As COVID wanes, Ramadan unity returns – Palm Beach Post

Imam Azhar Subedar

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, this year begins Friday evening, April 1. 

Until the last two years, the mere news of the advent of Ramadan brought forth excitement and anticipation to Muslims across the globe. Why? Simple. Because many Muslims around the world recognize Ramadan as the best month of the Islamic calendar.  

It was a month in which you could break your fast with food from different parts of the world, alongside friends and family almost daily. A season wherein you could congregate with those who reside in the same town or city as you do and feel the the unity of your community. There was a spiritual element to the month that granted every fasting person serenity during the day spent in hunger and a recharge of the soul during the night, as they stood in prayer.   

This was the norm. 

However, our world changed. The culprit was Covid. Covid shut down our world, changed our lives, and adjusted how we worked, studied, worshiped, and connected to our Lord. 

In 2020, Ramadan was entirely virtual. The doors of mosques were locked and the lights were off. The season’s decorations remained in the storage closet. The packages filled with colorful balloons for the Eid celebration were never opened. It was a somber month in which we had to work extra hard to gain that feeling that we had in previous years. Congregational prayers were offered in homes rather than at the mosque. In the absence of listening to the entire Quran during prayer, recited by one of the fantastic reciters, we read the little portion of the Quran that we knew. Ramadan went from being a community affair to a personal one. 

In 2021, Mosques around the country opened their doors, well, most of them but not the same way they used to pre-pandemic. Restrictions were imposed, from age limits to allotted space in the building. A list of rules was presented that would require one to check off before even attempting to enter the mosque, from masks and even gloves in addition to a prayer mat. Not to forget the temperature checks by the door, or the social distance mandate for prayer, placing worshippers far apart from one another. Pre-pandemic, if a person sneezed in the mosque, the congregation would turn to them and give them a prayer. From 2021 onwards, even the slightest cough resulted in the masses staring at the individual. 

It’s 2022, and we’re approaching the third Ramadan since the pandemic began. With signs indicating that the bulk of this pandemic is (possibly) behind us, mosques are preparing to go all out. From abolishing the social distancing mandate to making masks optional, many communities are even bringing back communal dinners to break the fast. The South Florida Muslim community just held its first region-wide conference, in part to prepare for Ramadan – both by words of inspiration from scholars, and with shopping at the bazaar to get ready early for Eid, the celebration that marks the end of the month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. Attended by nearly a thousand people, it is clear that people are prepared to get out again. 

As Muslims welcome a return to normalcy, they are nervous about embracing the “new norm,” which, in actuality, was once “the norm.”  

The pandemic forced us to adjust abruptly. As it fades into the horizon, God willing, we will take small steps to change back. I hope this adjustment will grant us a sense of gratitude for what we once took for granted.  

 

Imam Azhar Subedar is one of the founding members and an adviser to the South Florida Muslim Federation. 

(Op-ed originally published in Palm Beach Post on March 29, 2022. Read it here.)

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