COMMENT | A very different Ramadan, but the essence remains

M Bakri Musa


COMMENT | It would be a severe understatement to say that this Ramadan is very different from all previous ones. 

What with the lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, our central social and religious activities normally undertaken communally at mosques, suraus and elsewhere are now suspended.

However, if we take our core religious values and commitments to heart, independent of rituals, circumstances, and places of worship, then we should be able to adapt to the current reality. 

This challenge is not unique unto our faith. 

We should be comforted by the fact that Islam had prevailed over many such tribulations in the past, from ravaging deadly plagues and barbaric Mongol invasions to the messianic secularism of Ataturk and the brutal despotism of Stalin.

We will get through this, Insha’ Allah (God willing!).

For those fascinated with numbers and happenstance, there is much to celebrate this Ramadan. It is the rare one with five Fridays, and also in Year 1441 of the Hijrah. 

Note the symmetry of that number!

Our small Muslim community in Morgan Hill, California, continues to adapt to this new normal through the enlightened spiritual leadership of our imam Ilyas. We acted preemptively by closing our masjid ahead of the state-wide lockdown.

 Every Friday now at 1PM, about the time of Zuhur prayer, our imam would go on live video to deliver his talk to the members of our congregation. We are careful not to label that a sermon as it is not associated with our regular congregational prayer, but the essence and intent remain the same – an uplifting message for and active (albeit only virtual) engagement with our members.

Likewise with this Ramadan. 

Every evening our imam recites the Quran on live podcast and our congregation gets to follow with him. 

Again we are careful not to label that as Tarawih but the essence and intent remain the same – to seek guidance and inspiration from our Holy Book.

Indications are that our imam will also have to deliver what otherwise would be his Eid sermon in a similar virtual manner.

It is not a surprise that our community, located as we are at the southern tip of Silicon Valley and with many of our members engaged in the industry, has taken to this digital revolution with relative ease. 

After every one of these online sessions, I thank those pioneers and engineers who made possible this wonderful medium. It is the same technology that enables me to celebrate with my granddaughter her birthday, thousands of miles across the Pacific.

More poignant, it is software like Facetime and hardware like smartphones that make possible for many to bid their last farewell to their loved ones afflicted with Covid-19, prevented as they are to be by the bedside.

I do not know whether those chip engineers and software designers are religious or not, but I am certain that Allah has a special place in Heaven for them. 

If, as a hadith has it, that a man was admitted to heaven for removing a nail from a path thus saving others from possible injury, likewise those ingenious engineers that enable me to listen to my imam and converse with my granddaughter miles away should also be deserving of such divine favours.

I say this to counter the tendency among many Muslim intellectuals and other religious types to belittle or even ridicule these modern Western innovations. Yet they use them with enthusiasm, without ever giving thought much less express their gratitude to those who made that possible.

Knowledge is knowledge, with no artificial differentiation between religious and secular. 

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Islamic Affairs) Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri reminds us to be thankful and positive in spirit during this Ramadan. 

“Someone, somewhere right now is fighting for his or her life. We still have ours, so be thankful and spend it in obedience of Allah.” That was the theme of his Madrasah Ramadan message.

He also has a special message for those selfless, tireless frontline workers. If they find it hard to fast, it is harus (leeway) for them to break it so their focus and ability to treat the sick would not be compromised.

As a surgeon I know how exhausting it can be to attend to the sick. On more than one occasion I had to break my fast. I did so without regret or hesitation. My patients’ needs come ahead of my personal salvation.

That advice from former mufti Zulkifli is wise, timely, and practical. As he reminded all, Ramadan is a month of charity. 

I cannot think of a more charitable deed than to be of service to your fellow human beings, more so when they need it most. In these trying times of Covid-19, there are many in such a desperate state. 

Our zakat (tithe) is never more precious and needed than now. Please give generously and make this Ramadan special for them and us.

Ultimately that is the mark of devoted Muslims, how well we serve our fellow man, not how rhythmic our ratib. Likewise, a true Muslim leader is one who brings justice, peace, and prosperity to the people, not how overflowing his robe or eloquent his sermon.

May this blessed Ramadan bring peace, prosperity, and most of all good health to you and yours! Keep safe!

M BAKRI MUSA is a Malaysian-born and Canadian-trained surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. This article was first published on

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