Ramadan is always a test – that’s kind of the point – but hoo-boy, were we tested last year. Muslims with a few seasons of fasting under their belt will tell you that not eating or drinking anything in daylight hours isn’t necessarily the hardest part of the month. For some, that’s the deeply spiritual, finding-true-inner-peace side of things. For others, it’s the burden of care and expectation placed on still keeping everything running smoothly in a household. Personally, I always find it all pretty difficult and routinely promise myself that this year will be different. But last year, it really was.
Praying five times a day. Zoning into that meditative space. Making time to read the Quran. Watching my bad habits and trying to break them. In some ways, lockdown might have made Ramadan easier: there were no distractions, nowhere to be, and a focused opportunity to reset with a month of self-improvement and self-care. When the world was confronting so much suffering, it intensified how grateful we felt for all the small things.
But traditionally, all the harder aspects of the month are softened by the happy upsides: you get together and spend quality time with the people you love, and every night is a new feast. There’s a unique strength and comfort to be found in the idea that more than a billion people worldwide are going through the same experience. Imagine running 26 miles on your own in the dark, cold and rain, versus running a marathon among giddy crowds on a bright, crisp afternoon. (I say imagine, because I’d never run 26 miles – but I figure they share a similar spirit.)
For the extroverts, hosting and attending iftars (the evening meal with which Muslims break the fast) and catching up with friends and family in this way makes the whole month feel like a celebration. For the introverts, the time you get to think, reflect and recharge is sacred. It’s a special feeling. Last year, we learned to check in on each other more, and really listen when people were feeling down and lonely. This year, we’d do well to remember to keep that energy up.
Ramadan during the strictest lockdown so far, under a global pandemic, wasn’t just a test of faith, but also a test of all the principles we cleave to as Muslims (in this month, especially): being kind to one another, particularly the less fortunate; thinking of others; and sacrificing our own needs for the greater good. The conditions of the pandemic required all the above – it turns out Ramadan was built for crisis – while science and religion agree that doing good deeds is directly linked to feeling good yourself. Charity is a building block of the faith, but you don’t need to be religious to see the benefit.
Without the socially un-distanced side of things, without being able to attend the mosque or get together en masse, a sense of disconnection could have come in waves. But Muslims stayed home, stayed safe and learned to adapt. Eids went digital. Technophobe parents were taught to Zoom. The reminder that Ramadan is as much a test of the mind as it is of the body has never felt starker; when the world is brimming with fear and chaos, there’s still sense and calm to be found in faith.
Be mindful: It’s hard to be fully present and engaged for more than five minutes in the modern world, but slowing down is a fundamental part of the month. Finding little moments of peace every day can go a long way.
Do good for others: Charity is a big part of Ramadan. It’s a huge mood boost – you can do good and feel good. Win-win.
Host a feast: You don’t have to fast all day to make a special occasion of dinner. Load up on your favourite foods (and people, if restrictions allow!) and make an evening of it.
Organise a girls’ night: Muslim cultures mark the night before Ramadan in different ways, but Chand Raat (night of the new moon) is when women in South Asia shop for last-minute treats, decorate their hands with henna and indulge in beauty treatments. Obviously, allow for restrictions – but you can always meet up online.
Nourish yourself: The month represents spiritual discipline and purification, and many Muslims will read and recite from the Quran each day. Find something positive you’ve been meaning to work on and use this month to stick to it.
You can follow Nosheen on Twitter: @nosheeniqbal