Welcoming Ramadan: Socially Distant but Spiritually Close
The blessed month of Ramadan will soon be upon us. In the past few days the collective nations' heart went out to Jews celebrating Passover and Christians celebrating Easter within the confines of social isolation and under the shadow of COVID-19. We observed how Seder dinners and Easter sermons were delivered online, adhering to the necessary government restrictions while retaining whatever possible of the the spirit of their celebration. Ramadan is a month where families gather to break their fast (iftar) together and communities congregate to worship their creator while participating in a myriad of charitable activities. This year, however, Ramadan will have a very different character. Many will find themselves breaking their fasts in isolation while others will sacrifice precious time with their families to fight COVID-19 on the front line. Our thoughts and prayers will remain with those who have lost loved ones fighting this disease. Our community takes immense pride and inspiration from the commitment and sacrifice of our Muslim healthcare professionals.
As a community it is essential that we prioritise our personal safety and health and that of our communities above all other considerations. We must continue to observe the guidelines set out by the government to protect us and our loved ones from the spread of COVID-19. We will be unable to gather with those outside of our household for iftar which will doubtless be heartbreaking for many; in particular where we have elderly parents residing outside the household. We are, however, blessed to live in a technological age where we can hold 'virtual iftars' with our families and friends to help ease the loneliness which can come with social distancing. Some families may struggle to get hold of the traditional Ramadan staple ingredients which are usually in plentiful supply at local supermarkets and will have to rely on delivery services or even consider alternative recipes. If we are forced to visit supermarkets, it should be planned ahead to avoid the usual pre-Ramadan rush that we do see in some areas. We should always maintain a safe two metre distance between other people at all times.
This Ramadan we are experiencing the closure of our Mosques, the focal point of our communities, for the first time in our lifetimes. Some will find being unable to pray taraweeh (night prayers) in congregation particularly unsettling. However, it is perfectly valid to pray at home and, where possible, in congregation with our own households. There are many phone apps that can be freely downloaded that can play the athan (call to prayer) and help us retain some of the character that makes Ramadan such a beautiful and cherished month. For children who may struggle to comprehend Ramadan in social isolation, we can source Ramadan decorations online or even stream Mecca's taraweeh prayers from previous years. Families can seize this opportunity to fortify the bonds inside the home, emerging from this experience stronger and more united.
British Muslims are mostly from a number of minority ethnic backgrounds and we unfortunately suffer from an array of health inequalities which make us and our elders more prone to have more serious complications following COVID infection. Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, are very common in our communities. People with these conditions happen to be the most affected by the more serious complications of COVID. Therefore it is very important this Ramadan, that if you have a long term health condition and take medication for it, that you speak to your GP or pharmacist in advance to see if the timings of your medication can be moved in order to be compatible with fasting. Whether or not this is possible will depend on the condition you have, how stable it is and the medication you are on. It is very important that you do not change the timing or frequency of your medication without seeking medical advice first. Ensure you have enough supplies of medication more in advance than usual. GPs and pharmacies are very busy, and some supply chains for certain medications may be affected during the crisis. If you have any elders in your family that the above applies to, encourage them to engage with their healthcare providers in order to resolve any unanswered questions before Ramadan starts.
We are a community that has always been resourceful and we have been blessed with incredible technology that we can put to use to help build a bridge to overcome the social distance that is so crucial to fighting COVID-19. Charities such as Mind (http://mind.org.uk) and the Muslim Youth Helpline (http://www.myh.org.uk) offer online resources and helplines to assist should we have particular concerns for our own mental well-being or those of our loved ones.
Our creator tells us that 'with great hardship comes ease' and we continue to rely on our communities, families and, above all, faith in our creator to tackle this immense challenge.
Salam Youssef, MDA Secretary