“I had Iftar over Zoom with my family and still felt the warmth of camaraderie”

Written by Zeynab Mohamed

This year, the month of Ramadan looks different to normal due to the coronavirus pandemic and current UK lockdown. Here, one writer shares her experiences of observing the traditions of the month during lockdown.

I’m lying on the sofa, with my eyes firmly shut. I’m six weeks into the government-enforced lockdown and this ‘new normal’ has now become second nature. 

I get up and make my way into the kitchen, making this my 10th failed attempt of the day to not automatically start thinking about food. It’s only 3.30pm.

I’m fasting, you see. From dawn until dusk, I am refraining from all food and water as part of the holy month of Ramadan.

More than a fast, Ramadan is something of a spiritual magnifying glass. As Muslims, we’re encouraged to purposefully look at ourselves – like, really look at ourselves. It’s an opportunity to become more charitable, more grateful, to foster a connection with faith and to develop positive habits.

This year, life in lockdown means that Ramadan looks slightly different to usual. I remember when the lockdown was just a bad rumour, and how we’d hoped it would never be our way of life. But in adapting to a new kind of normal, the lead up to Ramadan was unlike any other. 

I was filled with a sense of grief. I was grieving for traditions, for normality, and for the togetherness that has come with previous Ramadans. But mostly, I was grieving for something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that so accurately encapsulates the excitement and comfort of old traditions.

Ramadan is a communal month. From hosting Iftar (the evening meal to break the fast) with family and friends, including those you probably haven’t seen since last Ramadan, to Taraweeh (congregational) prayers in the mosque that go deep into the night. I am currently in lockdown with my immediate family – my mother and my siblings. This year, we won’t be enjoying the usual practice of seeing my extended family during Ramadan, including my grandmother, my aunties and uncles, and all of my cousins.

Once upon a time, I would have made every excuse not to attend the Taraweeh prayers. After fasting for over 13 hours and indulging in the Iftar meal, the last thing I thought I wanted to do was go to prayers. But now that the choice has been taken away from me, I am overwhelmed with sadness. 

There is something about praying with familiar strangers, a solidarity in knowing that each person in that room is going through the same thing. But this year, mosques have shut their doors to follow social distancing guidelines. 

For the first couple of nights of Ramadan, it was hard not to fall into old habits. I would rush to finish my Iftar and get ready to leave the house, only to remember that I wouldn’t be going anywhere.  

As well as missing everything that usually makes Ramadan so special, I can’t help but reminisce about the little things that made the night almost unbearable, too. This year, I’ll miss the feeling of the impossibly sticky heat radiating off the perfectly aligned rows of women in the mosque – all very different, and yet the same. I’ll miss the commanding shrieks that often came from the front of the mosque, always from the same lady, the self-appointed leader. I can’t help but think of her without relentlessly praying for her wellbeing. She’ll be back even louder next Ramadan, I’m sure.

I had hoped that this year we would all be praying together as a family during lockdown. We tried this on the third night, and for a moment I was able to imagine being at the mosque. But without the accountability of the congregation, it’s hard to keep up. Most nights, we’ve found solace in our individual routines of practice.

During lockdown, I have very quickly become acquainted with the kitchen. My days have been filled with food, whether that’s eating it or cooking it. 

The days I’ve spent in lockdown have been pretty long, but the days I’ve spent fasting in lockdown have been even longer. I’ve fasted for a total of seven days so far, and being lucky enough to isolate at home means that I’m able to take it slow, and concentrate on my wellbeing.

Now, I find myself daydreaming of hosting endless Iftar dinners. I’m mourning the joy of everyone coming together; bickering over where to sit and eagerly counting down the minutes until we can take that first sip of water together. I’m mourning the collective sense of achievement of knowing that we’ve made it, that we’ve fasted for a whole day and survived together. We’ve had our first Zoom Iftar, with my aunt and my cousins, which was bizarre and hectic. Briefly looking up from my food, I was warmed by the laughter and the camaraderie. I took comfort in knowing that we may not physically be in each other’s presence but we can be there virtually to carry on the traditions that bring us together.

The weight of the differences, when compared to previous Ramadans, may be hard to bear. However, I have found comfort in the lessons that Ramadan has taught me over and over. To have the strength to accept and recognise my privileges, even amidst a pandemic. It may just be a case of having to look a little harder for the positives, and to not let a moment of this tradition pass.

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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