Growing up, I always felt like there was a taboo of four explicit “no-nos” in regards to having conversation with others: race, politics, religion and money. However, I find it personally hard to deviate from considering the social intersectionality and privileges these factors dictate one’s standards of life. In fact, as a Muslim American, having a religious identity often feels like a dangerous claim to have or to express because of the negative stereotypes portrayed in the media. Post 9/11, the defamation against Muslim Americans has only risen and often follows with negative Western sentiment as being associate to a “radical Islamic” and “terrorist organization.” Because of islamophobic rhetoric, the typical altruistic perception in being a part of a religious community feels socially rejected, especially in the bias and marginalization encountered during these unsettling times.
Personally, I believe the embodiment of my personal character and ethics stems from Islam. While I am proud to represent my religion and to be vocal in academic and casual discussions, it often feels tokenizing and draining. That’s why when Ramadan comes around, gathering at the mosque makes me feel recentered in the diversity of shared experiences I have with my Muslim community. However, under quarantine, millions of people are finding for the first time they do not have access to spiritual outlets that nurture one’s spiritual well-being. Therefore, celebrating Ramadan at home made this religious expression more vulnerable in the solitude of social isolation.
Starting at the end of April and continuing on until the end of May, Muslims around the world fast for 30 days from dawn to dusk. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to have a sense of belonging as people congregate for evening prayers often lasting hours into the twilight. Like the nocturnal nature of an owl, men and women, old and young, would gather together in a serene unity to celebrate the blessed time this month brought on.
While it is mandated to abstain from drinking and eating during the fast, Muslims are taught to practice other outlets of patience and gratitude in pursuing good deeds. A big part of this holy month are the daily night prayers known as “taraweeh.” At my mosque, people would host “iftars,” a feast to open the fast. It was a chance to catch up and check in on loved ones, normally busy with the everyday routines of school and work. I would stumble upon old friends and their families, catching up to exchange our different pursuits of goals and dreams. Nostalgic for my mundane reality, Ramadan this year felt painstakingly slow and quiet with just being at home and trying to battle new routines. There was no standing shoulder to shoulder under the rich melodious recitation from the Imam, the leader of the prayer. There was no getting together with other families and sharing a meal. With global and local safety regulations, including the closure of public spaces and attractions, the most drastic change was seeing the Ka’aba empty.
The Ka’aba is considered the “House of God.” Prayers, which happen five times a day, always point in the direction of it. This great mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was empty, deserted of worship. It felt surreal to see the holy site of pilgrimage empty, as it is where Muslims from all over the world and different walks of life would gather.
Ramadan was different at home and there are not enough words to describe how lost I initially felt. While it is a communal period, it posed a lot of time for self-reflection and appreciation. I began to understand the social importance of community, as I’m sure others resonate to this deprivation and sense of belonging. Whether it is a spiritual mass or a collection of creatives, finding your personal community provides a means of support amongst life’s happiest moments or toughest struggles.
Being stuck at home due to COVID-19 does not have to mean your mental, physical and spiritual well-being should decay. It is important to connect with yourself and those whom you might have been used to seeing everyday. While I was spending Ramadan at home, it gave me an opportunity to rekindle the joy and appreciation I had for my family. Coming from a small home of three, we learned new ways to spend time together. This meant strolling in the early morning after eating a quick breakfast of suhoor, learning new meals to prepare for iftar, having laughs in the competitive atmosphere of game nights and sitting together in the evenings to hear a lecture on the significance of Ramadan. So while the pandemic has warranted a lot of pedantic thoughts on academics, politics and global health outcomes that are often out of hands, I think it is important to keep the gates of communication open and make sure you find ways to prioritize your holistic well-being.
Izza Ahmed-Ghani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org