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Ramadan in Corona era: What & How?

Muslims all over the world are observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the name of the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a holy month where Muslims observe fasting for 30 days.

In Pic: Inside Kowloon Mosque before social distancing measures (photo credit: Latifah Sat)

During this period, Muslims wake up for their pre-dawn meal called suhoor at around 4am before praying the obligatory morning prayer called fajr. The fast is broken with a meal called iftar, which is typically eaten together with family or friends or in the mosque. Fasting literally means abstaining from food and drink (yes, even water) from sunrise till sunset.

Evenings are characterised by spiritual activity.

The end of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul Fitr, one of the two major holidays in Islam.

To understand how the Corona virus has affected those in our community and this important celebration, we went out to interview practicing Muslims in the community.

The interviewees

Almas: I am a third year Computer Science student at Hong Kong Baptist University from Kazakhstan.

Diana: I am also from Kazakhstan. This is my first year working in Hong Kong after graduating from the University of Hong Kong last year.

Indira: I am from the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. I am currently a teacher in Hong Kong and live with my husband.

Fiza: I am from Pakistan. I live with my spouse in Hong Kong and am currently pursuing my master’s degree in law.

Rida: I am from Hong Kong of mixed heritage: half Pakistani, half Hong Kongese. I was visiting Pakistan and originally planned to fly back on 31st March, but flights got cancelled due to the virus, so I have been there since then.

How do you usually spend Ramadan at home?

Almas: Everyone except for my little brothers fast. Our friends and relatives invite us for iftar meals together.

Diana: The fasting hours in my hometown are usually long – around 18 to 19 hours in summer. In the past four years, Ramadan coincided with my university’s summer break, so I was able to spend part of the fasting month with my family in Kazakhstan. Most nights my mum and I visit my grandma who lives very near to our house to break the fast together. After dinner, we go back to our home to pray.

Ramadan for me is the month where I focus more on my spirituality and try to spend quality time with my mum. Staying indoors helps me to achieve that.

Indira: In my family, only my brother and I are Muslim, and my brother is not always at home, so I didn’t have many Ramadan activities with my family. Guests would come to our home, or we would go out somewhere for dinner. My husband is from Turkey and the Turks are huge on celebrating Ramadan, so I am learning from them!

Fiza: Back home, Ramadan is the one month when all families dine together, both morning and evening, naturally. There's a lot of dining table chatter, over the pleasant smell of fresh parathas (traditional bread) in the morning and colourful spreads of fresh fruit and fried finger food in the evening.

I find myself hearing the recitation of the Quran from every room of the house, at odd hours of the day. It’s a nice spiritual feeling!

Rida: In Hong Kong, my family would usually spend suhoor together and iftar separately due to our work being at different locations when the sun sets. Every morning, my mum would wake up early to cook our pre-dawn meal. We usually have roti and curry, and I would ask for a bowl of noodles. My brother and I always wake up 15-30 minutes before the time for suhoor ends, and my dad would chastise us and say there’s “no time” every morning. I enjoy praying fajr together with my parents and brother.

How has this Ramadan been different?

Almas: I decided to spend this holy month in Hong Kong, mainly because the social distancing measures back in Kazakhstan are much stricter. Many of my friends in Kazakhstan spend most of their day at home as shopping malls, restaurants, public facilities and businesses are all closed. In Hong Kong, I live with my Muslim friends and we prepare iftars and pray taraweeh together.

I personally believe that Ramadan in lockdown is a great opportunity for Muslims to re-evaluate their priorities and spend some time alone or reading the Quran.

I believe that while many of us are missing the spirit of Ramadan that we are so used to, it is the perfect chance to make the most of this holy and blessed month.

Diana: I would not say Ramadan has been much different for me this year. During the day I am working, and I spend my evenings at home similar to the way I did back in Kazakhstan. The difference this year is that I am spending Ramadan with my flatmate and not my mum. My flatmate is a Muslim too. Since fasting hours are much shorter in Hong Kong and we have to go to work every morning, we sleep for a while at night before waking up and continuing with our prayers and meals.

My local gym has finally reopened, so I try to squeeze in an hour or more’s workout before the sunset. Staying active and having something to do makes fasting much easier.

Indira: My husband and I never planned on going back to our hometowns for Ramadan because we love it here. At first, Ramadan in lockdown was a bit hard, so I decided to decorate my home:

Video by Indira on how to make Ramadan decorations (in Russian):

Then I started to invite my friends over, and our friends would invite us over in turn.

Photo provided by Indira

Fiza: The overall vibe of the month has been different.

It has certainly been difficult to keep the spirit up alone at home. My friends and I tried to make goals together, join online sessions together and we keep a shared daily to-do, which has helped. Despite, I must say I prefer the external motivation. I have been trying to attach myself to as many online options of study and spiritual growth as I can.

I have turned more towards my online community this month, sharing polls and questions on my Instagram page to keep up discussions on Ramadan.

Rida (in Pakistan): I wouldn’t say I’m “stuck” in Pakistan because of the coronavirus because it has been my dream to experience a different Ramadan with different cultures and practices, so it’s alright being away from home! Also, I’m staying with my relatives and cousins here, so it’s all good.

Spiritually, the virus does affect us a little. For one, since we’ve been on lockdown for more than a month already, we feel a little drained out, and it’s easy to be lazy during these times. Secondly, mosques are not open and therefore I sometimes struggle with performing the nightly taraweeh prayers on my own.

How will Eid be celebrated this year?

Almas: Given the uncertainty involved I have not made any arrangements for Eid yet.

Diana: I will be spending Eid with my local Pakistani friend and her family. We do not have anything in mind yet but most likely we will have a BBQ party at their place. I am planning on attending Eid prayer in the morning and visiting a couple of my friends during the three days of celebration. I would also like to share the joy of Eid with colleagues, so I am thinking of bringing some Eid treats for my co-workers.

Indira: We don’t have a proper plan yet, but we will definitely want to spend it together with our friends and share some gifts with each other.

Fiza: In terms of community celebrations, it's still a bit uncertain, as we aren't sure about the legal permission for gatherings, or what the on-ground Covid-19 situation would be by that point. We have considered different plans, varying from community gathering to walk-by gift and photobooths.

However, I have gotten my Eid decorations to set up at home! I’m also still in the process of deciding my Eid outfit.

Rida: I will most probably be staying home, or going to nearby relatives’ homes for some gatherings, or have relatives coming over. It’s actually the same back in Hong Kong usually, except that we won’t be performing Eid prayers this year.

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