Each day for me looks like most of us who are working while sheltering in place with young children. As a parent, I’ve been making meals, helping my daughter with Zoom school, having virtual meetings, making snacks (feels like that never ends), taking family walks, tidying up incessantly, and using any other free moment to actually do my work.
As a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practitioner, I constantly consider how this pandemic magnifies the inequities that already permeate our society. I read the news and social media daily and feel appalled and heartbroken as I search for hope.
And as a Muslim, I now am working through how to observe this holy month of Ramadan while adhering to stay-at-home regulations.
I look forward to Ramadan more so than any other time of year. I am, like two billion other Muslims around the world, excited for this time of spiritual rejuvenation, communal connection, and fulfillment. Most know that Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast during daylight hours. It is also a time when Muslims build and support local and global communities. The Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, receives the most visits during Ramadan than any other time during the year outside of the Hajj season, with as many 15 million pilgrims. Making that pilgrimage is one of several practices that are now virtually impossible to perform.
Maintaining, serving, and engaging community is essential to religious practice for Muslims.
In fact, there are several practices that require in-person communal groups such as burial rituals and weekly prayer services. Stay-at-home orders prevent full practice of those required rituals.
Social distancing impacts the religious and spiritual practice of individuals and families worldwide. They are affected both by the inability to properly perform burial rituals that are critical for healing from loss and by the psychosocial consequences of social distancing that prevent communal prayer. During Ramadan this year, Muslims are dealing with additional hard realities of social separation.
Ramadan is a time for engaging community through collective prayer, service to others, and honoring the rites of the most vulnerable. Many local communities invite people to re-engage with their spiritual selves in both formal and informal ways. People visit new mosques and are emboldened to converse with each other as they break bread. They show up for communal prayer and take time for silent reflection. They use Ramadan as a means to break unhelpful habits and ask their communities to help them remain accountable. Practicing Ramadan in isolation or as a front-line worker means sacrificing the most important spiritual re-enlivenment period available, which is particularly taxing at a time when spiritual revitalization is needed more than ever.
Ramadan is a time for connection. Many Muslims use this time to connect with family and community. Some travel to a country or town where they have loved ones, others visit mosques or Islamic centers that they haven’t visited in a while. But most rely on this time to see people they haven’t seen since the previous year’s Ramadan. Ramadan acts as a social anchor point across time when individuals maintain long-term connections in their new or home communities.
Local mosques are not only places for prayer. They act as full-service community centers that offer support ranging from counseling families, to educating children and adults, to providing safe spaces for victims of abuse or trafficking, to offering financial assistance, to being a landing center for newcomers to a city or country. Amidst this pandemic, dozens of local mosques have either closed or are in danger of closing, missing central donations that support rent, salaries, and direct services. Ramadan is a month where Muslims are encouraged to multiply charitable giving as a means for spiritual enrichment. The vast majority of local mosques rely on the cash donations raised during Ramadan to support their operating budget. Without those cash donations, and with many people out of work, these centers are sinking. As a result, individuals no longer have access to the necessary services they provide.
Typically during Ramadan nearly every mosque offers free iftar (break-fast meals) to anyone who enters. Some even set up additional food service programs for hungry or food insecure people. Muslims who are food insecure throughout the year can count on the month of Ramadan to always have a place to break their fast and enough food left over to start the fast the next day. That security creates additional opportunity for focused worship. Due to job loss, illness, and inaccessible transportation, there are more food insecure people at this time than ever before. Both Muslims and non-Muslims are missing additional sources for food. Unable to endure the long lines at food pantries, some Muslims just won’t have food available to break their fast.
No one person or organization can fully address all of these significant challenges. But community and spiritual leaders, activists, social services professionals, and public officials are working for solutions together. So what can you do? Here are some actions you can take to ally with your Muslim colleagues, neighbors, and friends.
Engaging empathically is nearly always the best first step in allyship. Cultivating empathy starts with listening and inquiry. Don’t make assumptions, rather get curious and invite conversation. Acknowledge that Ramadan is here and inquire about the experience for that person. Being present to listen provides relief and validation.
Ramadan will last for at least 29 days. Because every day seems to bring more intense global challenges, it is helpful to check on your Muslim friends and colleagues throughout the month. Ask every few days or once a week how it’s going. Investigate ways to support and remove barriers so that you can create a sense of partnership that strengthens a relationship.
I’ll be honest, waking up before sunrise and staying up into the wee hours for prayer, exercise, or just catching up can get exhausting. Not to mention that 4pm lull! It is quite possible that a Muslim colleague is too polite or concerned to ask for adjustments. So wherever possible, offer a flexible work or meeting schedule. The offer alone can generate feelings of inclusion, and the adjustments will likely produce more productivity and better outcomes.
The financial impacts of this pandemic are real. Find out if your organization is in the position to offer donation matching or can partner with Muslim organizations on a service initiative. If your organization is unable, consider a personal financial or service-focused donation within your own means. Find out which organizations or causes your colleagues support. Islamic Relief, Muslims Against Hunger, Turning Point, and LaunchGood are popular platforms and organizations that offer easy ways to donate to a wide range of initiatives. Donation certainly won’t be an option for all, but for those who are able, giving is a welcomed act of solidarity.
I wish you all a happy and safe Ramadan. And, for those who are allies, thank you for showing up fully for your Muslim community during this time.