How young Muslims are coping with Ramadan under lockdown
We spoke to young Imans and activists to find out how they are managing to maintain and uphold Zakat and Taraweeh while stuck indoors.
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As the current pandemic continues, and countries all over the world have gone into lockdown, everyone is scrambling around trying to figure out how to keep a grasp of normality while living in quarantine. Amid all the confusion, Muslims globally are trying to figure out how to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan whilst also practicing social distancing. For 30 days and 30 nights, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and usually break their fasts with loved ones over a meal called Iftar.
It’s a sacred month and although it is most commonly associated with abstaining from food during sunlight hours, Ramadan is primarily about self-reflection, prayer and gratitude. Those are all things under a particular spotlight in the times of coronavirus. Another key tenet of Ramadan is Zakat which involves giving back to society, irrespective of people’s race, religion or gender. “It’s a common misconception that all Muslims do is stop eating and drinking during Ramadan," says youth leader Noor Hadi. "Now that we have more free time, we try to fill that time to serve humanity”. As a faith leader, Hadi encourages members of his congregation to safeguard themselves but to also look out for their neighbours. Through online initiatives and daily videos, he is trying to keep people positive through this difficult time.
Aged just 24, Noor is one of Britain's youngest imams. "Social distancing has already affected my own Muslim community even before Ramadan," Noor explains. With Mosques now closed, there have been no meetings or gatherings and many outreach projects designed to reach the most vulnerable have been placed on hold. Quarantine has affected his daily tasks already, which as an imam, involve the moral and spiritual upbringing of members of his community. Alongside his work as an imam, Hadi is part of AMYA, the oldest and largest Muslim youth organisation in Great Britain, which, in normal circumstances, holds large gatherings with thousands of members in attendance. They are now having to switch to delivering a lot of their work online. “It’s a great community, luckily I’m a part of it” Noor says. "We're now using Zoom meetings and digital calls in an attempt to inject a sense of normalcy in the community."
Another important component of Ramadan is Taraweeh, a daily practice where Muslims can choose to go to their local mosque for evening prayers, reflections and sermons. Usually, family members and friends will arrange to go together after they break their fast. However during lockdown, this cherished tradition is sadly no longer possible. Organisations like AMYA are attempting to fill the gap, creating tutorials on how to lead your own prayers at home, as well as producing online educational videos and classes about Islam, which they hope will bring families together during the season.
But what about those who don't have a safe and supportive family network to celebrate Ramadan at home? Nasra Ayub, a lead outreach worker for the international charity IntegrateUK, knows that Ramadan can be trying for young Muslims at the best of times. "For some people, this time can be especially difficult on their mental health," Nasra says. "For those most vulnerable, they may be in places where they are unable to integrate into their families." Add in a global pandemic, and things are even more precarious. As a trustee, Nasra's work focuses primarily on how she can best support young people from a distance, again, primarily through technology.
The activist has created group chats, online discussions and is planning on setting up virtual Iftar sessions where Muslims and non-Muslims alike can join. "More widely, I try to reassure the young people that I work with that I'm there for them", she adds. Nasra also utilises her own platform on social media, particularly Twitter, to her advantage, addressing young Muslims in particular to call for a more holistic approach to Ramadan. She has recently started a focus on mindfulness and hopes to encourage others to focus on their mental health, where possible.
On a more individual level, many young Muslims are turning to technology and online initiatives to carry out their own Zakat tasks during Ramadan. Aliya Zaidi is a writer, researcher and blogger for shespeakswehear, a platform aimed at elevating the voices of young Muslim women. "I always try to give to foodbanks during Ramadan," she says. "But now I can't physically travel to the foodbank, I've signed up to the app Sufra instead." With a hub in NW London, Sufra, which has increased its presence during the pandemic, is a charity dedicated to delivering emergency food aid and welfare advice to the most vulnerable. Those using the app can send their food directly to either a vulnerable individual or a foodbank wherever a slot becomes available. "During quarantine, charities are really suffering, so it’s a great way of practicing social distancing and performing your Zakat by giving back to mankind," Aliya explains. “It’s a learning curve for us but it’s a good opportunity to connect to people too.
Fashion blogger and gender-based violence activist Amaal Ali also has chosen to utilise her online platform to help find creative outlets to bring the community together during Ramadan. “I want to definitely make people more aware of being charitable” Ali says. “Instagram is such a great place for encouraging activism and I want mine to be a space where I promote charity work throughout the year and especially during Ramadan”. Amaal regularly makes entertaining Instagram videos involving styling and musical TikToks to keep people engaged and offer a sense of distraction. “I want people to know we are all here and all connected,” she says.
Shespeakswehear is also trying to use the pandemic to become a force for good during Ramadan, with a series of live videos and online community events which connect to young Muslims directly. "There's a real demand for community right now," Aliya says, adding that with plans to adjust timings around Iftar, it’s going to be something that continues over Ramadan and possibly beyond. That can only be a serendipitous silver lining to an extremely trying and strange situation.
It's not going to be an easy time for Muslims with Ramadan under lockdown this year, but there are plenty of organisations and activists trying to make the month easier for people. From Instagram Lives to various forms of Zakat, this Ramadan will be a trying period but also one where Muslims can depend on each other for support. And if necessity creates new avenues for connection in the online world when IRL isn't available, and those connections remain after quarantine is over, then surely that is only a good thing, and one that will make the community stronger.