Growing up in India, if there was one festival I really looked forward to was Eid, along with the Eid get-togethers that my family would always get invited to. The fragrance of sweet sewaiyan, and the sumptuous mutton preparations that our friends would spend hours and hours preparing and perfecting, are still as fresh in my mind as if I were in their kitchen at this very moment.
But, this festive celebration comes after a month-long period of abstinence — Ramadan.
This year the Islamic holy month of prayer and fasting, Ramadan, was observed in the most unlikely of ways, and yet surprisingly, in the most familiar way known to the world amidst the pandemic — in isolation.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is a time for fasting or Sawm, prayer, reflection and community. Muslims across the world start their day with a pre-dawn meal or Suhur and end it at sunset with a meal called Iftar.
It is usually a time for the community to get together with family meals and prayers and service. Breaking of the fast is a communal affair with mosques in particular offering Iftars to the poor. This year though, followers spent their days quarantined in their homes, doing all of that in the confines of their homes.
Mosques, too, had issued guidelines against congregational gatherings and group Iftars. Though they were physically closed during these times, online streaming helped preserve the sense of worship and camaraderie during Ramadan.
“One of Ramadan’s most noble callings is to feed the hungry. It is a crucial part of how the holiday is celebrated, to remember to be there for those in need, and that is now harder than ever”, says New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who in April announced 500,000 free halal meals for Muslims during Ramadan.
Although they missed being together with their friends and family during this time, Samiul and Parvis Karim from Clarksburg, Maryland, said they tried to make the best out of this unforeseen situation. “For working couples like us, this Ramdan fast has been much easier since we are home and not grappling with the demands of the day. We have also been able to offer namaz all five times of the day which is usually difficult for us during regular office days. This is a very special experience for our family,” was not unwelcome.
One thing that Parvis and Samiul missed was the Taraweeh prayers as a community group. Taraweeh prayers refer to the additional prayers that Muslims offer after the evening Isha prayer during Ramadan. Men who read the Quran during this time lost their livelihood as mosques have closed down.
Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and other online chatting and video conferencing avenues were the superhero saviors of this age. There is no cape, but the social interactions of the world hinge on these. There are times that Parvis felt desolate at the prospect of not being around her loved one during Eid this year, but she is grateful that they could at least interact, share and see each other, albeit only virtually.
And that is how tenacious humans are. No matter how winding the road is, we always find our way home.
Nupur Bhatnagar is a lawyer by training, an entrepreneur and a storyteller. She is rationalist and an art enthusiast who is fascinated by history. She loves to read and watch historical dramas — sometimes even sees herself in them. Nupur lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.