Ask any Muslim how they feel about Ramadan and Eid, and irrespective of their level of piety, their faces will light up and they will give you details of all their Ramadan memories with the excitement of a child. Because Ramadan is a lot more than just the holiest time for Muslims, it is true we bow our heads to Allah a lot more during this month, we recite the Quran which is unfortunately often left unread for most of the year, but we also strive to become kinder, more compassionate and charitable, selfless, less angry and we do our best to stray clear of gossip and negativity. So one thing all Muslims have said to me when I ask them about their Ramzan is, “I feel so calm and at peace as if I’m doing what I was always supposed to.” They tell me how they can focus on their life, profession and relationships a lot better during Ramadan, because they try to see things from others’ perspectives and let go of things which they wouldn’t otherwise, how they feel proud to starve all day even when they have to work long hours, and how that first sip of water makes them feel so grateful but also worried for their Muslim brothers and sisters who may not have as much as they do.
Ramadan, is truly a beautiful time, it is such a spiritually encapsulating experience, that for those thirty days we believe we can be better people and we do our best to become them.
In India, for me, my memories of Ramzan in Bombay have been the best. Before you begin your fast, you eat Suhoor or Sehri (the pre-fast meal), and every child who still stays with their parents knows how much yelling happens around that time. Being one of six kids, someone or the other was always forgotten during Sehri time by my mother, who would later be accused of not loving all of us equally. I remember the days when I’d wake before time, I’d find my mother standing by the window, listening to the musahratis (a public waker for suhoor during Ramadan) singing, “Baharon phool barsaao maahe Ramzan aaya hai, maahe Ramzaan ayaa hai”, his loud voice echoing through the streets of Colaba as he sang to the tune of his dafli. Mom would often send food for them so they could have their Sehri too, when I’d ask why she’d say, “Isn’t what they’re doing noble? Do you think you’d sacrifice the few hours you get to eat just so you could make sure everyone else woke up?” It was a truly noble deed, they walked all the way from Mohammed Ali Road to Colaba which is over an hour’s walk easily, and to do that during Ramadan, every day, that is some conviction.
Come Iftar time, all of us would rush to help Ammi cook, fry snacks and set the table, our mouths watering from the smells of homemade samosa, chana and on the cheat days, bhajia, wafting through the air. Being from a family of true food lovers, we love food in a way that makes us not want to waste it. So although the variety of fruits and food on the table was aplenty, it was only enough so as to not be wasted, and with eight people at the table, that never happened anyway. Then just 10 minutes before Iftar, the youngest of the house, my brother and I, would be handed trays of food to distribute to our neighbours, building staff, etc. It was a nice thing to do, but back then we didn’t understand why my parents did it.
My father has always hosted Taraweeh prayers (special prayers during Ramadan) on the terrace of his office for which over 200 people would assemble, and a grand feast would be organised on the last day of prayers for all the devotees as well.
However, this year, there were no songs to wake up my family in Bombay, no food was sent over to anybody to maintain safety, no prayers on the terrace and all charity was done from a distance. Ever since government-mandated lockdowns were imposed all over the world and in India on account of the coronavirus pandemic, people have been advised to stay indoors, and this has had quite an effect on the spiritual and social aspect of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims go out for Iftar (post-fast meal) parties, Suhoor parties, they go the mosque for prayers, and to the markets for shopping, buying food and plenty more with their friends and family. This year when nothing went out, my mother told me she got several calls telling her how grateful people were to have her in their lives, and they couldn’t wait to eat her delicious food again.
Ramadan has indeed been a bit glum this year, with most of us stuck indoors, unable to go to the mosques for community prayers, unable to head to the beautifully lit up streets near mosques (be it Jama Masjid in Delhi or Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road), where often after prayers one could see people gorging on street food. It is the first time in many years, that the streets are desolate, and it has definitely dampened our spirits. Speaking to several Muslims from across the world, and learning their stories of Ramadan and their plans for Eid, it was easy to see, that despite our differences when it came to culture and upbringing, there are many things that are inherently the same.
Mother of two and high school teacher Arshi Azam, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, says, “Ramadan was very different this year, I was a lot more connected and involved in it. And on account of the Movement Control Order in Malaysia we couldn’t go out like we usually do in Ramadan, the lack of distractions helped us focus wholly on improving ourselves spiritually. I also took a lot of online classes to improve my Arabic, cooking and painting, which I haven’t done in over 15 years since I left Bombay. The situation allowed me to connect with the world from my couch. Unlike India, we don’t have house help here, so my sons and I do all the chores ourselves, so it was about the same workwise. With school closed and not having to go to work, I was able to do other things, so I often cook and send hygienically packed food for the building staff and my friends. The grim situation in the world has made us a lot more grateful for all we have, brought us closer to Allah and we are finally beginning to care for lesser fortunate people like we should have. Coronavirus is proof that the tables can turn at any point, it is very important to be kind. If nothing, it brings you peace.”
Original from Bhatkal, Karnataka presently staying in Mumbai, 26-year-old Sadaf Mohtesham, mother to one, spoke of how the fear of the pandemic renewed her faith. She says, “This year I could focus on myself, in reciting the Quran and offering salat. I barely used my phone and didn’t even binge watch any show. Also given that we couldn’t go out to shop as often for food the number of delicacies was also limited and we actually ate healthier. Also the fear of the pandemic, the desperation to be in the “safe” led to a new faith in dua.. in Allah… and more importantly, I felt this was the easiest Ramadan so far. It didn’t feel like summer at all.”
Talking about her Eid celebrations she says, “I usually head over to my parents for Eid, and on the day visit my in-laws and other relatives. This year I’ll be with my in-laws, and I have no idea when I will visit my family. I buy new clothes for me, my family and the help, but this year nobody has bought anything new, I used to go to my cousin’s place to apply mehendi, get dressed, but nothing of that sort will happen this year. Usually we find a way to lift our spirits, especially on Eid, but with the increasing number of Covid cases in India, all this excitement has disappeared. It’s almost sad, but I think this year when I was so bound and restricted, I finally realised the plight of the poor. I’m happy to celebrate Eid in a simple way, and share what I have with who I can.”
26-year-old event planner Saeema Madhiya admits she has been more pious this year but can’t deny missing socialising at Suhoor and Iftar parties. She says, “Ramadan this year felt more spiritual, we were actually doing what we are meant to. Offering more prayers than usual, reciting the Quran more. We also have a lot of gatherings at Iftar and Suhoor parties where we meet and dine with friends and family. So lockdown, the pandemic and all this distance has really torn us away. It feels like a major piece of Ramadan has been missing and although we do our best to keep our spirits up, because we have a lot more to be grateful about, it feels very lonely this Ramadan.”
Dubai local Ayesha Ali works in construction, which has been listed as an essential sector, and has been working from home for the past two months. Ayesha’s family has decided to not overindulge this year and has just one delicacy for Iftar, no ‘bhuna-tala’ this time is her father’s rule this Ramadan.
The 27-year-old admits that this was her best Ramadan except for the fact that she couldn’t go to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers, “I’m an anomaly because I never really enjoyed going out in Ramadan that much, but not being able to go to the mosque for Taraweeh is a bummer. Although I think that people secretly like the solitude this Ramadan. The coronavirus did have an effect on Ramadan, but it was good in a way because there’s been less waste, no hectic shopping. It has been the best Ramadan, but I have to admit, not being able to meet one another on Eid is the worst and thinking about it is depressing. Eid will be low spirit wise. Because that is the one day when everyone lets loose, from sales, shopping, gathering, dinners, all of it. But this year, with the five day lockdown imposed by the government, spirits are bound to be low. And 100% less Eidi too. ”