Weeks ago, few could have predicted that our lives would change so dramatically as we grappled with a once-in-a-century pandemic sweeping the globe. Yet, here we are — adjusting to this new reality of social distancing and self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.
As disorienting as these times feel, it’s all the more unsettling to process what COVID-19 means for how religious holidays have traditionally been marked across faith traditions. Two weeks ago, a friend celebrating Easter Sunday shared a screenshot of the service being livestreamed — from her empty church. Then, a former colleague posted pictures of Passover Seder in his living room, shared with loved ones Zoomed in from only two blocks away.
And now, this pandemic presents unique challenges for millions of Americans who are joining 1.5 billion Muslims around the world in welcoming the month of Ramadan. Ramadan marks the month in which the Quran, the Islamic holy text, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection and rebirth, of families and communities coming together, and of increased charity.
It involves gathering daily for communal prayers, breaking of the fast, spiritual talks and intra- and interfaith service projects and activities. It’s a time of year that historically is linked to mosques, that has been deeply rooted in community. And that now — for the first time in our lifetimes — will be observed in isolation, within our homes. The question on many minds is: how do we prepare to spiritually rejuvenate our hearts and minds while surrounded by such solitude, uncertainty, grief and turmoil?
But it’s in these exact moments, when trials and tribulations compel us to feel lonely, confused and afraid, that we can benefit most from the blessings of this month. In fact, Ramadan in the time of corona has the potential to be our most rewarding and rejuvenating Ramadan yet.
Many mosques are adapting to offer “drive-thru iftar” meals and planning to livestream spiritual programs, sermons and lectures to help their congregations remain connected over the next several weeks. Friends have already started scheduling “virtual iftars” on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other platforms. And, perhaps most important, families will have the opportunity to spend more quality time together. Chapter 94, verse nine of the holy Quran reads: “Verily, with hardship there is ease.” It serves as a reminder that this pandemic is a temporary test, and it reassures us to persevere, stay strong and be steadfast in faith.
Spirituality and resilience can manifest in the absence of conflict, but they’re truly nurtured while enduring it. The ability to exercise patience and maintain a spiritual connection is a reflection of both. Let’s resolve to cultivate serenity within ourselves this Ramadan. It’s said to not be freedom from the storm, but finding peace within it. The entire world is a mosque to pray in for those who seek to connect with our Creator. And for those who may be missing the strength they find in being with their loved ones and community this month, remember that love is real even though it can’t be seen or touched.
When we pray in our homes, we are joined in prayer by a faith community from all parts of the globe. According to one Hadith, or record of prophetic tradition, a man asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “What do you say of a man who loves a certain group of people but cannot be of them?” The Prophet replied: “A person will be with whom he loves.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6168, Book 78, Hadith 194).
Ramadan in the time of corona will be a once in a lifetime experience. We were made for these times. They bring extraordinary challenges, but also tremendous opportunities. Let’s use this month as an opportunity to reflect on our immeasurable blessings, to give back to humanity in every way possible, to treat others well and to seek nearness to God through our prayers, fasting and good deeds.