Ramadan in quarantine

20 May 2020

Millions of Muslims worldwide are celebrating the final days of Ramadan right now. But how does a community based festivity work in times of Corona self-isolation? A conversation with two Muslim students about a holy month, the power of the internet and everything in-between. ’Ramadan is a spiritual opportunity.’

’It’s pretty hard to explain’, says Sofia Tahib. ’Everything around this month is so innate to me that when someone asks ’What is it?’, a thousand things come to mind. But I can’t explain all the emotions that are connected to it.’ Tahib, a 22-year old Psychology student, is at her family home in the south of the Netherlands. Like millions of other Muslims all around the world, she is currently celebrating the month of Ramadan. Due to Corona, this year under quite novel conditions.

Nadia Wahid. Own photo

’Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed to Muslims’, explains Nadia Wahid, a 21 year-old student from Germany, who has left Nijmegen for her parents’ home. ’During it, we fast from sunrise to sunset. Then we usually break the fast with family and friends during the so-called Iftar, a festive meal in the evening, and pray together afterwards.’ Ramadan is considered a holy month for Muslims for which they believe that the doors of heaven are opened and the gates of hell closed. During this time, Muslims are encouraged to strengthen their religious roots. But according to the students Ramadan is also about community. Which has been a challenging aspect during this year’s celebration.

Double-edged sword

’We are not able to gather with extended family members right now to break the fast’, says Tahib, ’and obviously with no friends either.’ Something that can be especially challenging for Muslims living alone at the moment, as both know. ’My grandfather is living fifteen minutes away from my family’, says Wahid, ’I can’t remember a single day that he didn’t come to visit us when I was still living in Germany. Now, because of the Corona situation, that’s not possible. He’s very old and we’re all afraid that he could get sick.’

’This Ramadan is probably both one of the worst and one of the best ones of my life’

For Wahid, who has celebrated the past three Ramadan away from her family, the situation is a double-edged sword. ’This Ramadan is probably both one of the worst and one of the best ones of my life’, she says, ’On the one hand, it is horrible, because so many bad things are happening right now. People are dying, schools are closed and the crisis is taking a toll on the economy. But on the other hand it is this the first Ramadan since the start of my study during which I can break the fast with my parents and my sisters together every night.’

Importance of the internet

The internet has now become an essential tool for celebrating the month. ’During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to do more charity work and to be more spiritual. However, there is almost no hands-on charity work possible at the moment. And the mosques are closed’, explains Tahib, ’So now, what people lack in hands-on charity work, they make up for by donating money. And instead of visiting the mosque, I’m watching online-lectures with spiritual topics. This has given me the opportunity to find out about different topics than I would have if I only had attended my regular mosque in Rotterdam.’

Sofia Tahib. Own photo

This, however, can’t quite compensate for everything that the month is missing this year. The Muslim student organisation MSV, of which Tahib is this year’s secretary, had to cancel already planned Iftars, she says, and even though they have organised some activities online, this Ramadan is more challenging than others. ’But’, Tahib adds, ’I do not believe that it takes away any spirituality that you can sense during this month. This year, we just need to go a little bit out of our way to find those online lectures, those online donation links, and just stay spiritual in our own home, without the guidance of our family members and friends.’

’Additionally’, says Wahid, ’it is important to look out for people who are currently fasting by themselves and can’t join their families during Ramadan. Because it is good to know that people still think of you — even though you are part of a minority. That helps a lot to fight loneliness. And I think that paying attention to people who are alone is important, not only during Ramadan, but during this crisis in general.’

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