muslim women looking at their phones


This is How a Canadian Family is Observing Ramadan in Isolation

May 12, 2020

Until a few weeks ago, our home didn’t look that different from other families under lockdown: Zoom calls, Netflix, bike rides, long walks, some more Netflix — and lots of (reluctant) e-learning.

Life had taken an abrupt, bizarre turn that at times felt more than a little melancholic. But in between the virtual birthday parties on Zoom, Lost in Space episodes (a great show to watch with the family by the way) and Google classroom assignments, there was one thing we could all look forward to doing multiple times a day: eating.

Want to teach your kids about Ramadan? CBC Kids has an easy-to-follow story here.

All of a sudden, every meal in our house had become an event. Food had become synonymous with comfort. And while it was giving way to some unhealthy eating habits, it also came with a silver lining — because until safety measures around COVID-19 had shut down workplaces and schools, it was very rare that the four of us could sit down to have a meal together on a weekday.

Ramadan Worries

But as the month of Ramadan drew closer, I worried about how we would observe the rituals of this special month under lockdown. Islam requires all able-bodied Muslims to observe a period of daily fasting, which means not eating or drinking anything between dawn and dusk. For 30 days.

The closure of our local mosque meant that we would not, for the first time ever, attend the communal prayers and breaking-of-the-fast meal known as Iftaar along with thousands of community members each night. This was especially disappointing for my 11-year-old son Ali, who excitedly planned to fast all 30 days this year for the first time.

"Islam requires all able-bodied Muslims to observe a period of daily fasting ...."

While children are not required to fast during Ramadan, many are keen to start, especially since it means staying up later and participating in the social buzz at the mosque. Last year, Ali had revelled in the opportunity to be a designated water server to thirsty congregants (volunteer badge and all). This year, he had hoped to join the eco-team.

But I’ll be honest: my primary concern around fasting this year centred less around the closure of the mosque then on how we were going to get through our new "normal" on a perpetually empty stomach. And without losing my mind.

How We're Rama-doing

We’re two weeks in now and it’s proven to — knock on wood — not only be manageable, but oddly serene. For one, less eating means less cooking and less cleanup. Always a good thing!

We’re also making better food choices. When you only have eight hours in a day to eat — half of which need to be spent sleeping — you’re compelled to be more mindful about what to indulge in. Juice, chips and cookies have been replaced with lots of water and fibre, fluid-rich foods like lentil soup and fruit smoothies.

The idea is to maximize our nutrient intake as much as possible so that we can withstand the next day’s fast.

In the last hours before breaking the fast, we all tune in to watch a special "digital Ramadan camp" edition of Noor Kids, a program live-streamed every evening from Minnesota.

Hosted by a fun-loving children’s author, the camp includes animated Quran recitations, interactive competitions and some truly cringeworthy Muslim dad jokes.

"The idea is to maximize our nutrient intake as much as possible so that we can withstand the next day’s fast."

Here's an example: Why do Muslims wake up at dawn in Ramadan? Because it’s Rama-DAWN!

It’s not the same as being in a mosque of course, but it does help to fill some of the void.

Our iftars, as you can imagine, are climactic. The kitchen turns into a flurry of activity, with Ali hollering a 60-second countdown to the exact moment of sunset, while Hannah, who is six and not fasting, happily Facetimes her grandmother to declare that she’s completed yet another long fast (much to the annoyance of her brother).

The routine helps. But even on good days, when our bodies miraculously become accustomed to not eating regularly, we still pretty much always feel the gruelling last hours of the fast. Often, this hunger manifests itself in the form of pounding headaches and random food fantasies of things like Aero mint bubbles (OK, that wasn’t so random — I largely credit Aero for getting me through the first few weeks of the lockdown).

Fasting is a Challenge

But make no mistake — fasting is difficult, lockdown or not. But this year, the lessons we’re meant to gain resonate more than ever: to better empathize with those facing hardships due to poverty; to foster a sense of collective responsibility (giving to charity is as important as fasting in Ramadan) and to spiritually awaken to our own privilege (unlike the less fortunate, we remind our kids, we have a meal to end our day).

In retrospect, there has never been a better time to put ourselves in the shoes of those impacted by hunger. Perhaps Dr Likayat Takim, a professor in the religious studies department at McMaster University, put it best when he reflected last week that this pandemic could be seen as a form of spiritual awakening: “The virus has taught me that God is not to be found in the mosque or the temple… in other words, you do not need to go outside you to find God, you need to go inside you."

"Why do Muslims wake up at dawn in Ramadan? Because it’s Rama-DAWN!"

“The virus has taken the world away from me — my world — but it’s given me back something else that I always felt I did not have,” he adds. “It has given me back me. Normally we’re so busy that we don't have time to focus on ourselves — why we are here and what we are supposed to do.”

This truly is a Ramadan my family will never forget.

Article Author Shenaz Kermalli
Shenaz Kermalli

Read more from Shenaz here.

Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and University of Toronto. Her work has been published in The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Citizen, Al Jazeera English, The Guardian (UK) and The Independent (UK), among others.

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