Covid-19. A disease unknown to mankind just mere a year and a half ago and now it seems to have rocked the lives of each and every individual in some form or the other. Some may have borne the brunt of it by having to close down businesses, by having to bear significant losses, by having to say goodbye to their nearest and dearest. Who would have thought people would have had to be reminded to wash their hands so often and to maintain hygienic principles and stay indoors for the sake of their loved ones? I for sure did not anticipate this in my wildest of dreams!
Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and one of the holiest months for Muslims is expected to commence mid-April. During this month Muslims in Sri Lanka and around the world will spend daylight hours fasting. Furthermore, it is a month of devotion and worship, recitation of the Quran, giving back to the needy and to charity, purifying yourself, and abstaining from bad deeds. But, alas! Unlike how it was spent back in 2019 we will no longer be able to inculcate those celebrations this year.
Muslims in Sri Lanka and around the world will observe the holy month of Ramadan under tight restrictions due to the Coronavirus outbreak that has paralyzed entire countries. For the second consecutive year, Muslims in Sri Lanka will mark the holy month in the midst of Coronavirus. Considering the fact that we might have been able to get used to the "new normal" and the introduction of vaccines may have helped stymie the increase in cases, it is positive that Ramadan may not be celebrated like how it was back in 2019. Just like last year, as per the regulations set in Sri Lanka you would be expected to don your face mask and maintain social distancing when in public spaces and maintain and adhere to the rules and regulations set out by the Ministry of Health and the Government of Sri Lanka. It has been advised that large gatherings especially iftar and Eid celebrations in public should be avoided. Traveling in large groups to shop for Ramadan and Eid should also be avoided. Instead, the alternative of online shopping and home delivery can be utilized. Not only does this prove to be convenient but it is a much safer route as well. Look out for the wellbeing and safety of your elderly folks you come into contact with. Do not shake hands or embrace them. As Muslims of Sri Lanka, we must bear in mind that this year we will be celebrating Ramadan in quite a difficult setting like the previous year so it is up to us to be responsible citizens of the country to curb the spread of Covid-19 whilst acting in accordance with the guidelines prescribed.
Regardless of the nature of how Ramadan would be celebrated during Covid-19, in Sri Lanka, it brings a special religious zeal and emotional bearing for Muslims across the country. Sri Lankan Muslims gear up to get ready for the upcoming holy month in a plethora of ways! Some Muslims opt to devote the weeks prior to Ramadan finishing optional fasts and spiritually getting ready for the holy month. Prior to Ramadan commencing some Muslims hit the supermarkets to stock up on ingredients to make traditional food for suhur and iftar. Some families are also getting together to indulge in major cleaning sessions and allocating prayer spots since large gatherings in places of worship are not allowed in Sri Lanka. Since large gatherings are banned, tarawih prayers may need to be prayed at home this year too due to the restrictions and guidelines in place.
Since travel has not entirely opened up for Sri Lanka, like last year, families and friends will be hosting virtual iftar sessions via video conferencing applications such as Zoom and WhatsApp calls. Prominent speakers and scholars will also be hosting online sermon sessions, religious lectures, and Quran recitals that will be broadcasted online. Prayers in some mosques will be live-streamed, so worshippers can pray along at home.
The donation of charity and zakat, which is considered to also be one of the five pillars of Islam, is highly encouraged during the holy month of Ramadan. Prior to the pandemic came into being, charity and fundraising used to usually be collected during communal and large events for instance after congregational prayers. Due to the current situation and the ban on large gatherings, that is no longer feasible, thereby bringing in the option of online charitable platforms which have become more popular since last year due to the convenience. Considering how the poverty-stricken have been more hit due to the pandemic, like last year, the Muslims of Sri Lanka will deliver iftar packs to the needy as well as a way of giving back to society and to take part in voluntary work as a mechanism to help alleviate poverty in parts of Sri Lanka.
Once Ramadan ends, this symbolizes the start of Eid al-Fitr. Just like last year, there is a likelihood of Eid being celebrated differently this year too. Ideally. On Eid, early morning congregational prayers are held, and families usually have daytime meals together. In Sri Lanka, Eid al-Fitr is what we call a Public and Bank holiday, a time for celebrations, for the table to be laid out with scrumptious food, a day where we don our new clothes, receive money or presents, and engage in social gatherings and yell out Eid Mubarak! to our friends and family.
However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Eid is likely to be more different than Ramadan this year. While the basic Ramadan traditions can be followed at home, including congregational prayers via streaming, online iftars, etc. Eid is typically a time when Muslims in Sri Lanka go out to celebrate with their loved ones. Given that authorities and the governments have banned large gatherings, we can expect Eid to be more subdued this year and merriments will have to be scaled down and limited to the home like last year.
There are a great many takeaways we can gather and learn from these hard times the world is facing today. The faithful are encouraged to observe Ramadan more modestly in light of all that is happening today with keeping in mind notions such as wastage of resources like food and water and ensuring we give back to the needy as a charity as that plays a crucial role during the month of Ramadan amongst the celebration. This year it would be the goal of Muslims in Sri Lanka to change their approach on how they perceive and celebrate Ramadan. It's not all about the merriment, food, gatherings, and joy. It's about how they will build their bond with Allah through the means of spiritual cleansing, unity, practicing faith, devoting themselves to prayers, and reciting the Holy Quran.