Inclusive Ramadan Practice in Quarantine

The IMI community reflect on the challenges and possibilities of Ramadan during a global pandemic
by Sabah Choudrey

As Ramadan approaches this year, there’s no question that it is distinct from many others. It is my first Ramadan in quarantine under a global pandemic. I wanted to talk honestly about it all so I asked the IMI community how they were feeling.

Challenges

“Working from home while fasting is going to be challenging, because work is what usually takes my mind off my hunger and thirst when I’m fasting. Staying at home, there’s too much temptation to take a nap or to cut corners (!) but the plan this year is to start working after Fajr and then stopping earlier, say by 3.30pm-4.00pm, so that I can do some dhikr and maybe some yoga before iftar. I’m now estranged from my family of origin back “home” (because my dad condemns my sexuality) and am also still grieving the death of someone close so it’s going to be emotionally difficult to be able to stay in touch with only the few family members who accept me and my partner.”

“I think spending Ramadan entirely alone is going to be a bit challenging as I’ve never really done it fully on my own before. The disconnection from collective worship will be difficult, particularly at the weekends when there are fewer distractions in the way of work. trying to maintain a sense of togetherness it’s likely to be challenging, particularly as the cumulative effects of anxiety regarding COVID are likely to become more apparent the longer this all continues.”

Connections

Living in quarantine has forced many of us to adjust our rituals, routines and relationships. It hasn’t always been negative, with some of us taking opportunities to connect with our faith:

“Over the last week or so, I’ve started to revise the translations of some of the shorter surahs, i.e. in Juz Amma, going over the Arabic and English, word by word – it’s been fun and helpful. I also attend daily Anglican morning prayer and Sunday worship online with my partner, who is Christian (I regard all worship as ibadah and an expression of “islam” with a small “i”).”

“One thing I’ve been doing that really helped me is saying alhamdulillah the moment I wake up, and just reflecting on some blessings before I even check my phone or get out of bed”

It’s been more difficult to read Qur’an or pray, so I’ve been gardening, taking walks – spending time outdoors as much as possible.”

Intentions

For many Muslims we will be setting our niyyah (intentions) to fast, but there are other intentions we can make too.

“I’m going to take this opportunity to revive tarawih prayers for myself. I used to do them ‘back home,’ in the mosque, but these past few years, with Ramadan happening in the height of summer, I’ve let these prayers slide a bit because ‘Isha times have been so late. Maybe this year I’ll refresh praying on my own – or maybe through virtual jama’ah, if that’s an option? I’m not someone who recites the entire Qur’an every Ramadan – instead I do things in bite sizes (a bit like Lectio Divina), and Juz Amma is going to be my focus for Ramadan this year.”

“Finding a different meaning (than fasting) will probably be important. I’m hoping for more time for rest and reflection but I’m not sure how confident I am about being able to manage those things.”

“I’m looking forward to fasting itself as I always find it very healing physically and mentally. I know not everyone has the same experience with it, but personally I find that the lack of food and water definitely makes me think more of Allah and the purpose of Ramadan.”

Prayers

The words of the Quran can be soothing, affirming and hold personal meaning to everyone. I asked about favourite prayers, surahs or ayahs.

“Jawshan e Kabeer is one of my favourites but it’s one I associate with collective recitation. Dua Iftetah is often comforting.”

“I’ve always liked reading Surat Al-Qadar in Ramadan, and I find the concept of Laylat Al Qadr itself very fascinating. And also a bit scary because of stories of people seeing “light” etc that night ha.”

“The Southeast Asian chanting of the Asmaul Husna is a favourite and I listen to it (and follow along) a lot during Ramadan.”

Surah 94, Ash Sharh (The Relief) is one that keeps repeating in my heart during this challenging time and “With hardship comes ease / Verily, with hardship comes ease.”

Compassion

The last question I asked was probably the most difficult! I asked how will you try to give yourself and others compassion over Ramadan. It’s something I struggle with myself on a regular basis and more so over this month, where I feel there’s a lot of pressure, expectation and hyper-visibility of Muslims. These answers reminded me that it’s okay to not know and in trying my best I am still giving myself and others something.

“Trying to acknowledge that it’s difficult, and that just doing the basics – working, etc – will take a lot out of me. Also trying not to overdo it.”

“I’ll try being more patient with family and friends especially if they say or do something that would usually make me go full petty mode lol and just cutting myself some slack for not achieving my goals for this year already.”

“This is the hardest question – I don’t know. I’m feeling very small, aimless and helpless right now. Not just because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, but because of personal circumstances with family back home, etc. I think staying connected with friends and an inclusive community helps. Making dua for other people who need it helps. I’m so happy to have been a part of this interview – thank you IMI! Reading the other responses is making me feel less alone, and I pray that we all have a safe, healing, healthy Ramadan together.”

Final Thoughts

  • Make some space for your uncertainty and anxiety – it’s okay that Ramadan feels more challenging this year
  • Try exploring the words of the Quran in different ways, asking friends or family, listening to recitations and find your own meaning
  • Connect to Allah/Islam and your faith in different ways through nature or meditation
  • Consider reading and reflecting on feminist/queer interpretations of the Quran this year. See our Syllabus – RAISE YOUR GAZE: Islamic Feminism(s) in Focus and Raise Your Gays: Gender Variance & Sexual Diversity in Islam #RaiseYourGaze syllabus
  • Make use of virtual spaces and connect with other Muslims across the world – IMI will be hosting jummahs and tarawehs across the holy month, please sign up to our mailing list for all the latest information.

Image copyright: Wasi Daniju

Image description: The interior of St Ethelburga’s Church in London. There are large red pillows and rugs on the floor in preparation for an Inclusive Mosque iftar.