I’d be lying if I said Ramadan in lockdown had been a breeze. It has had its moments. But each evening, that first sip of a cold, refreshing glass of water and thinking about all the things I am about to eat has got me through.
As the month has gone on, the countdown into single digit days till we could see our loved ones at Eid sustained my resolve. But gradually as time wore on, it became more apparent that was never going to happen.
A few years ago I was advised by doctors not to fast during Ramadan because of a health scare. As soon as the option to participate in this pillar of my faith was taken away I realised how much the act of fasting for 30 days had meant to me (even though previously I was so begrudging in my hunger and thirst).
I struggled growing up with my Islamic religion in 90s Northern Ireland and losing my ability to fast that year felt like I was losing part of my identity. So this year, long before coronavirus was even on the agenda, I’d decided I was healthy enough again to rejoin the fasting and completely submerge myself in the spiritual undertaking.
What I didn’t realise was I would be doing it in such lonely times or without respite on the horizon.
Like any big religious holiday - Hanukkah, Christmas, Vesak - they all come with significant traditions and community celebration. People coming together, reflecting, reading holy texts, enjoying togetherness and being thankful for having made it through a testing period. Eid, at the end of Ramadan, is that special holiday for Muslims. Except, in 2020, we don’t have the choice to do it as a community.
Although Boris Johnson’s lockdown rules now allow you to see one person from outside your household - outside and at a distance of two metres - there is still an outright ban on opening places of worship (mosques have been closed throughout Ramadan) and on mass gatherings. We also aren’t allowed to congregate inside other people’s homes.
The Muslim Council has encouraged the community to celebrate Eid virtually and not go out at all. Senior Imams have said it is the first time in British Muslim history there will be no Eid prayer. Of course we can pray at home, and online, but Eid is really about family and friends. Going out to see just one other person feels just as sad as doing it alone to be honest.
On a normal Eid the morning would usually start with phone calls, renouncing Eid Mubarak to everyone and a congratulatory message for getting through the month. People would head to the local mosque and we would all be eating from the moment we opened our eyes. I still plan to do the latter but celebrating in lockdown just won’t be the same.
I guess I’ve known throughout Ramadan that this was a possibility, that Eid would not be as we have always known it, but we hoped for a different outcome anyway. The idea of a deadly virus might even have slipped some people’s minds because the pain of missing those you love can override the rationality of lockdown.
What I will miss most this year is the chaos of being surrounded by people, it is all part of the fun. Staying up the night before fasting with my cousins; the kids running around wreaking havoc; the uncle who’d make you fetch him more food or drink so he wouldn’t have to stand up; squeezing my mum in a tight embrace.
Normally we would have spent days before preparing, buying new clothes, making travel plans to get to whichever house we were eating at, making our favourite desserts and buying the children new toys. This year the celebrations will have to be different.
I will still get dressed up, just to feel some sense of tradition, and I imagine we’ll be on our hundredth Zoom call before midday to friends and family. I will think a lot about my elders - my parents, aunts and uncles. The ones who would work towards Eid, so excited to finally be with their children and grandchildren knowing there would be a flood of love among us all, only to be disappointed.
Although Ramadan has not been easy, living through such unprecedented times made me feel grateful. But Eid, and the spotlight it will shine on our separation, will be the biggest challenge yet.
Next year hopefully we will be back to normality and remembering that even though this year was hard, we are alive. Because that is what religion is all about, faith that it will be better tomorrow.
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