As the crescent in the sky starts to come into view, Muslims all around the world are preparing for what is sure to be a historic event: the first global Ramadan in lockdown.
The holy month of Ramadan starts for most Muslims in New Jersey on April 23, and is widely recognized as the time when Muslims take on the practice of fasting, refraining from food and drinking from sunrise to sunset. But, this time of the year offers more to the religious community than just an empty stomach.
At its root, Ramadan is a month of self-control. During this time, Muslims are challenged to take a more active approach to how they spend their time and money, as well as their spiritual relationship with God. For those with the health and the means, this includes mandatory group prayers at the mosque nightly and giving to the families affected by poverty -and these are just the basics.
As for the culture of Ramadan, it is much more colorful: people pour into mosques to give back to the less fortunate members of their communities, children come together with neighbors to play under the roofs of homes embellished with multicolored lights and young adults of all ages sit at the feet of their elders as they share stories and recipes. It's a month of glee and togetherness. What happens now that we are no longer granted this freedom due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?
When religious questions arise, we are taught to look to our ancestors for answers. This is no longer an option for the international Muslim community. In the approximately 1,400 years of Islamic history, there has been no known record of a Ramadan spent void of nightly prayers, let alone all social activity.
Thanks to modern technology, community leaders and religious figures have chosen to move their sermons and community events online in attempts to keep the people engaged. Local mosques will continue to provide lessons and story times for those looking to recharge their spiritual batteries while on lockdown.
These are only a few of the many practices Muslims are losing during the spread of the virus, and it's bad enough for Muslims who comprise Rutgers' student population. We'll miss our grandma's iftaars and the all-nighters at the mosque (don't even get me started on missing Eid) and so much more.
But more than just being a time for the loss of family and personal practices, lost traditions will be felt in so many extreme and dynamic ways on the global scale - just take a look at this The New York Times piece.
Given all of this important historical information about how Ramadan is a family-centered and community practice, it should come as no surprise that Muslims are devastated at having to lose one of the most important parts of our lifestyles. This is a total change from anything our communities have been doing for centuries, and it's unnerving to say the least.
It's true that all communities are being impacted one way or another by this sudden change of pace, and Muslims are no different. But this is the first time that this has literally ever happened for Muslims ever, and it's worth acknowledging that this is a huge deal.
This pandemic is simply unprecedented. That eerie photo of the Kaabah getting cleaned during the earlier days of the pandemic in the United States shook most Muslims to their core. This was a sight that none of us had ever really seen before and never even thought to prepare for. Now, all of our mosques around the world are closed, and we have to quickly take this loss into consideration while facing the global pandemic.
Meanwhile, during this time of anxiety for Muslims across the globe, President Donald J. Trump retweeted information that most people considered Islamophobic -basically asking authorities in the United States if social distancing would be enforced for American Muslims like it was for Christians.
Although Trump's retweet can be wrongly dismissed as just another outburst, it's impossible not to contextualize his comments. It's bad enough that this message is being sent during a very important time for Muslims, but it's worse still that these types of hateful messages are resulting in harm against the Muslim community.
Just this week, Congressional candidate Amani al-Khatahtbeh received an alleged death threat that she posted to her social media. The death threat contained a number of chilling hateful and Islamaphobic messages. Although the motive of the caller is still unclear, Trump's rhetoric may be a contributing factor.
But, on the brighter side of things, some are exploring the idea of dedicating this time to focus on faith free from distractions -if you have the privilege not to be "distracted" during this time. Ramadan coming at a time of forced solitude could be exactly what our souls need to reinvigorate our spirituality and, on a broader level, grow the self-motivation skills we need to get through 10 a.m. Zoom classes and get us through this endless downtime.
There's still hope. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Muslims' call to prayer (the adhan) will be broadcasted five times a day during the entire month of Ramadan. The act is both a beautiful showcase of solidarity and a reminder that Muslims should be praying at home during social distancing.
Muslims belong in America, despite some mainstream rhetoric - or often, lack thereof. This Ramadan, make sure to check up on your Muslim friends who may need the extra commmunity love during this difficult time for everyone.
With all this being said, will livestreamed khutbahs and virtual iftar parties be enough to satisfy a young Muslim's need for community in an age where Islamaphobia is flourishing?