Letter: Ramadan reflections 2021

Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan in 2019 at the Cataraqui Arena. The traditional events and celebrations associated with Ramadan have looked quite different over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Mona Rahman.

Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.

O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you1—so perhaps you will become mindful of God. (Qur’an 2:183)

The month of Ramadan has come and gone, a month where Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset, and work on decreasing bad habits and increasing worship and good deeds, to become closer to God.

Usually, Ramadan begins with a spark of energy, and a buzz that carries us through the entire month. Despite not having to stop to eat and drink through the day, we carry on with our regular tasks, looking forward to gathering for nightly community prayers and, in Kingston, the weekly community dinners. Even when we did not have a mosque in Kingston, our community gathered, at Queen’s or in people’s houses. After the mosque was built to accommodate our growing population, community dinners became events when, each week, one cultural group would come together to feed those attending: Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab themed meals on specific weeks. Our desire to look after the students turned into daily dinners, transported to campus from community “moms and dads” and managed on site by many student volunteers. The month was full of hustling and bustling, as we went from work/school, extracurricular activities, breaking fast and praying with family or friends, then rushing to the mosque for evening prayers with the community. Weekends through the month were filled with overnight programs for youth, children, and even the adults, each with their special night. And of course, we cannot forget the tradition of stopping at the Tim Horton’s down the street before heading home from the mosque late at night… joining the long line at the drive-thru or the groups congregating inside. This had become our Ramadan tradition.

Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult. After the first Ramadan in which the mosques were closed, we quickly adapted to online talks from the Imam to keep us connected. This year, with protocols in place for COVID-19, many were hopeful that we may be able to return to a semi-normal Ramadan in Kingston, but the rise of the third wave snuffed out that hope as we realized it would be yet another lockdown Ramadan, restricted to our homes.

An ‘Eid Mubarak decoration sits atop a table during Ramadan. ”Eid Mubarak’ means ‘blessed feast’ in Arabic, and is a phrase used to wish one another well as ‘Eid marks the end of the holy month. Photo by Mona Rahman.

With the March Break delayed to April, school children had the privilege of being off the first week of Ramadan; March Break transformed to a Ramadan Break! With heightened restrictions due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, this became another isolated Ramadan. Again, we adapted. Gone was the usual excited rush of Ramadan, replaced by a slowing down of routines.  For myself, still working from home, with cancellation of extracurricular activities, the COVID-19 Ramadan gave me time: time to spend on individual worship goals, as well as time to eat and pray together as a family. For our multi-generational family, lockdown Ramadan was an opportunity to allow our boys to lead the extended prayers, with turns taken by all three generations, but allowing our teenager to take more of a lead. The COVID-19 restrictions gave us time that allowed us to utilize the blessed last nights in worship to a greater extent than before.  In other words, the slowing down of routines, and time saved, allowed for more introspection, more reflection, more opportunity to become mindful of God. 

For many in the community, those living alone, or new to the country, this Ramadan was a very isolating experience. Acting as a means of connection, the community gatherings encourage us to look out for each other, and to share with each other, particularly with students and those without families. When I lived alone in London, I knew that I could always find people to break my fast with at the mosque down the street or on Western’s campus. The desire to feed our local students as well as those in Kingston who might need help in Ramadan, evolved into a sponsored meal delivery system, with food provided by a local halal restaurant (Dr. Shawarma). Daily programs, in the mornings and evenings, online with special programs for youth and children, were also one way to try to connect hearts while being physically distant.

As the month ended, and ‘Eid approached, COVID-19 restrictions prevented celebratory gatherings, which was compounded by devastation from news of attacks on worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque — the third holiest site for Muslims around the world — and expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah. Yet through this devastation, particularly for those who have family connections in Palestine, we were reminded that ‘Eid is a day of celebration, one that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasized even when he had lost his daughter. And so, we woke up, dressed up in our best to pray with our households, and listened to a reflection by the Imam online, followed by requisite family pictures. The day was filled with treats dropped off onto porches with a quick “Eid Mubarak.” At home, we filled the time with phone calls, Zoom calls and scrolling through social media to see ‘Eid pictures from family and friends. Teens connected through games online with friends.

And we prayed. We prayed for peace and justice in the world, for the Palestinians, for the Uyghurs in China, for the Rohingya in Myanmar, for Yemen, Kashmir, Syria, for the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women in our own lands… for peace and justice for all.

And we hope that our Ramadan reflections that made us more mindful of God will serve to recharge us and carry us through the year, until we reach the next Ramadan.

— Mona Rahman, Kingston resident

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