I love it when people come together to share an experience. It could be eating in packed restaurants, standing in long lines for concerts or new phones, or packed sports events. Basically, I love everything we cannot partake in during these COVID times. And now with Spring upon us, you can add to that list the traditions around Easter, Passover, and Ramadan. Billions of people around the world are starting to re-think how will they celebrate their religious and cultural practices.
As an Arab American from Algeria, I embrace my faith as a Muslim and openly honor the practices of people around me. This year however, I find myself so nervous for the upcoming month of fasting that is starting April 24th. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast from dawn to sunset as way to exercise self-discipline, abstain from worldly pleasures, and focus more on strengthening faith and character. Yes, no water, no gum, no mints. Nothing. I have been fasting since I was 12 years old and it has always been my favorite time of year.
How is that possible, you might ask?
Because of the sense of community Ramadan ushers in, people who are fasting often break their fast with others. Subsequently, the month is packed with dinner parties and catch up conversations. The month also miraculously brings together families to the table at the same time. At the end of the 30 days, you feel a true sense of accomplishment for all the struggle that comes with the day to day fatigue of fasting – you get to share that feeling with a worldwide community.
Now with COVID, Muslims will have to pivot. In San Diego, the mosques have declared that there will no longer be evening prayers and sermons. They also will not be serving daily dinners – a detriment to many who relied on those nightly meals. The reality is that by the end of this month, we will still be practicing social distancing so private dinner parties at homes and restaurants are also not encouraged.
In my household, we had an open conversation on “what will Ramadan look like?” We talked about doing virtual dinners a couple times a week and sending encouraging texts to keep us motivated during the long days. The key is not to feel alone.
This conversation got my wheels turning and suddenly it dawned on me that observing Ramadan during COVID could be a very positive experience. In fact, this time alone and isolated will force people to use this gift of time to reflect more on their actions, intentions, and their relationship with God. There is no ability to be robotic in the act of fasting and prayer because there is no rush to go anywhere. I now will have time to be more thoughtful in my prayers and with how I spend my energy.
One important value of Ramadan is helping those in need. My family and I discussed ordering food from local restaurants that are struggling due to COVID. What’s better than to supporting local San Diego businesses?
So now, with less than 20 days ahead of me until the eve of Ramadan, I am starting to feel more excited and creative. People can try new recipes and share on social media since they have more time. People can set up Zoom dinner parties or after-dinner parties. People can still cook and bake and share with neighbors and friends by dropping off at a safe and healthy distance–or pass time through virtual online games. Moreover, people can use their nights to stream prayers and sermons and fill their living rooms with inspirational messages. This could be a new experience of reading passages from the holy book instead of passively listening during nightly prayers. Muslims are also lucky that Ramadan is follows Easter and Passover, they can get inspired by how others are making their holidays special. Virtual Easter egg hunts? Virtual Passover family meals? I think by the end of COVID, we will have seen it all.
Will it be easy?
Not at all. But different is not bad. It pushes us to test our limits and capabilities and adapt to new ways of living.
If we all do our part, I do believe we will emerge stronger in our faith and sense of community than ever before. Eventually we will resume our lives of shared communal experiences. In the interim, look for the silver lining – it is there.
Sarah Hassaine does business strategy in diversity and inclusion for Qualcomm and is a longtime San Diegan. She has lived in cities around the world and focuses on community development through refugee empowerment. Follow her on Twitter @shassaine