Ramadan, the blessed and most beautiful time of the year for Muslims is here. But do you realize the difference this lockdown period makes to Muslims around the world?
A month…when Muslims all around the world fast from sunrise to sunset.
A month…when the whole family comes together for the ritual breaking of the fast called ‘Futoor’ (Arabic) or ‘Iftar’ (Urdu).
A month…when mosques all around the globe are full of worshippers.
A month…when most Muslim households are lit in the early hours of the morning, to take the pre-dawn meal called ‘Suhoor’ (Arabic) or ‘Sehri’ (Urdu).
Ramadan 2020 was unlike any other Ramadan ever! Most countries were in lockdown due to the Corona virus pandemic, so mosques were closed and gatherings were not allowed. It was perhaps the first time in the lifetime of billions of Muslims that they did not go to the mosques to pray. Late night congregational prayers called ‘Taraweeh’, which takes place only in the month of Ramadan, were not being held. Community Iftars at the mosque were cancelled. Public gatherings were banned.
And a year later, with the entire world facing a surge in Covid cases, we are back to square one. And let me tell you why all of this makes a big difference to the Muslims observing Ramadan around the globe.
Taraweeh Prayers – when the community comes together!
When I got married and began going for the Taraweeh prayers with my husband’s family, I remember it was at the mosque where I met most of the in-law’s friends, and their daughters and daughter-in-laws. After the prayer was over, we would meet and greet each other in the mosque compound. Some of the ladies I met were those who I would meet or see only once a year…during the Taraweeh prayers in Ramadan.
It was almost like seeing someone’s growth curve once a year – some came back the next year married, some with babies, some kids grew into teenagers, and some women came back with more wrinkles than the previous year. It was always wonderful to catch a glimpse and smile back at someone, who you would see for just one month in a year. Indians, Pakistanis, Kuwaitis, Americans, British, Sri Lankans, Egyptians, Turkish, Filipinos, Somalis…it was such a great feeling to see them all come together under one roof for the same purpose – to worship God!
Community Iftars at the local Mosque
Another thing that is so relevant to the month of Ramadan is the community Iftar (breaking of the fast) at the local mosque. Most mosques conduct daily or weekly community Iftars, which are sponsored by local businesses, organizations, charities or families. People assemble at the mosque and sit in rows, with food laid out in front of them. And this is a great test for patience!
A typical Iftar meal consists of some dates, fruits, buttermilk or sharbat, savory fritters (Pakodas), chickpea salad (Chana Chaat), dumplings in yogurt (Dahi Wade), soup and a rice dish with gravy. More than the adults, its the children who look forward enthusiastically to community Iftars. For the kids, the Iftar meal box is equivalent to a ‘surprise bag’; they just can’t wait to see which fruit is inside, what flavor juice did they get, and if the snack given on that day is their favorite or not.
At the time of dusk, the Maghrib prayer is called, and everyone breaks their fast with dates and water first. After breaking the fast, people stand in congregation to pray. Such Iftars are a great way of teaching the kids and youth community work – they learn to serve food to all, give out water, clean up after, and tidy up the mosque before leaving.
Iftars for family, friends and neighbors – a time to bond over food!
Ramadan is a time of togetherness – a time to eat together and a time to pray together. Most people look forward to meeting their near and dear ones over Iftar gatherings. Family, friends, neighbors – all invite you over in turns and then it’s your turn to invite them over for Iftar! Every Iftar gathering has a variety of foods and some specialties too.
Also, Iftar gatherings are most loved by women because it gives them a break from their own kitchen. Imagine the happiness of not cooking and just being served delicious food…it’s a priceless feeling! Unfortunately, most women must have forgotten what this feels like because the pandemic has left them with no other option but to cook and serve, due to the ban on all gatherings.
Realizing the TRUE ESSENCE during Lockdown
Congregational prayers, community Iftars, family gatherings – Muslims around the world may be missing it all BUT the one thing the pandemic has taught us – is to be grateful for what we have, no matter what situation we are in!
When Ramadan was approaching last year, most Muslims were dwelling in the thoughts of how it would be? Initially, there was a feeling of sadness as most of us knew that we may me missing out on a lot of the usual Ramadan activities and rituals that we grew up doing. Yet, no one would have imagined it to be so different…so much better actually!
Due to the complete lockdown, people were working from home, and children were off from school as well. This gave people more time to read and reflect upon the Holy Quran, to increase their prayers, to collectively do acts of worship with their immediate family members. Suddenly, everyone had so much more time on hand to do a multitude of acts of good deeds, versus the usual being stuck in traffic, trying to get home in time for breaking the fast, having lack of time and sleep, long working hours while fasting, etc.
Being in isolation and away from the distractions of the world helps one realize the true essence and importance of what they have. It teaches us to be grateful for our blessings and assess our needs over our wants. And this is why we often say “Alhumdullilah”, which translates to ‘Praise be to God’ or ‘Thank God’. We must be thankful to God at all times because we may not know what is in store for us or what is good for us. But God’s plans are always better and we must have trust in what God wills for us.
This year once again, most Muslims around the world will experience a Ramadan in lockdown. But they shall look forward to entering this blessed month with the HOPE of increased time for worship and more opportunities to gain multiple rewards. In sha Allah!