Posted on May 11, 2020
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “The world is a prison-house for a believer.” (Sahih Muslim 2956). As I sit in my home for the sixth straight week, surrounded by children, teens and new adults, I have never felt more like an inmate who is trapped with the people I love, systematically becoming my jailers with their demands and skirmishes.
Current pandemic lock downs have transformed many homes, once safe havens, into isolating penitentiary-like dwellings with dwindling opportunities for solace, even during the blessed month of Ramadan. We may not want to think about this side of the holy month, but is a reality for many.
In the United State, CDC social distancing recommendations and government protocols to curb the spread and scourge of the COVID-19 illness generated new societal standards impacting how we function. For millions of American Muslims, that included aspects of their devotion, forcing them to reshape how they interacted with each other and engaged in ibadah (worship).
Islamic culture encourages a balance between communal fellowship and individual worship. The current pandemic strains opportunities for many of us to benefit from congregational praising of the Creator, sole remembrance of His greatness and penitence – all of which serve a critical inspiration for individual development. Ramadan is the blessed month that offers us the chance engross in layers of spiritual edification, but the current crisis affects how adherents interact in Muslim communities and find precious moments for sacred solitude.
COVID turned Ramadan upside down for many Muslims. We cannot be together with our fellow worshipers in our masajid, and our homes may be packed, making seclusion impossible. Large quarantined families may encounter additional challenges.
I have a house full of people. Before Ramadan, my flock of new adults were grounded, impacted by rampant job loss and college closings. They vied with my home schooled teen and little ones for prime room space. The resulting skirmishes inhibited my ability to find a moment of peace.
I had hoped for calm when Ramadan began when everyone could focus more on fasting and self-reflection. Nope! They remained fixated on their frustrations about self-quarantine with no end in sight and fed off each other, making things increasingly tense. A few days into the month, and the usual contentment I found evaded me. It became clear that this was no typical Ramadan.
The pandemic affects Ramadan in unanticipated ways. A critical change is that the masjid is not an option as a spiritual space this year, making it necessary for everyone to find a place at home. In a house with eight people, the challenge in finding personal space presented on day one. With worries about my husband – an essential worker staying away from home to avoid transmitting the virus – and sick community members, I realized that we all needed to work on strategies to adapt to the unique emotional and physical demands this Ramadan.
Here are five things I did that helped me cope.
1. Find a Quiet Time
As a mother of six, I appreciate the sound of silence. Prolonged exposure to the bustling of one’s co-inhabitants can wrack the nerves and push patience beyond the brink. Silence offers the chance for a person to:
1. Gain clarity.
2. Process emotions.
3. Improve decision-making acumen.
4. Relax (source: Peidmont Healthcare).
Family members should assess how they can help each other attain some much needed quiet during the blessed month in general, but those in close quarantine quarters will benefit from making special considerations and concessions.
Each person should have space where they can optimize solitude and a time to enjoy it. Have a conversation to arrange where and when. Make that space your own for that time.
A family schedule may work. Let the night owls have their time while you sleep. When they wake, they can take over or make themselves scarce.
2. Reconnect with Your Home
Busy lives can contribute to disorganization in the home. We may clean when necessary but neglecting to keep homes organized and clutter-free can induce stress. Many people can’t think straight in chaotic spaces, let alone find solace.
I work from home and home school my children. So, I spend a lot of time at home, but self-quarantine further pins me inside and requires that I look around and arrange spaces to better accommodate the constant presence of everyone. I also had to focus on organizing stockpiles of food we gathered because of the lack of access to stores.
When Ramadan started, the realization that there would be no masjid iftars and my kitchen would be the epicenter for a troop of hungry fasters all month hit like a ton of bricks.
I repurposed rooms and pulled my kitchen apart. I had lost a self-fulfilling connection from cooking and baking. I used my kitchen but didn’t own it anymore. I decided to reclaim it. I took out tools shoved in cabinets and found better ways to store them.
I hit emotional gold when I found a cookie jar that belonged to my mother. I cleaned it and put it on a shelf in my kitchen to keep alive wonderful memories of her and our times together in the kitchen.
It definitely helped with the funk from being trapped in the house.
Consider using the extensive time in the house as a chance to reconnect with it. Examine a room and think of ways to improve the way it services the family by organizing it better. Purge when necessary. Take out those shoved away treasures and give them honoring places.
3. Re-Imagine Worship
The pandemic curtailed important communal events in our houses of worship. For many Muslims, our masajid serves as hubs to worship and engage in fellowship, more so in Ramadan. Closed mosques of course impact the month, making it necessary for us to adjust how we develop spiritually and find the inner peace it offers. A new kind of Ramadan can be difficult to conceive in a culture where many people clench ingrained and finite faith processes, promoting an “it’s just not Ramadan” mentality.
We are creatures of tradition and habits. A Ramadan when one can’t go to the masjid and fight over that last pakora may not feel authentic. Not having the opportunity to offer tarawih prayer may also be a sticking point for Muslims, despite the debate on its requirement or that you can pray tarawih at home. Religious stagnation can contribute to crises in faith, an unfortunate result considering the pliability of Islam as a deen (way of life).
Allah points out His desire to give us ease during Ramadan in the Quran:
The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful. (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:185)
After centering the fard (obligatory) aspects of the blessed month, we can benefit from the flexibility in practice, allowing us to draw closer to Allah and not get bogged down in cultural traditions. If it is Him we worship and not tradition, then we will rework our approach to do so.
4. Connect with the Past
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first of its kind. Similar coronaviruses like SARS and MERS cause global deaths. Cataclysmic plagues hit the Muslim world historically. The Plague of Amwas (17AH/638AD ), Plague of al-Jarif (68 AH/688-89 AD) and the plague of al-Ashraf (97 AH/716 AD) scourged early Muslim populations. The Plague of Salam (131 AH/750 AD) killed thousands during Ramadan.
Members of Islamic communities and our global societies have been here before.
After binging on a string of outbreak movies (don’t judge me), the historian in me itched to find out more about contagion, death and devastation. Some may find it morbid, but I found some equilibrium and perspective. Take time to discover how early Muslims contended with epidemics. Research ahadith and find out what the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said about contagions.
We can all benefit by connecting closer to the sunnah in how we handle this pandemic and learn about Islamic scholarship regarding plagues. Knowing that ours is not a discreet historical experience may help us appreciate our placement in Allah’s creation and fortify our resolve to survive and focus our worship during Ramadan.
5. Plan for the Future
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it. (Sahih Muslim 2999)
Our faith teaches and encourages us to glean positivity in the bleakest fitnah (test/trials), which can be hard when struggling to breathe in a thick mask and rationing out eggs and toilet paper. We have all been forced to make adjustments to our lives during this pandemic, but change doesn’t have to be all bad. New ways of thinking and living may include habits and outlooks that can contribute to individual development if made permanent.
Think about lifestyle changes you may want to keep after communities reopen. Perhaps you have an increased appreciation for quality time with family or self-care. Maybe there is something that you are doing this Ramadan that you want to carry into the next. Make a list of the things you want to stick to once we are all a little safer.
The COVID pandemic sucks. We all need to process and grieve its catastrophic effects on our lives, but we can also develop means to cope during this crisis that will make us stronger individually, family-wise and communally – inside of and outside of Ramadan.