t was only when my grandmother mentioned that this will be the first Ramadan without my grandfather, Mohammed Somir Uddin, who died in December from Covid-19 complications, that I realised what was coming. The routines that had ended and the change on the horizon. That no one in my family would have to make a plain kisori - a rice and lentil porridge dish with turmeric, ginger and vegetables - to suit my grandfather’s palette anymore.
One of my grandfather’s favourite things to do during Ramadan, before he became ill, was take long walks in green spaces in order to have time to reflect, as well as the recitation of dhikr [repeated prayers or phrases praising God] trying to embed shukr [gratitude] into his daily life. I have now set myself the intention of continuing his legacy during Ramadan, a time of resetting one’s habits, engaging in God-consciousness and looking after your well being.
As well as these individual things, Ramadan is obviously a time of tradition and simple joys with your family. But in 2021, as the spectre of the year past looms large, with the excessive loss to the Muslim community in Britain, I knew I wouldn’t be the only one honouring a loved one who is no longer here to see in Ramadan.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the Covid pandemic has disproportionately affected ethnic minorities, where there is also a large Muslim majority. Covid mortality rates are four times higher for Black African and Bangladeshi people and three times higher for Black Caribbean and Pakistani people as opposed to people of white ethnicity.
ONS data from the early months of lockdown (March to May 2020) found the highest Covid-19 mortality rates were among Muslims with 198.9 deaths per 100,00 males and 98.2 deaths per 100,000 females. People who identified as Jewish, Hindu or Sikh were also more likely to die.
In England, people of South Asian descent have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are associated comorbidities for Covid-19. In addition to this, ethnic minorities are also subject to socio-economic factors that allow for the virus to spread further and quicker such as living in densely-populated areas or having more occupational exposure.
People from Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups are around twice as likely to be in the bottom fifth of incomes, and have the lowest median household incomes in England.
A report published by the Muslim Council of Britain in November 2020, described the impact of Covid-19 on Muslim communities as “chilling”, saying: “While there is no doubt that Covid-19 has hugely impacted all communities, the impact and experience has been different for various segments of society. Muslim communities in particular have dealt with the pandemic from a place of disproportionate disadvantage.”
It is clear that the past year has been one of great and often unexpected loss. This Ramadan will be the first where many Muslims will have to practice and celebrate where their absence will be tangible. This is especially the case given that last year Ramadan was celebrated in lockdown, with people stopped from seeing friends and family outside of their household and many celebrations on hold - including visiting mosques. For many the difference at the dinner table between Ramadan in 2019 and 2021 will be stark.
Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims, where nearly two billion around the world fast every year. It’s believed to be the time in which the Quran was revealed therefore, many try to finish a “khotum”, an entire reading of the Quran during the 30 days. And although it is mostly known for the fasting element - observers abstain from any food and drink during sunlight hours - it’s also a time for charity; with donations between 2.5 to 20 per cent of your savings encouraged.
It’s this continuation of charity which will be the focus for Amina Amin, a twenty-four year old from Redbridge in London. Amin’s father, Badrul Amin, died suddenly from Covid-19 in intensive care in January. With no underlying comorbidities, it was the family’s faith that helped them through the most difficult of times. “We are honouring our dad by engaging in charity work through feeding and providing medical help for those less fortunate on his behalf.
“His whole heart was devoted to helping those, especially those from his motherland in Bangladesh,” says Amina. “We hope to allow my dad to live on both in our hearts and in his legacy of good work. He was very much loved both in Bangladesh and here.”
Rahima Begum, founder of charity Restless Beings, will be honouring her mother-in-law, who passed away from Covid last June by recreating her favourite mishti (South Asian sweets) this Ramadan. “To mark her departure from our life in this world now and the emptiness we feel without her this year, we will eat some of her favourite mishti on the weekend,” says Rahima.
She plans on specifically making more jalebi, a spiral shaped crispy dessert that’s doused in sugar syrup, to eat occasionally throughout Ramadan. Something she has been doing with her mother-in-law since the start of her marriage and will continue to do.
Kaheela*, a twenty-two year old physics student, lost her father in June to motor neurone disease and is determined to read and finish the Quran, and make it to every sunrise prayer during Ramadan, to honour her dad. “Even when he was the most ill, he never missed a prayer. He used to wake up and go to our local mosque in South London for every single one.
“When he could no longer be independent, he would, as many people do when they’re no longer bodily-able, pray, doing the movements with his eyelids,” describes Kaheela. “He said he had God and faith in whatever would happen...it made me feel like as someone who has her health, I can’t make excuses anymore.” She hopes she can stick to this beyond Ramadan as well.
Anyone who has experienced grief will know it comes in waves; there are the obvious birthdays and anniversaries in a calendar of grief, but there are also the unexpected ones, the food loved by someone lost or an empty chair at a table. This Ramadan, following a painful year for many, the holy month will have added significance. After all, we’ve all now seen, this could be anyone’s last.
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