Ramadan in the Time of Quarantine

There's much more to the Muslim holy month than mere fasting, and social distancing has only added meaning to the lives of the faithful.

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digital drawing by Betul Tuncer

It may strike others as surprising that Muslims enjoy a month of fasting, but for the faithful, Ramadan can be a deeply meaningful observance.

Some people may find it hard to believe, but Ramadan is my favorite month, as it is for a lot of practicing Muslims. It may seem odd that anyone could come to love fasting, but Ramadan is much more than just that — especially this year.

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims during which we partake in fasting and prayer. Every day for a month, we fast from sunrise to sunset, refraining from eating or drinking anything — even water — during those hours. In order to remain able-bodied during the day, we wake up around 3am and eat a meal, which is called sahur — or sehri. During this meal it’s best that we drink a lot of water and eat foods that won’t make us thirsty or leave us too hungry.

Here in Pittsburgh, the time from sunrise to sunset is nearly 16 hours during Ramadan, presenting a challenge to Muslims in northern countries. Generally  Muslims around the world fast for at least 12 hours. It may seem excruciating, but after one gets used to it, it’s not that bad — honestly, it can be quite enjoyable.

A typical iftar scene, when everyone gathers to break their fast together.

Throughout the day, we make sure to keep up with our prayers and be as productive as possible. And when the sun sets, we feast. This meal in which we break our fast is called iftar. Iftar tables are unique all around the world, depending on the culture, but one thing that remains a constant are dates. Traditionally, one would break their fast with a date as a sort of homage to our Prophet.

The iftar table at my house is generally quite appealing, fitting our Turkish roots. Some nights we’ll have kebab, and others nights roasted meat with vegetables — but rice and lentil soup are almost a staple. And when we’re feeling up for a challenge, we’ll even spend three hours hand-wrapping stuffed grape leaves to be eaten within a matter of minutes –which I ended up doing just the other night.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the core values of Islam, and its intent is to better oneself. By fasting, we learn the art of patience and are able to apply that patience to other aspects of our lives.

Fasting is also a way to better understand the difficulties of those who live in constant hunger. As Muslims, we put ourselves through temporary, self-imposed hunger to learn empathy for those who don’t have the option to eat and to gain the inspiration to help them through their hardships.

Besides fasting and refraining from food and beverage in Ramadan, Muslims also refrain from committing any immoral actions. Sure, in our daily lives we always try to refrain from immortality; however, by doing so in Ramadan we are fully developing our patience and learning that pleasure and satisfaction need not come from temptation. We can learn to live life in the absence of desire and overconsumption.

One of my favorite aspects of Ramadan is the feeling of accomplishment that it entails. The month makes me want to be a better person in general. Also, the fact that we get to be together with fellow Muslims and share that feeling as a community is incredible–though, unfortunately, this year was different than others.

The pandemic presented a unique challenge to Muslims.  Throughout this year’s Ramadan, we haven’t been able to be as together as we wanted. Normally, we would have been able to host iftars and spend the rest of the night laughing, talking and coming together in prayer within our communities. This year, however, for the sake of flattening the curve and preventing the spread of COVID-19, we had to give up on those cherished traditions.

Nevertheless, Ramadan is still amazing. I’m not sure about others, but for me this year’s Ramadan has given me a sense of normalcy and routine that I didn’t know I needed. It has given me comfort and made me feel at peace during these unprecedented times.

And with less than a week left and Eid –a celebratory holiday meant as a joyous feast after the month of fasting — right around the corner, Ramadan is serving as a much-needed reminder that we are still able to come together, even if it be in different ways and on different levels.