayer). In the Holy of month of Ramzan even the wait for Iftar is all about the remembrance of the Almighty. Ramzan is not just abstinence from food and water but also all sorts of entertainment as it’s important for every Muslim to leave every thought behind and to think only about Allah 24/7.

What I shared above was the most traditional way of observing the holy month. Now I will tell you how our Ramzan month usually goes and let me give you a disclaimer beforehand, this is totally my observations around how people had begun to treat Ramzan as a usual month to celebrate and have fun instead of observing it religiously. People have their meal during sehri and then begin their day late on the pretext of having woken up in between the night for the meal. The day starts with the usual work/business and everyone is focusing their best on making highest sales during Ramzan, with discounts etc to attract the public. Markets and shopping malls are full around this time, right from the beginning of Ramzan for Eid shopping (Eid – which is always the end of the Ramzan month, the day the entire Muslim brethren celebrate worldwide that marks the end of the month long dawn to sunset fasting). People are so focused on buying new clothes, jewelry, new items for their homes and gifts for one another, following the latest fashion trends etc that the true spirit of observing fasts and remembering Allah and rekindling our faith in Islam has died down. People throng the markets even before they open their fasts, get busy with shopping and end up having Iftar outside in the streets. There are shops that cash on the food treats by offering them to people and thereby focusing more on increasing their business and profits rather than feeding the hungry and downtrodden.

During other times, people began to treat Iftar evenings as parties – to invite people, have a lavish spread and relish as soon as the time crosses for the fast to be broken. Iftar evenings , usually meant to observe prayers and go by simple ways of breaking one’s fast , go in organizing parties to have a variety of snacks and other items and relish till the stomachs are full. Post Iftar, people get busy preparing lavish dinner meals and then plan on going for shopping sprees thereby either missing reading Taraweeh namaz or they read them very late in the night. Having a get together to pray or have a meal together does no harm but we shouldn’t be upscaling it to relish and enjoy, rather keep it simple and be more caring and compassionate when it comes to providing meals to the poor and needy than just filling our own stomach.

The focus of people during the month shifted from praying to shopping, from observing abstinence from food to indulging more post the fast is broken, from remembering Allah to focusing on business gains and profits and this has been happening for quite some years now. Back to present, with lockdowns across nations, all of us are missing the delicacies and family times during Iftar and shopping but let’s not forget there are millions of families across the world who are struggling for their daily meals or daily snacks post Iftar due to loss of jobs, no business and the fear of virus lingering around their towns. We need to show some compassion and solidarity when it comes to facing these tough times and I know this is depressing but we can definitely do our bit to help feed the hungry and reach out to the less fortunate.

Lockdowns have restricted our movement outside of our homes, with the mosques being closed and no social gatherings whatsoever. My main focus is how can we lighten up the environment and retain the true spirit of Ramzan among ourselves – how do we keep up our faith in Almighty, observe our fasts, perform our prayers, share with the needy and still be happy yet careful enough during such difficult times around the world – let me outline the simple tips below that each of us can follow and keep our hopes on for a better Ramzan this month. Islam has so many beautiful rituals and traditions that are meant for bringing out positivity and goodness in humanity – I would like to touch upon these rituals to remind us and guide each one of us to remain positive during such times.

Trust me, this is genuinely from my experience of observing the last seven days of fasting during the week and I am sure each one of us can definitely begin to keep up the positivity of this holy month and retain the true spirit of Ramzan.

All of us at our homes, in all simple ways should begin to look at things or events in a positive manner. Let me share my experiences and thoughts on positivity during fasting, some of these also touch upon our Islamic rituals and some bring out the true spirit of humanity during Ramzan –  

  • Being with your family during these times is a blessing and we could do so many things that could help us stay positive together. Men have a very big problem now of not attending prayers in the mosque, the customary tradition, but praying at home with your parents, your spouse and kids is also a beautiful feeling. I have come across quite many animated pictures doing the rounds of a family standing together in prayer and the beauty of this experience is unmatched. Lead the prayers in the family, bow down together for Sajdah (prostration), do Salaams together and raise your hands in duaa (prayer) together. Teach or read Taraweeh prayers with your family. Just the thought of it makes me very happy. These are definitely beautiful moments to spend such times with the family in the holy month. If there is a blessing to read Namaz in the mosques in congregation, there is also a blessing to read Namaz with the family.
  • Post your namaaz/prayers, greet each other with a salaam – this is the best way to wish each one at your home. Salaam means peace be upon you – and of course along with praying to the Almighty that you want your family happy and in good health, you can even greet them or wish them in the same manner which will bring out a lot of positivity. Personally, I feel very joyful when I greet my family with a salaam post my namaz or prayers. No matter where each one is in the house, I make it a point to go to the room , greet and then get back to my usual work. Their responses to your salaam, shows their respect and care. That is the whole magic of salaam.
  • Most of us plan on preparing lavish dishes, have our grocery stocks full, fruits and vegetables stocked up and sometimes even meat (Muslims can never do without meat during Ramzan too). During Iftar and Sehri, I’ve had thoughts of the poor and needy, those who survive on daily wages on how they do not even have a date or a glass of water to open their fast. We should realize and think that at least we have our family sitting together with plates filled with fruits, snacks, sweets etc to open the fasts and there are millions out there who are separated from their families, living alone, not having enough money to buy meals or even fruits to open their fasts like us.

I understand lockdowns mean strict movement as a precautionary measure to keep the virus away but look around, your neighbor or even a slum next to your house or a street away in your area where there are people who stay in small tents, huts, survive on daily wages but are now sitting hungry with no money. Why don’t you do one good deed a day by reaching out to them, getting fruits or even dates or reach out to voluntary groups to inform them of such people in your area and organize food supplies for them. Of course with precautions of wearing a mask and gloves to keep yourself safe, but there is no greater joy than seeing someone’s stomach filled than your own. You don’t have to be pompous in your arrangements – just taking the stuffs and handing over to any person and they would share with everybody else. Ramzan highlights the importance of feeding the poor, giving charity or Zakat during this month and it is one of the important pillars of Islam. We should do our bit while we are sitting in our homes, preparing delicacies every day and relishing on them.

  • Most of our businesses are hit, no stalls, no shops, nothing to be sold or bought etc – all of us are stuck at our homes – what could we do in such times is the main question? – Ramzan focusses on remembering the Almighty, praying to him – not just namaz but also reading out the Holy Quran. The best gift we can give our children is knowledge – why don’t we make our children sit with us, read out the Quran or the children stories of Islam and enlighten them about our Deen (faith). How often do we get such times, where we have told them stories of our Prophets (peace be upon them), the battles they fought, the good deeds they did, the importance of the 5 pillars of Islam (daily prayers, Zakaat/charity, pilgrimage, fasting and the belief of no God but Allah).

If your kids are too small to understand, you could even read out children stories to them – these days animation story telling has also been imbibed in our Islam – this helps children grasp knowledge faster and with access to technology and everything online, we should make the best use of this to spread knowledge for the benefit of our children. We should tell our kids that superheroes were not just Superman, Spiderman or Batman – we even had our own Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), Prophet Ismail (PBUH), Prophet Moses (PBUH) who are our role models and heroes too. Let me not be gender biased here but even the great women of Islam from Bibi Khadija to Fathima, from Ayesha to Summaya (Peace be upon them)  are still our role models about whom we should impart and share the knowledge with our children.  We’ve spent our times being busy with our work and business and will be in the future to, but we must spend these lockdown times to impart knowledge with children and help them grow and make the best use as such times will never return.

  • All those who can spend some time creating awareness among people about the true spirit of Islam and brotherhood should do so by all means. Technology is so handy at the moment that everyone is trying to make the best use of it. We can showcase our talents of singing, dancing , mimicking videos on TikTok but can we also share our views, our knowledge on Islamic history or our powerful recitations of prayers via internet to educate the masses – yes we can. We should focus on increasing our knowledge and at the same time imparting our knowledge to people via various modes of technology like Whatsapp, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. Let us be careful while we speak of Islam and not be focusing on rumours but have evidence of our own religion while we talk. At the same time, we should not be demeaning other religions in this process. Islam teaches us to live in harmony and tolerance and we should keep that going.
  • Find out any voluntary groups focusing on helping the needy and become a part of it. You can create one of your own – we spend so lavishly on buying different food items to expensive clothing and cars etc – can we not spend on feeding the hungry and getting their prayers ? – we should do that. It is said that prayers during Ramzan are more powerful compared to the other times and we should do our best to reach out to the poor and needy. Also, volunteering, performing righteous works or feeding the poor can also be substituted for fasting if necessary. Islam gives importance to everything and we should make the best use of such blessings. Please remember, helping out the needy does not mean you help based on religion – remember every crisis situation highlights that we are humans first and our religions come later. We should help out people with humanity as our religion, nothing else.
  • Also, to reach out to help others, you don’t have to do extra ordinary efforts like volunteering and cannot find such mediums. Look outside your community or within your neighborhood , and see if any single parent or elderly couples need any sort of help in terms of getting groceries or medicines or any kind of help. Islam highlights the importance of helping those who need help and we should have patience to reach out to them and help them with anything we could.
  • Since we are all stuck at homes, we miss our near and dear ones. Some of us are even stranded in other cities away from home that we have begun to miss our families and have become depressed with the situation outside. Instead of letting the situation hit us and affect our minds mentally, we should make use of technology to reach out to our near and dear ones and have Iftar together virtually or have good conversations. I understand that technology doesn’t give you the real feel of emotions or support but think of those people who do not even have access to or are not as tech savvy as you are to see their near and dear ones. They still make the best of phone calls and feel happy on hearing the voices of their loved ones and they survive on just these calls. Let not the lockdown affect the spirit of brotherhood that Ramzan always brings about in us and times we cherish. Reach out to your friends you haven’t heard from long, talk to them, cheer them up – just our words, our voices and our happy faces can give them strength and happiness.
  • Since Ramzan has always been about ‘feasting’ (which I did highlight earlier) – we should really understand the essence of fasting now. Fasting helps us understand how it is to go hungry like the poor when they do not have food. Trust me, when I began to fast this month – I began to feel a different self altogether, I began to have a control on myself for things I shouldn’t do, I did get irritated here and there with situations but fasting is said to teach you different virtues of self-restraint, patience, tolerance, care, understanding and how to be down to earth and this is the whole beauty of fasting for the 30 days during Ramzan. As the saying in Surah Baqarah in Quran goes – “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint”.
  • The Iftar should also be simple like the way our Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) used to open his fasts with just a glass of water and some dates. Even when he had two or three dates, he used to share them with his companions. Each day when I sit to open my fasts (usually I prepare the plate with water, dates, fruits and a snack), I realize how important it is to break your fast in the most simplest manner and not overdo it as it could cause indigestion and acidity for your body. It really does not make sense to fast for the entire day and indulge in eating (or rather over eating) post the fast is broken – the true spirit of fasting during Ramzan dies down with such acts. We should really keep our Iftars simple and light, at least with the remembrance of those who are even missing out on such meals and pray for them during such times.
  • The other best way of keeping up our positivity during Ramzan is definitely remembering the Almighty and keeping ourselves occupied in prayers and reading Quran. Ramzan highlights the importance of remembering the Almighty and we can do that in the best manner by indulging ourselves and committing to prayers and reading Quran, the holy book. We should not read prayers as a chore but with dignity and respect to the Almighty. There is beauty to praying and spending your time with the Almighty – we all know how every day we have been rushing with our lives with work, earning for our family, focusing on our goals, busy with saving, spending and enjoying but we forget to pray or even thank the Almighty for keeping us safe, for bestowing us with food, shelter, clothing and with so many innumerable gifts – we even forget He gave us this life and to Him we return – with this powerful message,

I only want to remind you that we all should shake our minds and souls and focus on our prayers and strengthen our bond with the Almighty – this is our chance to pray for the needy, for ourselves, for this world to come out of the crisis situation and for a better future for the next generation. There is beauty in raising our hands in Duaa, there is beauty in chanting the Almighty’s name in our voices, there is beauty in prostrating in Salaat/prayers, there is beauty in closing our eyes and feeling His blessings on us. Every morning, I spend close to 30-45 mins in reading Quran and chanting some special Duaas and that gives me a great push to start my day and we should keep ourselves busy with prayers during such times , as only prayers can give us strength to survive these situations and as we all need to come out of this situation, only the Almighty can help us come out of it.

  • We all must be missing the famous onion samosas, the rice porridge or other delicacies that people buy outside and relish. Why don’t you try making it yourself at home – Lockdowns have definitely taught us a big lesson of being self-dependent, and I think we should channelize on this – there is no joy greater than making meals for yourself, for your family and finding peace when they relish them. Why not spread small joys in this manner and still keep up the spirit of the Holy month in every way we can. Like I mentioned before, let us not overdo it but we can definitely do our small attempts to keep the family happy and together during such tough times.

I hope this blog brought out all the small notes of positivity in our rituals during Ramzan and helped us realize that we all could do our bit to society in every way we can, spread cheer in small ways, indulge in prayers and remembrance of the Almighty and still keep up the true spirit of the holy month during lockdowns. Remember, the month of Ramzan for all of us is a ray of hope, a time of rumination, reflection, redemption and atonement. Let us all pray that at least our Eid will turn out to be special with all of us coming together in unison and getting rid of the virus that has kept us all apart – Insha Allah! Ramadan Mubarak!

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