What Ramadan is like during a pandemic

Muslim students discuss challenges and unexpected benefits of worship in quarantine

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Fakaradin Floyd rarely wakes up before dawn. Today, however, the junior computer science major woke up at 4 a.m. 

Like most students his age, Floyd starts his day by washing up at home. But while many students’ morning routines might consist of washing their hands or splashing cold water on their faces, Floyd’s involves more thorough standards of cleansing: swishing water in his mouth, cleaning the inner and outer parts of his ears and washing his hands, arms, head and feet. 

His goal is not to wake himself. Floyd is performing wudu, a ritual purification before his Fajr, or first prayer at dawn — one of the few Ramadan practices that remains unchanged by the coronavirus pandemic. 

For UB’s Muslim community — and 1.8 billion worshipers worldwide — Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, is a time of spirituality, purification, charity and self-reflection. The deeply community-centered tradition encourages friends, neighbors and extended families to come together. Although social distancing regulations have changed how many Muslims observe Ramadan by preventing worshippers from gathering at mosques and hosting iftars with extended family members, many have found ways to navigate these restrictions, and are still reflecting on the Quran’s teachings within their homes. 

During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to pray five times a day, and to read or re-read the Quran. On Fridays, Muslims are called to mosques for community prayers and sermons led by an imam, or prayer leader. But these typically community-centered practices are now performed in solitude, according to junior business major Abbas Husain. 

“The COVID-19 situation has made it difficult to congregate in the normal mosque setting so a live-stream has been made to bring sermons to everyone’s homes,” Husain said. “Since five-times-a-day prayers cannot be offered online technically, other prayers are given.”

Fasting is an integral part of Ramadan, and begins with a pre-dawn meal, or suhoor, and ends with an evening meal called iftar. Families and communities typically gather at the end of a long day of fasting for iftar to break the fast. Mosques usually host large iftars to feed the poor. At UB, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) encourages students to gather for Friday prayers, or jummah, and hosts community iftars.  

But countries across the Middle East are advising people not to participate in group iftars, according to a Thursday report from Al Jazeera.

Some Muslim students say social distancing protocols will be a challenge to fasters during long quarantine days. Others, however, remain optimistic that social distancing guidelines could encourage many to appreciate the needs of the less fortunate, learn more about Islam and connect with friends, family and Allah through prayer, fasting and charity. 

Nasir Dara, a senior English major, said worship in quarantine could be “a blessing in disguise.” 

“[The quarantine] gives us more time to really focus on the true purpose of Ramadan [and] more time to read the Quran, learn the meaning behind the sacred verses, and memorize it as well. It gives us time to rid ourselves of sinful desires that will only lower our faith level,” Dara said.  

Sejan Ahmed, a junior geography major, believes stay at home orders may even emphasize the importance of the Islamic holy month. 

“[The quarantine] does not hinder my duties as a practicing Muslim,” Ahmed said. “If anything, it puts things more into perspective and provides us more time to get closer to Allah.” 

This year, Ramadan began Thursday evening. The date of the crescent moon sighting, which varies yearly, determines the first day of fasting. Fasting occurs every day during Ramadan, with exemptions generally granted for the elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women and pre-adolescent children. Muslims avoid food and drink from dawn to dusk until the first day of the next month in the Islamic calendar, when there is a one-to-three-day celebration, Eid al-Fitr. 

This year, Muslims will continue fasting, but will not break their fasts with extended family and friends. The unprecedented circumstances, however, provide Muslims opportunities to serve their communities, according to Dara. 

“Many doors have opened up for us to give back to our community and to those in need. There are Muslim-run organizations in the Buffalo area that have provided fabric face masks to people and distributed food to those in need,” Dara said. “The MSA even plans to provide iftar to Muslim students who are living on campus or away from home and family.”

Farhat Chowdhury, a junior mathematics major, says quarantine may pose challenges to some fasters this year. Still, he expects that dealing with the quarantine and its effects on Ramadan will eventually become “second nature,” like fasting itself. 

“Being home all day with nothing to do makes time go by slower so you’re constantly looking at your clock for when it’s iftar time. Usually you would be able to go out and do stuff, but being trapped at home, especially by the kitchen, definitely gonna make things a bit more difficult,” Chowdhury said. “But similar to getting used to fasting, we’ll probably take a few days to get adjusted before it becomes second nature.”

Muslims have already begun adjusting to worship in quarantine and organizations like UB’s MSA and Women’s Muslim Council are organizing Ramadan Zoom sessions and tea talks to maintain community engagement from afar. Some even say that the distance has allowed them to become more “mindful.” 

Zahin Hossain, a sophomore biological sciences major, said Ramadan allows Muslims to become “more mindful of their blessings” through fasting and prayer. 

“Ramadan is like a reset for me,” Hossain said. “It’s about re-immersing yourself in Islam and trying to establish a closer relationship with God that you may have lost during the year.”  

Hossain said that although fasting is “not easy,” it allows him to “grow closer to God,” think about the less fortunate and appreciate his blessings.

“[Fasting] is not easy and that’s kind of the point,” Hossain said.“Because there are people that live like this for more than a month. They don’t get the opportunity to break their ‘fast,’ [they] simply starve. Fasting reminds me of how much there is to be grateful [for].

Chowdhury says the structure of Ramadan “brings peace” to Muslims during the pandemic. 

“Islam brings peace during the pandemic because it’s something that regulates our cycles,” Chowdhury said. “Like I know what times I have to pray and what to prepare for [during Ramadan].” 

Husain said although quarantine has posed new obstacles, it also offers opportunities to further embrace Islam. 

“If anything, quarantine has made me a better Muslim,” Husain said. “It’s easier to keep up with my prayers, and being around my family is giving me a constant Islamic influence that I didn’t have at university. It’s easy to get carried away living on your own, so this time helped me ground myself.”

Elizabeth Napolitano is the assistant news editor and can be reached at elizabeth.napolitano@ubspectrum.com or on Twitter @LizKNapolitano.

ELIZABETH NAPOLITANO


Elizabeth "Liz" Napolitano is the senior news editor for The Spectrum. She's an optimistic pessimist who found her love for journalism in Ecuador. She likes late night walks and reading Twitter threads in their entirety.