Op-ed: Celebrating Ramadan during a pandemic wasn’t any less holy — it was simply not the norm

Physical distancing, virtual connecting during the most sacred month of the year

On April 23, my local mosque announced that Ramadan would begin the next day. For Muslims, Ramadan is the holiest month of the year. We primarily abstain from eating and drinking from dusk till dawn. It is a time when families, friends, and neighbours get together to break their fast and pray at home or in a local mosque. Just like every year, many Muslims and communities around the world look forward to observing Ramadan. 

On April 24 at 8:12 pm, the Islamic call to prayer called the Athan marked the end of the first day of Ramadan. The first day is always heartwarming and busy; it is celebrated with friends and family where the best dishes are prepared.

We were all excited, the only difference being that, this year, we could not be with our family and friends. This meant that we could not gather to pray, break our fast together, or exchange plans for the next month. It was the start of something unusual. This year, communal iftars and prayers had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, so we tried our best to make this Ramadan as normal as possible.

However, one thing that we could not control was our parents not being with us during these blessed times. This Ramadan was the first one that my siblings and I spent away from our parents and the rest of our family. Due to the ongoing travel restrictions, my parents had to stay in Syria. It was only my siblings and I sitting around the table enjoying the food. 

Baba was not around to make a joke just to hear our laughter; Mama was not there to make us smile and fill us with amazing food. It was an odd feeling. Although we are all safe and healthy, these times seem a lot harder because we are not together. 

This month is about more than just fasting. We usually get together with people who we don’t often see throughout the year. The weekly mosque visits and the interaction with the community is always a fun and memorable time. The small snacks that are there, the little kids, and most importantly, the sense of community and unity. It’s always such a wholesome time. 

I do not want to only focus on the negatives of this whole situation, because there are definitely some aspects to be happy about. With everything becoming virtual, you get the chance to chat with people across the world. For example, although we cannot fast with my parents, we always talk to them while we break our fast and while they prepare to start theirs. It’s not necessarily the same, but it is something that we are slowly growing to accept as the new norm.

I have been given the chance to appreciate every day. A huge part of this holy month is that we get closer to God, individually and as a community. Staying at home allowed me to build and strengthen my relationship with the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The daily bond that I was able to build with God during Ramadan has helped me identify and appreciate the positive outcomes of staying at home. 

Despite not being able to meet up with people, many online initiatives were introduced to replace key factors that usually make Ramadan special. The Muslim Chaplaincy and the Muslim Students Association at the University of Toronto hosted numerous classes throughout the month to keep everyone connected. Although it was not the same, it still provided an alternative way for the community to interact with each other, even if it was just virtually.  

Mayor John Tory’s announcement that all large events would be cancelled until June 30 struck hard. It meant that not only did we have to spend Ramadan alone, but our celebration that came afterward would also be cancelled. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan where families and friends get together to pray and celebrate with food and sweets. It is yet another gathering that allows you to connect with your community on a whole new level.

It’s not that this Ramadan was any less holy; it was simply not the norm. I miss seeing family and friends gathered over a large table of food waiting for the Athan. I miss going to pray with family and seeing friends there. It is something that I grew to love, and it’s hard to see it not happen. Still, if staying home means that people are safer, then I am more than willing to do it. It’s important that everyone tries to do the same. 

Basmah Ramadan is a third-year international relations, equity, and political science student at University College. She is a University College director for the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the vice-president social advancement for the Muslim Students’ Association.

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