“I can’t believe we’re heading into another COVID-19 Ramadan!” was exclaimed more than once as Muslims started getting ready for the Islamic month of Ramadan, which began in many parts of the world on 13 April this year.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and the observance of which is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam. For 29-30 days (until the next new moon crescent is sighted), all eligible adult Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from all food and drink – yes, even water!
The sacred month is a focused effort to step away from the day-to-day minutiae and double-down on the more spiritual side of Islam – many consider it as a spiritual reset for the rest of the year. A large part of Ramadan is also connecting with the community, be it by taking the time to eat together at suhoor and iftar – the dawn and dusk meals – to sharing meals with family, neighbours, and the less fortunate as well.
It goes without saying that the latter part of the celebrations has been turned on its head due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Ramadan happened in relatively early into the COVID-19 pandemic last year, many people were left scrambling on how to observe the month in a way without the usual resources of mosques and family gatherings.
This year, many Muslims anticipated another lockdown or restricted Ramadan, so they have had more time to think about how they want to celebrate. Already, social media feeds are filled with pictures of Ramadan-themed activities to do at home with the kids (because, where else these days?), many of them offered for free to take a load off parents, and of living rooms twinkling with lights and geometric prints. Zoom sessions have been set up by Islamic institutions as well as by families, to share relevant stories, or just to say “Ramadan Mubarak!” across the physical boundaries of your houses.
Enterprising individuals have taken the forced time at home to launch small businesses catering to the unique needs for this year, offering festive home décor, Ramadan themed cookie kits in the shapes of camels and mosques, gift boxes featuring different varieties of dates (a staple for fast-breaking meal), or food platters with beautiful assortments of snacks for people share with their friends, in lieu of meeting up in person.
CuterieCo is one such company, where three sisters were anticipating another Ramadan without the usual hubbub that comes with meetings friends and family, and decided to create an offering that could create that festive atmosphere. Thus, their iftar box was born, a fresh, fun, and healthy take on the meal, while incorporating traditional flavours into foods such as date rolls, pistachio rose biscotti, kebab and falafel.
Mosques have usually been the spiritual epicentre for the month, hosting for adults and children, and arranging communal iftars for any who wish to join. Many religious programmes throughout the year are usually done for free, with the support of volunteers and donations, and Ramadan is one of their busiest times of the year. But with many local guidelines playing restrictions on the number of people at a gathering, they too, have needed to rethink their usual programmes.
COVID-19 has led to mosques using social media to get their word out, dipping into the world of Google and Facebook ads to raise awareness of their causes and using digital platforms such as LaunchGood to help securely contribute their funding. Institutions such as Meadowvale Islamic Centre, who are currently in the midst of constructing their own permanent structure, have been hosting all their events via Facebook Live, and raising awareness of their programmes and services offered via digital ads, WhatsApp groups and emails, giving them an avenue they otherwise wouldn’t have.
A Modern Ramadan
Such initiatives have made it easy for Muslims to be able to help others, and while this may not have been the usual way of doing things, it is helping people stay connected, in a time when they need to stay apart.