zondag, mei 24, 2020

COVID-19 pandemic, a lesson of resilience

Fasting in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islamic practice. During this holy month, Muslims wake up early to eat a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and break their fast after sunset with a meal called iftar. It is a common practice among Muslims to break their fast in the mosques, particularly those underprivileged. While people can break their fast individually, breaking of the fast is usually a communal affair. The practice of communal breaking of fast was because Muslims have relatively big families and have a tendency to uphold extended family relations. This is because Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to keep strong family ties, and the Holy Quran encourages Muslims to be generous and treat the elderly with compassion.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led many countries' governments to enforce the shutdown of a large gathering, which means that individuals that used to go to Mosque have their suhoor and iftar have to have it individually or with family at home. The COVID19 experience makes this year Ramadan a difficult one for me to cope with. As a Muslim, I feel conflicted about the necessity to apply social distancing on the one hand and, on the other hand, the need to be close to friends for the usual Ramadan support and comfort. The tight limitations on movement in the Hague mean that as Muslims, like everyone else, are not allowed to visit friends in large gatherings anymore. While skipping optional daily congregational prayers was not too difficult for me because Muslims are permitted to pray individually, but stopping Friday prayers, Tarrawey and Tahhajud has been more challenging because it has to be performed in a mosque especially during the Ramadan period.

While COVID-19 altered the usual Ramadan experience that I am used to, one of the significant new ways of life to combat the virus is not unique to Muslims. The health experts and WHO suggest that the frequent washing of hands is not new to me because personal hygiene has been the hallmark of Islam for centuries. Muslims have to perform a ritual ablution before the five daily prayers. The ablution involves washing hands up to the elbows, including interlacing of fingers, washing the face and feet, and wiping the hair. While these do not entirely prevent the spread of disease, they certainly help reduce the risk. Online meetings through Zooms and listening to sermons online replaced physical gathering even though I would have preferred the physical group. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lesson of resilience, it was a shock for many Muslims because we have never experienced such before even during the World Wars. I am from Kenya/Somalia and have also worked in conflict zones before, but I cannot remember communal gathering practice of breaking fast and prayers during Ramadan canceled even with the high level of insecurity.  Muslims still gathered during Ramadan in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen despite the war to observe their religious rituals together; unfortunately, the COVID19 is a different invisible merciless enemy this time around but not in the future anymore.

Bisharo Ali Hussein, Student of Masters in Public Policy at Institute of Social Studies - Erasmus University