Physically separated but connected during the Ramadan

Muslims worldwide are experiencing the Ramadan in a strange way this year. The month during which muslims fast during the day is the most important month for muslims worldwide. During the month muslims are more conscious of their religion, giving to charity spending a lot of time together, gathering for prayers, readings and dinners to break the fast in the evening. This year will be an unusual Ramadan for muslims having to be separate from each other because of the spread of COVID-19.

Islam is the second-largest religion in the Netherlands with close to a million people following the religion in the country. During the Ramadan each year large gatherings are being held all over the Netherlands were people come together for prayer, to donate to charity and share food with each other. The month is a time in which meeting up with family, friends and other muslims usually plays a large role. Ramadan the month of fasting is the most important month for muslims and the fast is one of the fundamental parts of the religion part of the 5 pillars of Islam.

The Ramadan takes place during the 9th month of the Islamic moon calendar. This year it last from the 23th of april to the 23th of may. It is mandatory for every muslim that is healthy and able to fast to take part part in fasting during the Ramadan. During the Ramadan fast in the daylight and eat when the sun is down. The lockdown that is taking place in the Netherlands is likely to last till the end of the Ramadan month.

The government of the Netherlands has announced an intelligent lockdown in March that will last till at least May the 20th. Public places are closed down, people are recommended to stay at home and keep distance from one and another. Gatherings of more than 30 people are forbidden. Dutch mosques and the people that run them have decided to follow the governments advice and have been closed to visitors since March.The lockdown is changing this years Ramadan experience for muslims all over the country.

‘We are following to governments advice and are dealing with the current situation in a responsible matter. Currently it is allowed to have meetings with 30 people. Because we do not want to set lists of who is allowed to enter the mosque at times and send other away we have decided to close down our Mosque in March.’

– Voskhan, Ulu Camii mosque, Utrecht

Inside the Ulu Camii mosque in Utrecht

Famous and influential Dutch muslims have spoken out and asked muslims in the country to be responsible and respect the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. These include religious leaders like Imams and other spokespersons of mosques and Islamic movements. The mayors of Rotterdam and Arnhem both second-generation Dutchman with a Moroccan background; Ahmed Aboutaleb and  Ahmed Marcouch also voiced their opinion and told muslims not to gather in groups bigger than allowed by the Dutch government.

In the video underneath created by the municipality of Rotterdam prominent muslims from the Netherlands give a message on how to deal with the Corona-measures during the Ramadan.

Selim Saldiran is an Imam connected to the Ayasofa mosque in Rotterdam but working at different mosques within the country. During this time a year Selim is usually visiting a lot of places to host prayers and give readings. This year is totally different for him.

During this time a year I usually visit different mosques all over the Netherlands daily. Now I am barely meeting anyone physical. We are however doing whatever we can to have our rituals in alternative ways. We are using video chat to have give readings and religious advise. It feels really different but it’s great thing that we are possible to meet up in an alternative way at all.’ – Selim Saldiran

A lot of activities that play a central role in the experience of the Ramadan for many muslims take place at the mosque. Normally people gather here to pray five times a day, go to readings and have Koran-lessons. Because people are not able to meet because of the Corona-crisis mosques in the Netherlands have been closed since March.

To provide muslims with advise on how to deal with the current circumstances Imams and other spokespersons of mosques are reaching out to the muslim-community online. Also readings and koran lessons are being given by using Online means so that people can participate from the safety of their own homes.

‘We have live-streamed sessions in the mosque before but have never been as active online as we are now. Online prayers are however forbidden according to our faith, we do give readings and religious advise through streaming. Prayers by online means are not allowed by our religion. Muslims can pray anywhere in the world though and it is common for muslims to create a place at home to pray. People however still want to see the mosque itself as well and we give them that opportunity’

– Voskahn, Ulu Camii mosque Utrecht

Muslims believe that all the good behaviour they are taking part in within the holy month of Ramadan of is rewarded even more than normally. It is a time when many muslims are more conscious of their religion than usual spending a lot of time with other muslims and living according to the rules of the faith.

Charity is very important during the month of Ramadan. It general it plays a big role in the religion that demands followers to donate a certain percentage of their income to good causes every year. During this month it plays an even bigger role than normally. Public Iftars; meals where muslims break the fast are being held and food Is given out so those that are economically less well off are also able to enjoy the Ramadan with nice food in the evenings. Those that can afford it donate to contribute to the Iftar meals.

The measures that are In place to stop COVID-19 also make these gatherings of people impossible. To make sure that everyone that wants participate in the Ramadan is more than comfortable when breaking the fast. Mosques and food banks that have been set up especially for this situation are brining around food packages so that everyone is able to enjoy their Iftar meal.

The lockdown is a troubling situation for many people. Especially for people living on their own it can be very tough psychologically. To support people during this month mosques are not just organising activities online but are also meeting people physically to support them. Imams and other representatives of the Ulu Camii mosque in Utrecht are meeting with elderly people that are stuck at home to give them some extra support during the Ramadan month.

The unusual Ramadan that is taking place this year offers challenges for muslim-communities worldwide. Religious organisations are coping with the challenges posed by not being able to gather physically in groups in various ways. According to many muslims the month however also offers possibilities to be even more involved with religious activities and to be engaged with muslim-communities.

‘The fact that we are not able to meet with family and have Iftar with each other and pray together also offers possibilities. The month of Ramadan is a month praising Allah and living simple and sober and being reminded of those that are less well off .

In the the time of Muhammed ,peace and blessings be with him the breaking of the fest was not a very party-full thing but a simple meal  consisting of only a couple of dates. Also the fact that we are not able to gather for prayers should remind muslims that the whole earth is a place to praise Allah and that you can pray anywhere. This could be the best Ramadan because even though the situations we are able to proof ourselves to Allah.’

Selim Saldıran, Ayasofa mosque Rotterdam

Sanae is a Dutch muslim women with a Moroccan background. During this unusual Ramadan she is spending a lot of time at home with her husband and kids. Because activities at the mosque are canceled this year her and her family are taking part in more Ramadan related activities at home.

This years Ramadan is unique since me and family are spending most of our time at home.  We do the usual stuff like the breaking of the fast in the evening and the early breakfast in the morning. Instead of going to mosque multiple times a day to pray we pray together at home. Everyone is dealing with the current situation in a different way. My sisters are following online Koran-readings.

The Ramadan is for a big part about experiencing how others that are less well off are experiencing life.  One part of why we fast is to experience the hunger that others feel. We talk with our kids about people about poverty, how others in the world are less well off and they can contribute to helping this people by donating some of their money. The unusual circumstances makes that we are truly experiencing this Ramadan as a family. Besides that it makes us more involved with the true values of the Ramadan and the fact that you can pray anywhere.

– Sanae Aoudi

Traditional Moroccan Iftar meal including Harrira soup and dates

The breaking of the fast in the form of the Iftar plays a central role in the Ramadan. Muslims believe that one that provides a meal for someone who fast that breaks the fast gets the same reward as someone who is taking part in the fast. At public Iftars muslims meet one another often in big gatherings held at mosques. Besides that people gather at home with friends and family for more intimate dinners. This part of the tradition mainly the big gatherings is mostly canceled this year. Iftar meals that will take place will be more intimate taking place at people’s homes surrounded by their close family.

It is clear that the measures taken to prevent further spread of COVID-19 are greatly impacting the way that muslims are experiencing the Ramadan in the Netherlands. The muslim-community is taking it’s responsibility canceling all physical gatherings. Even though people are not able to meet in physically and it seems like the lockdown will continue till the end of the Ramadan it seems that in ways muslims in the Netherlands are more connected to each other and their faith.

Mosques provide alternatives to muslims-communities to take part in Ramadan-activities and give advise on how to deal with the measures that are active during this month. It seems like the lockdown will last till the end of the Ramadan and this years fasting month will be a memorable and unique one to muslims in the countries where there is an active lockdown.

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