Ramadan in a Lockdown
Welcoming the holy month in interesting times and circumstances.
I associate Ramadan with a lot of rituals that my family and I have been doing for what seems to be my entire life. There’s the pre-dawn ‘sahur’, when my mom would go from room to room to wake up the household so we could get some food in our bellies before the fasting begins for the day. Then there’s the exciting spread of food during ‘buka puasa’ and the impatient twitching as we waited the last few minutes before the ‘azan’ that would signal the end of the fasting period.
A little later, we would walk or drive to the nearby mosque for the nightly taraweeh prayers, maybe stick around for some late supper, before heading home and having yet another late supper with the leftovers.
As I grew older and became mature enough to embrace the spiritual side of Ramadan (rather than just the cultural and gastronomical ones!), there were also additional spiritual routines that were added: extra prayers, Quranic studies, Arabic studies, reading lists, etc, etc.
An evolving Ramadan checklist: More spiritual activities, less food!
However, Covid19 is effectively taking away quite a number of those familiar routines, most notably the social parts of what makes the month so ‘special’. But is that bad thing? Does it make this year’s Ramadan a downer?
Pfft, of course not.
Back to basics
"Back in my day..." Source.
Before the fancy (and increasingly expensive) hotel buffets for iftar/ buka puasa, the ritual of nightly taraweeh prayers at the mosque, and the myriad of ways the community has found to get together in prayer and in celebration, Ramadan in the time of the Prophet s.a.w was a decidedly simple affair.
It was a month to commemorate the Quran, and to withdraw oneself from the world to spend more time with God, both of which can be done just as well on your own. So now that we have to put aside all the trimmings, why not focus on these two worthy goals?
In the Malaysian religious culture, we’re often advised (with good reason) to seek knowledge and affirmation from others when it comes to spiritual matters, but I also think there is value in isolating yourself for some independent thinking:
what do you really believe in, as opposed to what you’re told to believe in?
what is your relationship with God like, and is it a good one?
When you read (not just recite, but read and understand) the Quran, what is it telling you and how do you relate to it?
Why not use the enforced isolation to really understand our own faith as it really stands at this point in time, without the influence (good or bad) of others? A good, honest look in the mirror may be just what we need to progress on our spiritual journey.
What to do instead
Not this. Do not do this.
You can’t go for a RM100/pax iftar buffet at [insert hotel name of your choice] with your family and friends, but you can prepare RM100/pax worth of food for the daily-wage earners suffering in the Covid19 lockdown!
You can’t go for taraweeh prayers at the mosque, but that just means you get to rest earlier and get up for tahajjud prayers at 3 am! This is, after all, what qiyyamulail is truly all about. The third half of the night is repeatedly mentioned in the Quran as being the absolute best time for communing with God, and now that you don’t have to get ready to drive to work so early in the morning anymore, what better time to put this into practice?
You won’t be able to attend classes or events throughout the month, but luckily for us, online classes are a thing, and there are plenty of excellent spiritual resources online for really good content and learnings! Here’s a few suggestions to get you going:
Improve your Quranic recitation skills if you are a beginner, or simply want a refresher
Go beyond recitation and study the meaning and multitudes of interpretations of the things you recite to appreciate the rich and diverse hues of what is typically presented as black-and-white.
If you’re up for it, go a step further and learn Quranic Arabic - it will do wonders for your recitation and enjoyment of the Quran.
A time for gratitude
... being alive to welcome yet another Ramadan! Source.
If you are reading this, it very likely means that you are alive and well (if a little bored out of your mind). As we enter the month of Ramadan, let’s take a moment to be grateful for this - for our health, our lack of breathing issues, our comforts amidst all that’s happening, and the opportunity to greet yet another month of Ramadan in our lives.
We often take it for granted that we will wake up tomorrow and still be around to enjoy things in the future, but clearly a little virus has scoffed and given us a good lesson in how wrong we are. So while Covid19 has taken away 900 of the things we used to do in our daily lives, let’s be thankful for the remaining 100 that we still get to do.
A time for prayers
Ramadan is regarded as a blessed month, and many of us level up our spiritual game and pile on the extra prayers and good wishes to take advantage of that. So yes, by all means, let’s pray for all of us to emerge out of this healthcare crisis relatively unscathed.
More importantly, though, let’s pray for all of us to emerge out of this as better people, better societies and just better humanity in general. Covid-19 has revealed how fragile our economy really is, how unprepared our systems are, and how wide the inequality gaps have gotten among us. On a personal level, it may have revealed to you how little you’ve prepared to cope in emergencies and how much emphasis you may have put on the wrong things instead of the right ones.
So let’s pray. Let’s ask for guidance and help in becoming a better person, who can then help to rebuild a better society, which will then form the building blocks of a better global community - the kind that opts for long term prosperity rather than short term gains, that looks out for others who are in need regardless of nationality, race or what-have-you, that recognises the ridiculousness of our current economic trajectory and shifts that trajectory towards something more equitable and sustainable.
(Because if you think Covid-19 is bad, well, wait till you hear about this thing called climate change.)
Wait for it... wait for it... Source.
Okay, that climate change bit was a detour (but definitely something to think and pray about too!).
I will leave you with the simplest, but also the best, tip I’ve ever received when it comes to Ramadan, and that is: to simply ask God for the most awesome, most spiritually uplifting Ramadan ever!
InsyaAllah, your prayers and efforts will be answered and rewarded.