“Ramadan Kareem!” is a greeting you may hear Muslims exchanging this month. Meaning, “blessed Ramadan,” it is a wish that the holy month be a generous and rewarding experience. Along with other Muslims worldwide, I observe Ramadan by fasting from food and liquids during daylight hours for 30 days; we eat each night. Additionally, I must refrain from profane behavior like wishing or speaking ill of others, and engage in giving generously. Ramadan is also a time for deep spiritual introspection, intense reading of our sacred text, the Holy Quran, and engaging in prayer. As Muslims from Dakar to Istanbul, Chicago to Kuala Lampur, and Mecca to Marrakesh are also doing simultaneously, I organize my days and nights around these obligations of sacrifice. Like most Muslims, I am imperfect in my efforts, but humbled by this globally shared experience. Essentially, Ramadan’s purpose is to remind us of what hunger and deprivation feel like and to promote thankfulness and caring. As if on cue, millions of Muslims join together to break each day’s fast at sundown by praying, then sharing meals and camaraderie with our family members and friends. I especially take heart that the prayers we pray across the miles are the same, albeit spoken in different languages. In short, Ramadan symbolizes sacrifice, giving, and prayer for the good of mankind on a communal scale.
But this year, the timing of Ramadan coincides with the unprecedented and utterly daunting isolation brought on by Coronavirus. Fasting is suddenly a more solitary practice, as my friends and family members self-quarantine to protect each other and forego our communal nightly breaking of the fast. Like other houses of worship, our mosques are closed. And at a time when there would typically be more intense activity, we are without Friday congregational services and special Ramadan nightly group prayers. Most notably, the free meals at sundown provided by many mosques for fasters in dire need, may not be available.
When I lived in Abu Dhabi for many years amidst a diverse array of Muslim societies, including Arabs, Sudanese, Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Kenyans, and Lebanese, our large public Ramadan iftars (nightly banquets) and evening throngs of children at seaside parks were our commonplace shared experiences. Now back home in America, my husband and I are alone in our household, and like other Muslims worldwide, we are unexpectedly finding this year’s Ramadan to be a much more solitary set of practices.
Yet, ultimately, human resilience reveals that embedded in COVID isolation are opportunities to practice the very meaning of Ramadan in deeper ways. Sacrifice: as I gaze out at the mist on my lawn while brewing my pre-dawn cup of tea, I am reminded even more profoundly what the pain of homelessness must be like. Being prayerful: my ability to engage in my devotional practices is now more readily facilitated by the peace and quiet of fewer work-related distractions and more time on my hands. Giving: every media outlet I log-on to, or tune into today presents easy opportunities to support frontline COVID healthcare and EMT workers, teachers, postal carriers, other service professionals, and all of those who are sacrificing to make my home stay possible and my Ramadan comfortable.
This Ramadan will not be easily forgotten for all the reasons that make it a challenging time. But we can also remember it for the extraordinary richness of spiritual practice that emerges from solitude, and the heightened satisfaction of giving at a time when it means more than ever before. Here’s wishing “Ramadan Kareem” to my fellow supplicants, and “Peace and Blessings” to all those on other quests of the spirit. May COVID lessen our differences and bring our common global human purpose into sharper focus.