Since the pandemic began, several things in our lives have changed, temporarily or permanently.
Cleanliness is vital, offices now occupy a permanent space on Zoom, and WFH fashion has been born. But one consistent element is the influence of religion and culture.
With that in mind, this period in April marks the onset of a significant month for many Indians worldwide — the holy month of Ramadan. Often called “the month of fasting,” Ramadan marks a milestone in the year for Muslims. While it is religious in nature, there’s more to it than that.
A quick history lesson: Ramadan ,the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, commemorates the first revelation delivered to Prophet Muhammad, the most important prophet in Islam. The month is marked by fasting from dawn to dusk, and involves extensive prayers as well. It usually lasts 29 or 30 days, dependent on the sighting of the crescent moon, which should probably flash you back to those days in school wondering if the moon would eventually show, thus ensuring the next day was a holiday.
That’s the general idea people have about Ramadan, but it involves more than simply fasting and praying dawn to dusk. It is about building a sense of community and companionship as people come together at different times of the day for prayer or to break their fast. Granted, with the pandemic, in-person gatherings are not the most optimal way to do that. But through the magic of an internet connection, virtual prayer rooms, and an excuse for regular family calls, it is a chance to feel closer than ever at a time that many people have been searingly lonely.
Oddly enough, for a month that is all about abstinence from food and water for most of the day, it is the meals that people most look forward to (partly for the flavorsome food, partly to address those hunger pangs). The fast is broken with a meal called “iftar,” which sounds like it only involves a light snack and some tea or coffee. But it has grown to become a smorgasbord of such delicacies as samosas, pakoras, chaat, fruits, and special desserts and beverages. A walk through the south Mumbai’s Muslim-heavy streets should expose you to the rich aromas of what good iftar food can be, and why there is a case for it to last all year.
The point of the fasting is twofold — to detox the mind and body and thus cleanse yourself of your indulgences, and to share the experiences of those not fortunate enough to have a regular meal. From this follows the practice of zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, which requires followers to give alms to the poor and do more good deeds than usual.
Ramadan is a month of charity, celebration, and appreciation. In this, the second Ramadan during the pandemic, during which we have all adapted to a Covid-compliant lifestyle, we can imbibe those values with even a better understanding than we otherwise would.
Our understanding of religious occasions often conflates worship and prayer, practices predominantly seen as being tied to social constructs and norms. That is why more and more people find themselves drawn away from it in our current age that celebrates free thought.
There is always more to discover and appreciate about how these traditions foster a sense of community and enhance our understanding of our heritage and culture without needing a religious connection. That is what Ramadan provides people across the globe. Now more than ever those values are not bad things to have going for you.
Check out Nayantara Dutta’s Unapologetically Muslim.