I struggle through Ramadan most years. Going without food and water for 15 to 16 hours, day after day, is tough.
It’s a little easier knowing you’re in it together with a community. But this year, Muslims will be fasting through Ramadan without gathering together. Just like every other religious group, we’ve had to change our practices to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. We can’t gather for the rituals that make holy events so special -- praying in congregations, breaking fasts with friends and working together to give back to those who need help.
It seems counterintuitive, but while Ramadan may seem like a month of deprivation, it is really a time of abundance. In addition to weekly Friday prayers, there are special evening prayers at the mosque every night, during which the entire Quran is recited over the course of the month. Friends and family sometimes get together before dawn for a pre-fast meal, and often meet in the evenings after sunset.
I feel most connected to my faith community during this time of year. As a child, it was exciting to wake up so early with my parents and siblings and do things outside our usual routine. So, how will I make this month special for myself and my family this year? It starts with changing our mindset.
One of the goals of fasting is to serve as a reminder of those who face hunger daily, and to increase one’s empathy. The coronavirus crisis will push more than a quarter of a billion people around the world to the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations and public health experts. About 265 million people around the world may face acute food insecurity by the end of this year unless there is massive intervention to provide food and humanitarian relief.
Numbers this large may seem abstract. But sustained fasting provides a visceral connection to the suffering of others. This increased awareness becomes a call to action: How well are we doing our part in the face of such an overwhelming crisis?
In addition to increasing what we give, I’m going to involve our children more directly in our charitable giving. Each night during Ramadan, we will pick a different group to support. We can read about their missions and follow their work. Hopefully, when it’s safe to do so, we can volunteer with some of these organizations.
This is also a chance to cut back on our food excesses provoked by the lockdown. The pandemic has led me to certain comfort foods I haven’t eaten in decades. (Hello, Cinnamon Toast Crunch; I didn’t realize how much I’d missed you.) Every year, I relearn that it is, indeed, possible to write on deadline without eating a snack after every paragraph.
I asked our mosque’s imam, Mufti Asif Umar, for some additional ideas on how to make the most of this new normal.
“This year, the main thing is, obviously, Ramadan will be more individual than communal,” he said. He said he understands that many people look forward to the increased social ties and community-building aspect of the month. “My suggestion is, do not become discouraged in any way,” he said. “Ramadan is still Ramadan.”
It’s an opportunity to focus inward, to work on an individual relationship with God and draw your immediate family into this sort of reflection and prayer, he said.
He added that this period of social isolation can help us appreciate the blessings we have taken for granted in the past. Isn’t that the truth? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thought “I’m never taking that for granted again” over the past few months.
Umar also reminded me that for those who believe in a divine power, that belief is never confined to a physical space.
“Whether the doors of the masjid are open or closed, the doors of (God’s) mercy are never closed,” he said.
That’s food for the soul.