Having just celebrated Easter in lockdown, we feel with our Muslim friends as they start Ramadan this week in the midst of the restrictions of our Covid-19 world. The joyful times of breaking fast together, family meals, connecting with friends, enacting faith in community are all under pressure at this time.
With mosque prayers cancelled, and the blessing of performing ummra at this time made inaccessible, this is a challenging time for our friends. Some religious leaders have declared prayers can be performed at home this ramadan, while many are struggling with the site of empty mosques. The issues are real.
I have been in Egypt as our Orthodox friends faced celebrating Easter with churches closed. It was painful for many. Church is not just a place to go and attend a religions service, it is a place of community life. This loss of community life was deeply felt, as was the the pain of not participating in rituals that are so central to expressions of the life of faith. It has given me a glimpse of what my Muslim friends are struggling with as they face this new reality for ramadan.
The solidarity of community is something a Westerner like me has come to understand much more profoundly through years of living in the Middle East and Asia. The sense that ‘we belong’, not just ‘I belong’, profoundly reshapes reasons for doing faith together.
Ramadan does have its individual benefits, providing opportunity for inner reflection, for a ‘reset’ in religious life. This disciplines of self-control, generosity and charity, and focussed attention to matters of religious life are all encouraged for the individual. Some see the scaled back celebrations as an opportunity to give focus to this individual disciplines and personal spiritual formation. We can pray for our Muslim friends, especially those who see these opportunities, to encounter God in new fresh and life-transforming ways.
Like many of us who celebrated Easter in lockdown and were given the opportunity for refocus, our Muslim friends celebrating ramadan under lockdown have fresh opportunity for refocus. May God graciously meet many at this time.
For our Muslim friends living in diaspora situations, particularly students or workers, this year’s ramadan will be difficult as many will find themselves breaking fast alone, unable to meet with friends for this celebratory meal. This is an opportunity for us to reach out to those around us, yes via technology, and offer them support and encouragement; maybe an opportunity to prepare and meal and send to them.
Those of us living in Muslim-majority countries have different opportunities: sending greetings, prayers, food we have prepared, hosting a virtual Iftar. Even though lockdown is affecting us, we can use this opportunity to reach out to our Muslim friends with care and compassion, and with the understanding of what it is not to be able to come together to celebrated important parts of faith. Messages of compassion and understanding are important for building relationship and connection.
Ramadan is also an opportunity to build merit with Allah, and the decreased opportunity for community participation adds weight to the concerns of many. “Acts of worship performed in Ramadan include several benefits and their rewards are multiplied. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws close to Allah by performing [a supererogatory] good deed during this month shall receive the same reward as one who has performed an obligatory act of worship at any other time, and whoever performs an obligatory act in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligatory acts of worship performed at any other time.” Supererogatory acts of worship include making dhikr in abundance which illuminates the heart and senses. Al-Zuhari said, “Glorifying Allah once in Ramadan is better than glorifying Him a thousand times at any other time.” (https://www.dar-alifta.org/foreign/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=46&text=Enter)
As ramadan begins, let us pray for our Muslim friends in this challenging time, seeking God with and for them, and asking his grace and blessing through encounters. Let us stand with them as they seek to adapt to a reframed expression of faith life and community. Let us keep pointing them to God who sees and hears in secret and rewards the heart that seeks for him.
Featured image: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-19/ramadan-during-coronavirus-how-it-will-be-different-in-2020/12150946
(c) When Women Speak … April 2020
CH spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).