LETTER | A surreal Ramadan

Imad Alatas


LETTER | The fasting month this year is expected to begin on April 23. For one month, Muslims around the world will abstain from food, water, sexual relations, evil thoughts, smoking and, this is new, being human. 

If there was a previous Ramadan that coincided with a global pandemic, I certainly wasn’t alive to witness it. Now I will be. The cases of Covid-19 keep growing. The global fraction of those who have recovered out of those who have contracted the virus is about one-fourth. 

Recovery rates are encouraging. Death rates not so much. In just a few days, the global number of deaths can increase. You could literally blink, and you will see the numbers on your screen go up. Covid-19 will probably be featured in the Guinness Book of Records. Another record Muslims will witness in the next one month is fasting during Covid-19.

Ramadan constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. It is an opportunity for Muslims to know what it is like to be deprived of material comforts, even if for a short while throughout the year. It is an opportunity to repent, to be closer to God, to appreciate the material and immaterial that you have in life (this should also be done in the other 11 months though). 

However, Ramadan also has a social aspect to it. If Hari Raya is the climax of Muslims’ togetherness, Ramadan is the journey. Ramadan is only Ramadan because family and friends look forward to visiting each other over the breaking of fast. 

We’re happy to see one another and indulge in food and that mighty and incomparable rose syrup (air bandung) drink that we had to abstain from for at least 14 hours. 

Ramadan is also a form of human sociality. With the lockdown, sure, you can spend time with your (immediate) family. What about your social circle beyond the home? The days where you could spend a few hours with your colleagues or friends before making a pilgrimage to the nearby mosque to sink yourself in their food and drink that they so tirelessly prepared have now ground to a halt. 

Mosques embody this kind of sociality. It’s where Muslims from all walks of life come together, eating with their bare hands from the same gargantuan plate. We can’t do that anymore. Even with the movement control order (MCO) ending on April 28, we won’t be able to just mix with people willy-nilly for 25 days.

Our sociality now has gone digital. It has gone surreal. Imagine having iftar with friends through Zoom, Skype, Facetime and what have you. Worse, a Hari Raya celebration online. 

The Selangor state government has certainly given us fodder for the imagination. Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari announced that two e-commerce platforms will be introduced by the state government for its Ramadan e-bazaar programme. Ramadan bazaars are understandably not allowed during this period, to minimise social interaction. Instead, orders will be placed online for food to be delivered to people’s houses.

The one quality that makes us human is the quality we have to suppress: social interaction. It’ll be a quiet Ramadan for sure but also a time to reflect. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to be charitable with one another. A Covid-19 Ramadan renders that charity even more necessary than ever. 

Refugees and blue-collar workers (both local and foreign) are more vulnerable now. For those of us who live comfortably, at least we have comforts. One day, we will be able to socialise again with the time and money that we never worried about losing in the first place. 

We will be able to hug our friends, families and colleagues. It just won’t be this Ramadan. Ramadan (this year) will be an opportunity for us to reflect on how much we complain about our everyday life, especially those who are comfortable. 

An opportunity to appreciate that for those lucky and fortunate to not be part of the Covid-19 statistics produced by the World Health Organisation, we are healthy. We can begin our fast healthy, and we can end it the same way.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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