I Won't Let Coronavirus Stop Me Giving Back This Ramadan

It’s keeping me going to remember how lucky we are – although we are facing difficulty, it’s nothing compared to people in refugee camps or in drought.
Courtesy of the author
Courtesy of the author
HuffPost UK

When lockdown started, the question on every Muslim’s lips was ‘what does this mean for Ramadan?’ Not just about fasting from dawn until dusk, Ramadan’s about visiting family and friends for iftar – the evening meal that breaks the fast – and it’s about connecting with our community, whether at the local mosque or through volunteering to support those less fortunate than ourselves.

In what now feels like another life, I would spend a lot of time during the holy month volunteering for Islamic Relief UK, through mosque collections at congregational prayers or in their call centre processing donations from zakat (one of the five pillars of Islam that requires Muslims to donate to charity) or sadaqa (voluntary donations on top of the religious obligation). I always looked forward to the camaraderie in the call centre.

On Sundays during Ramadan, I always used to deliver cakes to people to savour when the sun went down, as part of the charity’s ’Cake Campaign’, with half of the £10 recipients spent on cakes going to Islamic Relief’s work in Syria. Not only was it special to know that you’re relieving someone far away of their burdens, but it would bring me joy to interact with the other volunteers and the people we were meeting. In my large, built-up area in east London, there are people I might recognise but not necessarily interact with – parents from my kids’ school, for example. And to see them, Muslims or non-Muslims who also want to support the cause, on the doorstep is a conversation starter. It allowed us to connect.

So it would be wrong for me to say that I didn’t worry about what Ramadan would be like during this pandemic. No more trips to the mosque; no more call centre banter; no more cake deliveries. I felt uncertain, but trusted that things would work out.

“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have had the time to make this commitment.”

Like everybody, I’ve had to adapt to the change in living situation. The only people I have seen in person for almost two months now are my wife, our three daughters and my widowed mother. The kids aren’t going to school, so my wife and I are having to make sure they’re on top of their work online, and for our youngest, who’s just seven, this means that we’re essentially teaching her basic numeracy and literacy. I don’t feel unqualified to cover the standard level of work for my youngest – but I worry for my 16-year-old, who is anxious about missing her GCSEs. Life will go on, but there is some sense of loss for her, and I’m aware of that. We are teaching her that there is more to learning, more to life, than exams – but these are the cards life has dealt us.

But where there is a will, there is a way, and it’s incredible how so many of us have adapted to this situation. Weekdays start with home schooling and I then take calls for Islamic Relief UK’s live appeals from home. It feels great to keep participating, and even though we’re not together, the camaraderie works almost as well on a WhatsApp group as it would in real life.

The Cake Campaign has become the ‘Cakeless Campaign’: supporters can still pay the £10 they usually would on a cake, but can watch their donation be delivered, live on YouTube – in a socially distanced way – to Syrian refugees, in the form of a food pack.

With extra time from not delivering cakes on a Sunday, I have enrolled myself in a Qu’ran study course. I’ve never had this concentrated period of time to study the Qu’ran before, and it has helped further my connection with my faith during this difficult period. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have had the time to make this commitment. It’s not like I’ve ever had any doubts about my religion, but having the opportunity to understand it a bit more than previously, I feel a bit more surefooted in my beliefs.

“It’s important not to forget that although we have our own issues, we still have a responsibility to those who have it much worse than us.”

Fasting has turned out to be slightly easier, too. Not being out and about means I am conserving more energy, which makes up for the lack of food, water and sleep. I am praying with my family – we have replaced one congregation with another. Usually, only the last prayer of the day is in congregation, but being at home means that all of my prayers are congregational – I can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve prayed on my own this Ramadan.

Above all, it’s keeping me going to remember how lucky we are. Although we are facing difficulty right now, it’s nothing compared to people in refugee camps: people caught up in drought, or conflict, or people who aren’t blessed with an NHS. People for whom social distancing or clean water is a fantasy.

It’s important not to forget that although we have our own issues, we still have a responsibility to those who have it much worse than us. Every year, Ramadan allows me to connect with this reality. And this year, while our circumstances have changed, this is clearer than ever.

Ishtiyaq Siddiqui is a volunteer with Islamic Relief UK. You can donate to the charity’s emergency coronavirus appeal supporting vulnerable communities in the UK and overseas here.

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