Self

How Lockdown Helped Me Reassess My Relationship With Ramadan

Spending two Ramadans in isolation has made me remember what the celebration is really about.

A woman praying during Ramadan.
evrim ertik/Getty

In my family, Ramadan has always been a huge event. As far back as I can remember, preparations would begin long before the month of fasting had started, with my parents stocking up on supplies and my mum beginning her food prep for the upcoming evening meals – known as Iftars.

Ramadan begins and ends with the appearance of the crescent moon in the ninth month of the Islamic year, meaning it falls on different dates each year. In 2021, it started on April 12 and will end around May 12. This holy event is a celebration of the month that the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is a time of fasting, prayer, daily recitations, and reflections of the Qur’an. However, over the years, other elements of Ramadan – the fun, the food, the gifts – have grown to become a huge part of my family’s celebrations too. Only when I was forced to step back and reflect during Ramadan in lockdown did I realise that we may have been moving away from the true meaning of the event without even knowing it.

Only when I was forced to step back and reflect during Ramadan in lockdown did I realise that we may have been moving away from the true meaning of the event without even knowing it.

Certainly in my house, during a normal year, Ramadan would mean the house was always full to the rafters with visiting friends and family members and the smell of samosas and other delicious treats wafting from the kitchen as soon as the sun went down. The meals were magnificent, with every day bringing a new medley of dishes to indulge in with dinner guests as we broke our fasts. No expense was spared and my siblings and I were allowed to treat ourselves to our favourite snacks.

After Iftar, the men in my family would go to the mosque for evening prayers and the women prayed at home with the children. For us kids, prayer time was a time for fun and fooling around. We would race to see who can finish their prayers first, teasing one another by pulling off our sibling’s scarves as their heads were bowed. A favourite activity of ours was to try and take some money out of my grandma's pocket while she was deep in prayer, unable to stop us. When we were very young, we would climb on top of mum as she was undertaking Sujud (prostration) during her prayer and pretend she was a horse – and she would always let us get away with it.

Each Friday (our sabbath), every member of my family would be given new clothes to wear for the evening’s events. My poor mum would always be madly dashing around, ensuring we have new outfits (including everything down to our underwear) with our dad looking on as she spent a small fortune.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and is always just as lavish as the month itself. My sister and I would be decked out in our finery (wearing another set of brand new clothes, of course) and once grandparents, aunts, and uncles began to arrive, we’d line up and wait for our Eid pocket money, each of us easily making £200-£300.

When we were young, my parents would make all this effort during Ramadan as a way to encourage us children to fast ... However, somehow, even as we grew into adults, the lavishness persisted.

When we were young, my parents would make all this effort during Ramadan as a way to encourage us children to fast and to observe all religious practices, like praying five times and reciting the Qur'an. However, somehow, even as we grew into adults, the lavishness of persisted; the month seemed to be as much about consumption and as it was about fasting.

Then COVID-19 hit and everything totally changed. For the last two years, the pandemic has put a stop to large Iftars, communal worship, and Eid festivities. At first it was really difficult to accept the change. Worst of all, of course, was not being surrounded by friends and family, but having all the fun and excitement of the month stripped away was a real shock also.

However, after the first week or so of spending Ramadan alone, without all the fuss that comes with it, I began to see just how beneficial it may have proved to be. I suddenly realised just how much pressure my family and I had put on ourselves all these years to conform and compete during Ramadan, always making sure each detail was perfect and everyone was catered for.

As a Muslim, I am taught that everything that happens in your life is due to God’s will. God has a reason for everything and, for me, the reason he provided these Ramadans in lockdown was so I could rediscover its religious roots.

As a Muslim, I am taught that everything that happens in your life is due to God’s will. God has a reason for everything and, for me, the reason he provided these Ramadans in lockdown was so I could rediscover its religious roots.

This year, for the second year running, I have been able to focus on my self-discipline (engaging in fast and prayer), introspection (my relationship with God), and self-discovery (what I can do without). It has allowed me to reflect and understand that not everybody is able to celebrate an indulgent Ramadan and Eid like my family has been doing for years. Putting everything aside has taught me that it’s the simple things that matter: food, water, and connecting with loved ones (even if that’s over Zoom).

Although I am so looking forward to the next non-COVID Ramadan, I know that I’ll never look at it in the same way again. Of course, good food and fun will always be a part of the celebration, but now I know that it should not obscure its true meaning and, for that, I am grateful.