Shabrana Hussain, Chair of Birmingham Labour Group, writes:

Ramadan 2020. A month we will never forget for all kinds of reasons.

Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims all over the world. It teaches self-discipline, self-control and empathy for the less fortunate which encourages generosity and compulsory charity for the poor and needy. Muslims fast for 30 days, apart from those who are exempt due to illness, pregnancy/breastfeeding, travelling and menstruation. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset.

Ramadan is an important month and a time where many families and friends gather together. Families gather at each other’s houses to break the fast at sunset and pray through the night. Local events also take place during Ramadan such as street Iftars, charity fundraisers, open Iftars and community get togethers. However, this Ramadan certainly has a very different feel to it as the country struggles to cope with the Coronavirus crisis.

Due to the lockdown rules, gatherings of any kind are forbidden. A month that is usually filled with gatherings, dinner parties and good company feels empty. Seeing family members drop food off on the doorstep and leave is a sight none of us will get used to.

A major part of Ramadan and Islam in general is prayers. Muslims are required to pray five times a day. In Ramadan there is a night prayer called Tarawih. Due to all places of worship being forced to close, this is the first time in history that Muslims are not able to go to the mosque in Ramadan. This means no congregational prayers, no sermons or spiritual talks. For many Muslims, livestreaming Islamic talks online is the alternative and setting up prayer rooms in their own homes to provide a safe space they can pray in with family members.

The mosque environment is being sorely missed. The feeling of sitting to pray with friends, seeing people come together to talk about their fasting experiences, making Sehri and Iftar plans and all the little things is something I am sure none of us will take for granted again. On a more positive note, praying at home with family members in congregation is also strengthening bonds as this is something that many of us have not done before.

In terms of work, this is a very different year for Muslims. On one hand, many people are having to work from home which in Ramadan, is a blessing. No long commutes, saving money, more time to sleep and not being tempted with food and drink in the office!

On the other hand, people in healthcare are having to work longer hours and are required to wear PPE in hospitals and care homes. Wearing face masks as part of PPE can make you very dehydrated and the shift work means you are not always home when it is time to break your fast. However, the Muslim Council of Britain has advised Muslims who are fasting in Ramadan and wearing PPE to not fast if you feel that your health is at risk due to dehydration and general ill feelings.

This month has surely been a month like no other. The impending feeling of whether to make Eid plans or not is always hovering in everyone’s mind. The thoughts of when will we see our parents again? Can we see our families on Eid? The truth is, we simply don’t know.

Taking part of the holy month of Ramadan with no one but the people in your households is heartbreaking for a lot of people. For many Islamic reverts, this means spending it alone. An act of worship and kindness for Muslims is feeding a fasting person. Projects like Open Iftars encourages people from all different faiths and backgrounds to come together to open our fast together and to teach them more about Ramadan and fasting. The community spirit is especially missed during this time.

People all over the world are praying for this pandemic to come to an end so we can all see our loved ones again. It’s been a surreal time for all of us and hopefully one we will never have to experience again. Ramadan 2021 – we look forward to seeing you!

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