By Ahmad Ibsais
No matter where I was in the world, I have always celebrated Ramadan. I can remember being surrounded by family and gorging myself on food, before swiftly putting our meal to the side once we heard the calls to prayer at sunrise. I remember the 2 a.m. runs to IHOP with my cousins, and I remember breaking fast at the end of the month with knafeh, a Palestinian dessert, and celebrating at the mosque with everyone in our community on Eid al-Fitr.
The month of Ramadan is the most sacred time of the year in Islamic culture. Throughout the month, we fast from sunrise to sunset, which is one of the five pillars — or duties — of Islam, along with the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. We pray five times a day, including before the sun rises and sets, a tradition Ameer Abdul, a 24-year-old women’s health activist in Columbus, Ohio, cherishes most. “From a spiritual sense, throughout the day the whole family each makes dedicated time to recite the Quran,” Abdul told MTV News. “We also each like to share our favorite verse of the day with one another.”
It’s because our holidays are based on the lunar calendar that the dates vary against their western counterparts each year, and this year, Ramadan is falling in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, from April 23 to May 23. And that’s important, because Ramadan isn’t just about fasting: It is also a time when families gather, celebrate, and unite under shared community. It is during this month that Muslims volunteer most within their communities and give zakat, or charity, to the less fortunate.
It’s hard to imagine what observing Ramadan will be like without being surrounded by family, without the laughter of my little cousins, and without praying alongside friends. This summer, I was supposed to travel to Palestine to visit my family. I planned on walking the streets of Jerusalem and seeing the happiness around shared celebration. But with limitations on travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll be staying in Florida.
“It hurts to think that this year we’re going to be much more isolated than we’re used to,” Abdul told MTV News. “That being said, Ramadan is a time to practice patience and put our trust in God, that regardless of the circumstance, He will be providing us with what's ultimately best for us all.”
As a young Muslim American, celebrating Ramadan is one of the main reminders of my faith in the U.S. And I’m not alone: There are over four million Muslims in the United States and almost two billion Muslims around the world, all of whom were affected by the global coronavirus pandemic long before Ramadan started. With worries of infecting our loved ones or further spreading the coronavirus, it seems that many of us will have to shift how we practice our faith. And as mosques close across the world, we don’t have any other choice.
That’s why so many mosques — and Muslims — around the world are starting to adapt. Thandiwe Abdullah, an 18-year-old in Los Angeles, is proud of how her community has already shown resilience and adapted to new social distancing mandates. “My mosque, The Islamic Center of Southern California, has been holding khutbahs on Zoom as well as Friday prayers,” Abdullah told MTV News, adding that her youth group is also hosting Zoom calls on Sundays. As for Ramadan, she plans to observe by eating suhoor at home with her family, and having virtual “Ramadan Nights” with her friends from the mosque, where they will laugh and connect until the morning prayer.
Abdullah said the changes to how she’s praying, and soon celebrating Ramadan, might help many Muslims tap into what she calls “the roots” of our faith. “Ramadan is about simplicity and becoming closer to religion, and though it’s not the best of situations, I think the aspect of physical distancing will force a lot of us to get back to the basics,” she said.
Growing up Muslim American, Ramadan was the one time of year that I felt my religion had a place in the U.S., where I could be a Muslim unapologetically. While it’s disheartening to see this holiday, one meant for unity and happiness, be shrouded by fear, if there is one thing I know about the Muslim community, it is that we are ones to adapt.
I know this month will include FaceTime calls through the night, a virtual Eid al-Fitr, and, in the spirit of zakat, fortunate Muslims will be sending whatever food and groceries they can spare to those in need, instead of delivering them in person. “This Ramadan may be different, it may be difficult for many of us, but it will be one where we can focus more on self-development and self-reflection,” Abdul said. “I’m extremely excited to see all the new creative and innovative ways we’ll be connecting during the month.”
I’m one of the lucky ones: There are plenty of Muslims across the globe who are unable to connect digitally with their loved ones, and unable to find food and shelter at the mosques. Fatimata Cham, an 18-year-old Senegalese and Gambian American, is struggling to connect with her family. “My dad has found it difficult to send my grandmother money she needs for Ramadan because she lives in the village and the borders are closed in Senegal,” Cham told MTV News. As a result, she’s been discovering other ways to reach her family, like having someone in her grandmother’s village pick the money up for her.
“Ramadan is not just a holiday, it is a way for Muslims to learn sabr,” Cham said, referring to the notion of perseverance that fasting and other rituals speak to. “To learn to be patient in any struggle that may come their way so that they may be better prepared for this world and the hereafter.” Abdul agreed, adding that “Ramadan is a time that focuses on teaching empathy.”
This Ramadan will be a moment to make new memories and start new traditions. Since we won’t be able to pray at the mosque, my family is setting up new traditions, like decorating a Ramadan tree and setting up other decorations to make our home feel special. We will all also be giving up something we cherish, which we do every year; I will be giving up music, which is a small thing to give up when so many people are struggling, but it matters nonetheless. And when life refuses to get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger, and more resilient.