Imagine an annual celebration that does not bring together friends and family members that live in the same area. Imagine a festival day in which children and teenagers could not mix and mingle to share happy moments of the day. That was exactly what happened in this year’s Eid al-Fitr festival, which marked the end of Ramadan that fell on 24 May 2020. In fact, a fear of the coronavirus pandemic put a tight lid on Ramadan’s shared rituals and enjoyments that were to be shown on its completion. Neither Eid al-Fitr public prayers nor get together sessions aimed at congratulating each other on the moth’s completion were held. Families prayed at home and enjoyed whatever they had there. Everything was quiet. No eating out. No entertainment.
Ramadan is an annual obligation. Therefore, all adult Muslims are obligated to fast throughout the month, from dawn to dusk, unless they have some legitimate reasons that would excuse them from the mandatory fasting. Observing Ramadan means to abstain from food, drinks, an intimate relationship, and evil talks. Ramadan is not required of everyone. People exempted from fasting in Ramadan include the elderly, the sick, travellers, menstruating, pregnant, and breastfeeding women.
During the month, Muslims are urged and encouraged to get together, break the fast together, pray together, and recite the Holy Quran collectively. None of these rituals could be achieved in the Ramadan that ended on May 24, 2020; mosques were closed in many places of the world, and no other places would bring worshipers together.
At the start of Ramadan, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau passed on good wishes to the country’s Muslims, but said it would be a Ramadan done differently. In fact, the prime minster put it rightly, as it was an anomalous Ramadan. Locally speaking, all mosques in the City of Edmonton remained shutdown. Therefore, the Muslim community could not populate their respective, neighbourhood mosques to get the most out of Ramadan. Complying with public health guidelines aimed at combating the sweeping virus, worshippers stayed away from the mosques. Its dangers have been real and so people have abided by stipulated social and physical distancing rules.
Communal Ramadan traditions vanished. Neither mass prayers nor group Iftar dinners (food eaten to break the fast) could be organized. As some verses state, Allah (God) revealed the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the month of Ramadan, so the Quran’s continuous reading is highly recommended in the blessed month.
Tarawiih prayers (night prayers) are important signposts in Ramadan. They are communal prayers that assemble hundreds of congregants, depending on the size of the particular mosque; but they did not take place in the city’s mosques during this Ramadan. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the worshipers from attending their mosques. Consequently, people held individual prayers at home, and ate Iftar dinners at home. The dangerous disease did not only take away traditional rituals but also banned people from shaking hands or hugging one another.
Ramadan is not only about refraining from eating, drinking, and lusting. It teaches people the importance of tolerance, compassion, and caution. It is a time in which they should build on good values and besiege bad habits. Moreover, people that fast in Ramadan are recommended to give out generously and help the poor and the needy. In so doing, every household’s member is obliged to make payments in cash or in kind before the end of Ramadan. These payments are given to the poor and needy of society so as to alleviate the living conditions of the less fortunate. And the fasting of someone is not complete until these payments are made.
Due to the pandemic, donations and fundraising events intended to aid the needy segment of the society drastically dwindled in this Ramadan. Collecting donations or holding fundraising events became tedious tasks, as mass gatherings would not occur, making the needy not to get what they used to receive from benefactors. Needless to say, the coronavirus crisis has taken a terrible toll on the poor strata of society.
Eid al-Fitr festival is publicly celebrated when Ramadan ends. Children get new clothes, women with new attire decorate their hands with henna, and men wearing new dress mingle and munch on delicious food. Nevertheless, this year’s public, annual festival did not enable jubilant celebrants to display their jubilation. In fact, people awoke to a day devoid of big gatherings, of banquets, and of balloons. Donning new clothes and eager to burn accumulated energy, youngsters did not get places in which to empty that energy. No recreational centres. No playgrounds. No public parks. Everyplace was closed to the general public. Staying at home was the only alternative left for everyone. Furthermore, nobody would linger longer in anywhere, even if wanted to run some errands.
By all accounts this year’s Ramadan was much different from preceding years. The Eid al-Fitr celebration is as much a religious ceremony as it is a social gathering, but the persistent plague kept people apart and pulverised their gatherings. Indeed, 2020 has been a year lived in fear, for residents have been confined to homes irrespective of their daily task and goals. To cope with the reality at hand, new methods of learning new things have been developed, but the learning curve has been so steep, so to speak. Eid al-Fitr is held once a year and a common greeting shared on that day is ‘Eid Mubarak’ (Blessed Eid).