By Tasneem Pocketwala Apr. 27, 2021
Ramzan in isolation doesn’t make the acts of fasting and worshiping difficult. Those are deeds deeply personal in nature. But what takes a hit is working for the greater good together. When you are looking to usher in change or fight the good fight, the support of a community only strengthens your resolve.
Last year around this time, I’d thought about the peculiarity of a homebound Ramzan, one that would have the stamp of the times I was living through, with something like reverence. I imagined we’d talk about these strange times as an older generation to a bewildered, disbelieving younger one. It was supposed to be a one-off event borne out of the “unprecedented times” we were living in, something to be warily remembered and fondly forgiven. Turns out, it wasn’t so unique after all. COVID-19 has made a comeback and so have restrictions, and an isolated Ramzan doesn’t seem like a one-time occurence anymore.
Ramzan is as much about abstaining from food and drink and immersing ourselves in worship as it is about good deeds. However, one of the most cherished aspects of the month is that you get to do all of that together, as a community. In fact, while the world may fuss over the “going without food and water” bit about Ramzan, it is the togetherness that the month brings with it that we look forward to.
Ramzan is as much about abstaining from food and drink and immersing ourselves in worship as it is about good deeds.
Ramzan is not something that gets over in a day or two. It’s an entire month of worshiping alongside fellow Muslims that increases in tempo towards the end and eventually culminates into a day of togetherly celebration: Eid. During the course of the year, you’d meet fellow community members a few times a month at the masjid. But it is in Ramzan that you’d be meeting them every day for extensive hours at a stretch, especially since many prefer to pray namaz at the mosque for all times.
My father, for instance, would plan his time off from work such that he can take the whole of Ramzan off, and devote himself entirely to worship and charity. In times before the pandemic, he’d go to the mosque daily, resuming friendships and acquaintanceships after a year-long hiatus. The frequency of congregation influenced us as children too, fostering a sort of kinship as we compared the rozas we’d managed to do and what we ate for sehri, finding common ground across barriers of age, background, and gender to formulate lasting friendships.
In those days, the months held the promise of being able to meet our “masjid friends” every day, with whom we’d find our own rituals and traditions, like playing badminton on the streets or flocking to buy gastronomically dangerous but very tasty roadside food for iftar. But it was also a time when we were made conscious of our privilege. We were taught to think of those less fortunate than us and to share what we have in abundance.
One of my fondest memories is of sharing iftari and special Ramzan drinks my mother would make. Every year, for over a decade, she would prepare three generous bottles full of chilled gol paani (jaggery water) and I’d share it with everyone I met after breaking the fast; my mother would reach out to strangers and those in need. We weren’t the only ones doing the sharing. Some came with mawa-filled khajoor, others with a packet of biscuits and sometimes it was just a quick sip of water. This camaraderie made everything taste sweet.
Having to worship alone once more during such an important, communal month is taking its toll, more so because it wasn’t supposed to last this long.
But beyond the food, now after my second Ramzan in isolation, I’ve realised that your faith was simply augmented by being around people who had the urge to do more than what they’d done the previous year. You’d be encouraged to pray more of the Quran, if you saw your friend reading it sincerely as she sat next to you waiting for prayers to begin. If someone did something kind, you were keen to replicate it. The atmosphere was rife with a singularity of intention.
With the consciousness of such traditions, worshiping in isolation for the first time last year pushed you to be even more determined in your personal resolutions: indulging in more acts of faith, kindness and compassion, reaching out to those who needed help after being hit by the pandemic in small ways. But, it also came with its challenges – it’s not easy to continue doing good in trying circumstances, it’s difficult to keep believing in virtuousness when you see so much despair. You have to push yourself to do better than you’d ever done before. Even though there was no certainty as to when the pandemic would end, most of us had it at the back of our minds that Pandemic Ramzan was going to be a one-of-a-kind occasion we’d be looking back on soon enough.
A year on, it’s Ramzan again and the pandemic is far from over. In fact, it only seems to have worsened. Having to worship alone once more during such an important, communal month is taking its toll, more so because it wasn’t supposed to last this long. That fervour with which we approached the holy month last year was fueled in part by the innocent presumption that it wouldn’t be happening ever again.
Having to observe Ramzan in isolation once more doesn’t make the acts of fasting and worshiping difficult. Those are deeds deeply personal in nature. The practice doesn’t take a hit. But what does is all the other things that come with it – working for the greater good together. When you are looking to usher in change or fight the good fight, the support of a community only strengthens your resolve. In isolation, there are chances you might get dejected faster, you might give up sooner. While many of us have turned to the internet, to spread the word about a family in need or someone looking for medicines, it’s made me value the need for a community more than ever and the power it has to keep you going.
This year, personally at least, the effort seems to be more about continuing to do what one already started last year, the blanket of bleakness of ever-rising coronavirus cases notwithstanding. I pray in my room at night by myself, calmed by the unusual quiet of a Muslim-dominated area that would otherwise have been very loud, bright, and lively during this time of the year. Praying alone in this way has only amplified the memory of what I had before and how important togetherness is, and which, much like oxygen during normal times, I took for granted.