Muslims fondly await the arrival of the fasting month of Ramadan for a number of reasons including spiritual renewal, inculcating self discipline, developing empathy for have nots and of course for consuming special items of food during Suhoor and Iftars.
Although Ramadan fasting has substantial health benefits, fasting during the summer periods in hot climates specially for the poor, who have to work outdoors in harsh conditions and who live under basic accommodation can be challenging.
Ramadan 1441H/2020CE is turning out to be unprecedented, not only for Muslims but for all people on the globe due to the world wide lockdown under COVID-19 pandemic specially when compared to Ramadan last year.
In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosques’ terrorist attack on Friday 15 March and the Sri Lankan terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday on 21 April, the fasting month of Ramadan in May 2019 was a healing period that brought diverse communities together in empathy over sharing a meal.
I remember attending and reporting on a large number of Iftars at parliament house, universities, churches, restaurants and at family homes where our diverse community leaders had meaningful conversations on the atrocities and providing support for the grieving communities.\
Last year, it was a most social Ramadan I had ever attended, bringing people together and calls for understanding, tolerance and community harmony against racism, prejudices and bigotry.
However this year, Ramadan is turning out to be a sombre affair, devoid of its congregational and social aspects due to lockdown and social distancing regulations.
Throughout the globe it will be the first time in people’s lifetime, not to be able to offer congregational prayers and specially the Taraveeh prayers together in mosques with fellow Muslims and not be able to break their fast with neighbours, family and friends of all faiths.
Ramadan, under lockdown also is a great challenge for people who live on day to day earnings with no food stocks at home and with out fridges and freezers at home to store food and restrictions on moving out of their homes in order to obtain meals for themselves and their family in many countries.
On the other hand, Ramadan under COVID-19 provides an opportunity for people to be more inward looking, strengthening their relationship with their Creator in solitude as well as to spend quality time with their immediate family members.
Although there is no institution of priesthood in Islam, where our religion encourages direct relationship between wo/man and God without an intermediary, many Muslims have become dependent on their Imams, Sheikhs, Moulvies, Syeds, Ayatollah’s and Ulama in order to practice Islam in day to day life.
This COVID-19 lockdown specially during Ramadan provides an opportunity for us to gain knowledge first hand about or religion through the study of Quran and Hadith and through contemplation and reflection using the on-line modern technologies.
Reciprocally, due to the closure of mosques and restrictions on gatherings, practice of Ramadan this year provides an opportunity for Imams, sheikhs, scholars, activists and Muslim leaders to educate, lead in prayers and have Iftars with their own households and immediate family.
In Australia, being in the southern hemisphere and in winter, Ramadan 2020 is indeed an easy affair even during restrictions on movement, hardly a 12 hour fast, with no shortage of food and no restrictions on shopping and movement with members of our households.
Then again, wo/man is a social animal, and a number of organisations and institutions have come up with innovative ideas to socialise online, have virtual Iftars, teleconferences, zoom talks and discussions, not only with people in Australia but with a global audience, Muslims and people of other faiths and no faith.
As a demonstration of human resilience under adverse conditions, it will indeed be very interesting to share our experiences at the end of this month as to how we have coped with Ramadan 1441H/2020 CE.