Quarantine Reflections: Ramadan and the Pandemic

The month of Ramadan is here.

It is tempting to say that it will be nothing like previous years. Mosques are closed, there won’t be any gatherings for Iftar, no congregational Taraweeh prayers. Stories of how this month was spent this year will be stories for generations. But what kind of stories? A big part of this month’s experience was the social element that accompanied it. None of that this year.

What hasn’t changed is the part where we were with ourselves, alone. Away from the prying faces and eyes we tried to impress in the mosques, on the street, at the neighbourhood gathering. When nobody would be around to watch as we bared our soul in front of the Almighty. This year, we might have a better chance at it.

A week or so ago, in a conversation with my wife, we were talking about how we were praying to be released from quarantine so that we can be back home in time to start Ramadan together. She wondered if it might be a better Ramadan if we spent it in quarantine. Free from the distractions of the world. Which is what this month attempts to instil in us every year through fasting and prayer, and the heightened sense of self-awareness it brings.

Every year, the month of Ramadan arrives. We start looking forward to it once the calendar is past halfway through the month of Sha’ban. It is there, and then before we know, it is gone. Slipping through the fingers as we try holding on to it tighter with each passing day. Breaking the routine of our lives as we lived it through the year gone by. Giving us a chance to change ourselves. And then leaving us better than our former selves to live the year ahead. After which Ramadan will arrive to break the routine again, making us into even better versions of ourselves.

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But we know that it doesn’t. As soon as the month is gone, we fall back into old patterns. Only to reflect and improve ourselves, and then repeat the cycle.

This pandemic feels like Ramadan imposed upon the world. A rather more austere and irate version of it, because we failed to realise its value over the years.

Bereft of everything familiar, we aren’t gently nudged to reflect on everything we have made to go wrong with the world. Everyone seems to be whirling, not knowing where they will emerge after being spit out at who knows which end. Yet, there are those who convene at the vortex of this storm. Fearful of the movements around them, but comfortable in the knowledge that they will survive. Devastation doesn’t strike with equity in its mind.

This is a time for reflection, healing and action. The future will look back at today, and point towards the choices we made in the face of unprecedented events. We can choose to make things better, worse or leave them as they are. What is certain is that there may not be another time in our lives when everything that is wrong around us and needs to be fixed will be visible with such stark clarity.

Because God forbid, unlike Ramadan, the pandemic isn’t coming back to give us another chance. And while there is the promise of Ramadan returning next year, we may not be around to get another chance either.