Tomorrow sees the commencement of the most beautiful and holiest month of Ramadan, and there is a perception throughout the Muslim community that we are on the eve of a very different Ramadan.
Speaking physically, yes, this is the case.
For the world’s two billion Muslims (600,000 of them residing here in Australia), the pandemic that is COVID-19 has certainly led to a different kind of build-up to the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
In Australia, social distancing policies introduced by the federal government to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus saw all places of worship including Masjids temporarily closed just on a month ago.
The closure is unprecedented in Australia’s history but is a move that most of us agree was necessary, with senior imam Yahya Adel Ibrahim telling SBS News at the time: “This is unprecedented…it’s not something that has needed to be done before but we are living in times that do require that necessity.”
And despite the fact that just yesterday, Australia recorded its lowest number of new cases of COVID-19 since early March, social distancing rules prohibiting the congregation of large groups indoors will, unfortunately, ensure that the doors of our Mosques will remain closed for several weeks yet….at the very least.
Certainly, Australian Muslims are not alone in being unable to visit Masjids as similar rules are in place in most parts of the world.
Indeed, in the past 48 hours, Saudi Arabia has announced the suspension of Taraweeh prayers at the holy Mosques at Makkah and Madinah in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Taraweeh will be held without public attendance at the Grand Mosque and at the Prophet’s Mosque and will be performed mainly with staff.
Itikaf – the practice of secluding oneself in the Mosque to pray, has also been cancelled at both Mosques.
While the current social-distancing has seen Umrah suspended since February and placed this July’s Hajj pilgrimage (which generally attracts 2.5 million Muslims from around the globe) in serious jeopardy, this will be the first occasion since the first Ramadan in 624AD that the city of Makkah has ever been ‘locked down’ during the holy month itself.
But as I mentioned at the commencement of this article, these restrictions are only PHYSICAL….and while it is disappointing that we cannot visit the Mosque or have friends over for Iftar, there is no reason to dwell on the negatives.
Look how much extra time we are spending with our kids during lockdown!! It has certainly brought many families closer together, and those close ties will be even further embellished during Ramadan where immediate families will all be praying together. What better way to reconnect with Allah!!??
Some of Sydney’s best known and most loved and respected Muslim identities have recently expressed their observations and opinions on this year’s “Ramadan with a difference”.
A truly inspirational figure within the Muslim community is Ramia Abdo Sultan, who in 2019 was named the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards’ Role Model of the Year.
Ramia recently featured in a great article in The Sydney Morning Herald in which she explained how she and her family and friends will adapt to deal with the current COVID-19 social restrictions during Ramadan.
“Obviously the traditional large gatherings are not going to happen this year but we can break our fast and catch up (with extended family and friends) through Zoom and Skype conversations,” Ramia explained.
Ibrahim Dadoun is the hard-working director of public relations for the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC).
“This year will be the first time that Muslims will be conducting the nightly Taraweeh prayers from home without the communal attribute due to the closure of Mosques and Islamic centres,” he said.
Imam Dadoun said Islamic sermons would be broadcast online and Muslims would be encouraged to “uphold the Ramadan spirit with their household members”.
Lockdown and social distancing will also impact on how Bilal El-Hayek, the deputy mayor of Canterbury Bankstown, will celebrate Ramadan.
“The way we observe this special occasion this year will certainly be different,” he said. “No congregating with family or friends, no prayers at the mosque, but instead our prayers will be at home, without visiting family and friends to break our fasts with.”
Councillor El-Hayek pointed out that Ramadan was a time of fasting, self-improvement and assisting the vulnerable.
“We are working around the clock and delivering hundreds of hampers to the elderly and families who are doing it tough,” he said.
Prominent community leader Osman Karolia, whom we interviewed last week for this website, also highlighted the importance of strengthening family ties during this Ramadan.
“We may be in lockdown and the Masjids may be closed, but the doors to Allah’s mercy always remain open.
“This is a great opportunity to increase the closeness of family ties and we all need to remember that there is no lockdown when it comes to Islamic goodness and the mercy of Allah.”
Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman is the President of the aforementioned Australian National Imams Council and he recently highlighted the strength and resilience of Muslims in the midst of the pandemic and on the doorstep of Ramadan.
“We are going through tough times but In Sha’ Allah, with our Iman and our Islam, with the guidance from our Qur’an and Sunnah, we are strong and we will come out of this stronger with Allah, stronger in our faith and stronger to one another,” was Sheikh Shady’s beautiful message of positivity.
Brother Mohammed Hoblos had this to say about the current situation.
“The blessed month of Ramadan is the greatest month of the year and while we are going through some tough challenges and things are not the same including the closure of the Masjids, this doesn’t take anything away from the great month of Ramadan,” Brother Hoblos said.
“The Prophet was so charitable…he was never, ever asked except he gave and never did he say no.
“In the month of Ramadan, he was even more generous and would give like he never gave before.”
From my own perspective, I can only endorse the comments of the many esteemed brothers and sister I have already quoted on this page.
They are all correct….these past several weeks have been horrendous. It’s been said that the current situation with CV-19 is a “once in a 100 years experience”….and who could argue with that assessment!!??
Yes, it’s not much fun not being able to go out, to meet up with family and friends, to swim in the ocean or kick a football around the local park with the kids.
And yes, it is distressing that the doors of the Mosque are locked and that we cannot break our fasts during Ramadan with our extended family and friends.
But again, I stress: these things are only physical.
This lockdown and this social-distancing has some virtuous by products, too, for the community in general and Muslims, specifically.
Pubs and gambling outlets have been closed for several weeks now, which can only be a good thing.
As for spending time with and praying with the family….nothing better!!!
So as we welcome the commencement of this “very different” Ramadan in just a few short hours from now, we do so in the knowledge that when it’s all boiled down, it’s not so “unusual” at all!!!
ANIC MEDIA RELEASE re COVID-19 and RAMADAN
The Holy month of Ramadan is a special time when the Muslim community traditionally engages in uplifting spiritual rituals that include communal prayers and the sharing of a meal (Iftar) with family, friends and other community members.
It is a time of deep religious observation and connectedness with one another. The Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) advises the Muslim community to continue with their commendable efforts in adhering to the social distancing rules that are in place.
It is imperative that every Australian undertakes their part in safety measures to ultimately save lives and limit the spread of COVID-19. Whilst mosques and Islamic centres are closed indefinitely and the Holy month of Ramadan is only days away, ANIC encourages the Muslim community to conduct Taraweeh (nightly) prayers at home with their household members and to continue maintaining the spirit of Ramadan through the observation of spiritual practice at home and observation.
ANIC also encourages the Muslim community to maintain social distancing by limiting social gatherings, in particular, during the breaking of the Fast (Iftar).
This year will be a very different year for the Muslim community as we enter the month of Ramadan. It will be a time when the traditional extended family Iftars and congregational prayers will not be occurring as usual and ANIC acknowledges how difficult this is.
Despite these challenges, we ask the Muslim community to navigate through the holy month of Ramadan with patience and strength and to always keep in mind, the spiritual purpose of this holy time.
We ask Allah (SWT) to allow us to witness this great month and to grant us wisdom and forbearance in these difficult times.