21/04/2020 06:00 BST

Coronavirus Means Ramadan Will Be More Challenging Than Ever For Muslims Like Me

With mosques closed, family meals cancelled and fear of food shortages, this year’s month of fasting will be unlike any other before, writes Shahed Ezaydi.

Courtesy of the author
Family meals, like the above, are normally a fixture for the author's family during Ramadan.

Ramadan, as you will probably know, is an annual religious period for Muslims all over the world that involves the act of fasting for a month. It’s one of the five key pillars of Islam, and is such an important time for us. It’s the month in which the Quran was first revealed, and when the gates of Heaven are open, and so good deeds have a greater reward. 

In this month, we try to go back to the very basics and embrace our faith and spirituality. Our daily fast serves as a grounding reminder of the privileges we all have in our daily lives; it’s both a time for self-reflection and a time to think of others. 

It’s also, usually, a social time for family, friends and the community. We regularly gather to celebrate and reconnect over big and delicious meals. Mosques host communal meals too, and help our community see each other, and pray and worship together. 

Ramadan is a vibrant and deeply moving period of time for Muslims like me. But, as with everything, coronavirus and lockdown mean this Ramadan will be quite different. And I’m worried that this year it will be clouded in tension and anxiety, especially for my family with my dad working in the NHS, and it won’t feel the same.

No more visits from family and friends, no more big communal meals outside the home, no more going to the mosque for meals or prayers.

The pandemic and social distancing measures we have brought in are, of course, completely needed and required – but they will also severely affect how Muslims are able to approach and conduct themselves through this holy month. All gatherings outside family households will be cancelled. No more visits from family and friends, no more big communal meals outside the home, no more going to the mosque for meals or prayers. We will all have to break our fast at home. This is quite a drastic move away from what’s normal for us in this usually social period, and already I’ve heard family and friends tell me ‘it just won’t feel like Ramadan this year’.

I’m lucky that, in my case, I will fast at home with my immediate family. Mum will still make her delicious food, including personal favourites of vegetable samosas and biryani, and we will still sit down at dusk to eat and be grateful for the day. My dad won’t go to the mosque any more, something he usually puts a lot more effort in doing during Ramadan, but we will still pray at home together. We won’t be able to meet with family or friends, but I guess that’s what video calling is now for. 

For all of us, this Ramadan will be even more about adaptation and resilience. These are feelings we’re used to facing during this time, but this year will require them in extreme forms. To have all the normal adaptations we incorporate into our lives, with the added worry and anxiety around the pandemic will require more strength and resilience.

We also have to be wary of the impact of panic buying. In my experience this has now died down a fair bit but, if there were to be renewed food shortages, then this could have some ramifications for my family and fellow Muslims. We don’t consume as much food or drink during Ramadan, but we still need to break our fast and eat, which would certainly prove more difficult if basic food items weren’t available. 

There are Muslims too who sometimes rely on communal meals at their local mosque. Mosques have been closed since the start of the government lock down, but they are essential to the Muslim community and can be a real hub. Yes, they are places of worship, but they’re also places to see family and friends, and a place where a person can seek help or support. And the closure of mosques will be felt even more during Ramadan. It will mean family and friends won’t come together for prayers or meals. And more importantly, it may mean that some of the more vulnerable Muslims in the community could miss out on vital meals and support to get them through the month. 

I’m choosing to focus on how this unique situation we all find ourselves in has the ability to strip back Ramadan to its true meaning.

Yet it’s not all doom and gloom. This pandemic will unquestionably change the month of Ramadan for us. It will mean encountering some bumps along the road we haven’t really faced before. I was already an anxious person before the pandemic, and so, like others, my anxiety has definitely been exasperated recently. And these feelings will be carried into Ramadan, and my usual coping mechanisms, which include food, will have to be adapted.

But I’m choosing to focus on how this unique situation we all find ourselves in has the ability to strip back Ramadan to its true meaning.

Outside of the big meals and the big family occasions, Ramadan is about properly sitting with our privilege, and thinking about those who are less fortunate than us. It’s about providing a helping hand where needed, and it’s about looking out for your community. That’s never been more important than right now.

Ramadan, I believe, reflects the true spirit of community – and in some ways this crisis has reignited that community spirit in our nation. So this year, when I sit down in the evening to break my fast, I will be thinking and praying not so much for myself, but for all those on the frontline fighting this virus, and for all those affected by it.

Shahed Ezaydi is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @shahedezaydi

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