“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint.” Quran 2:183“
This month of Ramadan 2020 is auspicious for me as it is my 30th year of fasting after I converted to Islam in late 1989. For those who do not know, Ramadan is a month of fasting which Muslims are instructed by God to observe unless sick, pregnant or traveling. We are allowed breakfast before dawn and then no food, drink or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. Fasting includes your speech; not to lie, argue or backbite.
The fasting hours in my locale this year are from 5 am to 8 pm. The evening meal after the fast is called iftar and is usually a time to gather at the mosque or friends’ houses to eat together. During Ramadan there are extra evening prayers and the whole Quran is recited. Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, so the date moves up by 11 days each year. At the end of the month we have community prayer, a sermon and a three-day celebration called Eid.
2020 is like no other Ramadan in memory. The irony is not lost on many of us fasting this year that God timed it this way. During the pandemic, quite surprisingly I am more connected than ever. Normally, as a Progressive Muslim the month is a little lonely for me. Usually my girlfriend is supportive, but not to the point of fasting with me. We had a group who met together to read Quran, but we never completed the effort in full measure due to logistics. We would meet for an iftar every year at a member’s home. I may go at least once to break my fast at the traditional mosque. Usually Eid was the celebration we would look forward to, meeting with the whole community for prayer and then out to breakfast wearing our best outfits.
This year we are zooming the traditional activities. I have enjoyed reading Quran every night with an awesome sister in Atlanta leading a small dedicated group. Fasting while sheltering in place I feel less demands from the outside world, and since I’m retired working one day per week I am able to make my five prayers every day without much missing or late, and my prayers feel more focused and heart-felt. There are so many things to pray about! Folks are having iftars together on zoom, and the Eid prayer will be thus celebrated. That will be the hardest, missing the in-person part of the Eid. There are also blessings in giving charity and feeding the poor during Ramadan. My stimulus check will help fund this duty this year. And in case it is our time to pass away from COVID-19 at least we are told during Ramadan the gates of hell are closed.
There are trappings of Ramadan that can weaken your fast. First, do not be boastful. Fasting is between you and our Creator. Asking someone if they are fasting is poor manners. Most sisters do not fast during menses, so the question is awkward. And those who have illness preventing the fast should not be pressured to share that information. Our purpose in fasting is to please God. God does not NEED our fast but wants our worship to include it. We need our fast to strengthen our faith, practice, and spiritual unity by joining the 1/4 of the world’s population that are Muslim by praying for world peace. When our stomachs growl, it is a reminder that many people in the world are hungry all year, not by choice for one month. And though the month is supposed to be peaceful, sadly Muslim on Muslim violence as well as in Palestine has marred many a Ramadan.
This year, I am struck by the sea of people donning masks which remind me of the Muslim sisters who wear nikab/purda (facial covering) where only the eyes are seen. These pious sisters will often wear gloves as well for modesty. Isn’t it ironic that in these days of White House fostered Islamophobia we are using scarves and the like to wrap our faces, looking like people on the desert protecting from the sun and wind? And should masking be required, resulting in a ticket? Like a seat belt we should “trust in Allah, but tie our camel,” to do what is in your power to prevent Covid-19. Yes, this is a Ramadan like no other.
Part of my self -reflection this year is to reach out to you offering an olive branch (what is left of them), a fig leaf, a mourning dove, and a bluer sky than any of us remember. We are taught in Islam that God has 99 names including Peace (As Salam) and Love (Al Wadud). There is also the Giver of Death ((Al Mumet) and the Dominant (Al Qahher). Thus, everything good and bad is from God including Covid 19.
Among the most important names of God that we repeat many times every day are the All-Merciful (Al Rachman) and the Most Beneficent (Al Rahim). Thus, my prayers this month are for you dear reader and your families that this is a time of bonding, loving, learning, patience, forgiveness and self-expression. I am hoping that it is a time to advance social and racial justice. As they say, we were given a lemon so let us make lemonade. Serve it at Iftar. Cheers!
Jamilah is recently retired from a long career as a Physician Assistant in community health hoping to write from her perspective as a Lesbian Feminist Muslim. She lives between her partner in western Massachusetts and the Washington DC area.