Muslim Australians observe ‘iso-Ramadan’


Photo: Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The month of Ramadan has just begun for over a billion Muslims around the world – and it’s a time where they normally look forward to immersing themselves in devotion and social gatherings that are usually planned months in advance.

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan moves forward around ten days during each year of the Gregorian calendar.

During Ramadan, Muslims observe the practice of fasting where they abstain from food, water, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to sunset over the course of the month.

Giving charity is highly recommended during this time, while attending communal iftar (fast-breaking) celebrations at sunset is a highly popular way to spend an evening, with people eagerly waiting for invites or hosting an iftar.

Normally, going to a communal iftar means no cooking at home. Score!

Usually, following iftar nightly prayers (taraweeh) are conducted in every mosque in all corners of the world (including Melbourne’s thirty or so mosques) or rented venues such as local halls.

People gather for prayer and a bit of a chit-chat afterwards at the mosque or at a family’s or friend’s home, or simply spend some time at their own home prepping for sahur – the pre-dawn meal before the fast begins the next day.

In short, it is a month of increasing spirituality and celebration and gathering with family and friends, leading up to Eid or the first day of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan in the Islamic calendar).

It’s tradition to wear new or your best outfits commemorating Eid, which concludes the month-long fast. Akin to Christmas, presents or packets of money are exchanged especially with the wee folk; lolly bags are gifted when visiting loved ones; and a lot of feasting is to be expected.

Festivities can go on for days with communities hosting carnivals at showgrounds or parties in the evenings which can last the whole night.

This would all happen in a normal year, though – and this year is anything but normal, but not by choice.

With the prevalence of the coronavirus, most of these traditions will be cut short or drastically changed.

Muslim Australians face a very different kind of Ramadan this year.

There will be no mingling of communities, and several Muslims – especially essential workers – will be fasting alone with barely any face-to-face contact.

There will not be any attending or hosting of iftar’s.

Nightly prayers are cancelled, the mosques closed and empty.

Food would be rationed due to only shopping for essentials and not being able to stock up (with limits still in place to prevent the panic-buying of many products).

Muslim clerics around the world have imparted encouraging words over social media, asking people to be positive but to also adhere to social distancing and to pray at home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed Ramadan in a pre-recorded video, acknowledging the challenges Muslims in Australia may face but urging them to continue to comply with the rules imposed due to the pandemic.

At a time where many feel disadvantaged, some have chosen to look on the bright side even saying that this Ramadan is better than the ones before it.

Project manager and mum of two Maryam Zackariya says she finds fasting easier this time around.

“Being at home and not having to commute [to work], cart the kids around, and maybe just not being around the rest of the food consuming population helps,” she said.

Entrepreneur and mum of four Shakira Salahudeen-Kassim says she doesn’t really miss the social aspect of Ramadan this year and is looking forward to spending some quality time indoors.

“Short hours, cold weather and a lot more relaxed, as there is nowhere to get to,” she said.

Offender management training manager Hanif Mohamed says what he misses the most – more than seeing others – is the feeling of seclusion in the mosque where his sole purpose is seeking a spiritual connection.

“I feel like this is one of the best starts to Ramadan for me in a long time – since the masjid (mosque) is closed, that has encouraged more men to recreate that feeling of seclusion at home and be more intentional about something that we perhaps previously took for granted.”