Ramadan 2021: With a new lifestyle comes new traditions
Updated: Feb 26
Ramadan and its importance
Ramadan is the ninth month in the lunar Islamic calendar. Muslims all around the world lookout for new moon sightings to indicate the commencement of this sacred month. It is considered the holiest month for Muslims because our religious book, the Quran, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at the end of that month. Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory because it is one of the five pillars of Islam. Healthy adult Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, meaning they can’t eat, drink or smoke during that time. Those exempt from fasting are menstruating people, pregnant people, children, the elderly and the ill. During this holy month, fasting and non-fasting Muslims alike are encouraged to pray and do charitable acts and other good deeds.
Oftentimes, my non-Muslim peers misunderstand Ramadan, but the principles of community, charity and spending time with family can apply to any other belief system.
Every Muslim has a different experience with Ramadan and their spirituality, but most can agree that Ramadan is a peaceful month. Elijah, 17, who has recently converted to Islam and is celebrating Ramadan for the first time described this holy month as “a time to connect myself with and to Allah [God]...where I take the time to honestly ponder and consider my spirituality to keep it protected, intact, and peaceful.”
They further go on to express how Ramadan and Islam have positively affected them.
“My mood has been dramatically better, when it gets closer to night time I don't feel as lonely as I used to,” they said. “I find myself spending that time thinking about how grateful I am for the people in my life... before fasting and praying I would just get sad at night and feel alone but I don't feel that way anymore.”
Overall, Ramadan helps Muslims break bad habits, sympathize with the less fortunate and strengthen their relationship with Islam and Allah (God).
Iftar and Suhoor
The meal that we eat to break the fast is called Iftar. We follow our prophet Muhammad by breaking the fast with a few dates and water. The Iftar meal is different for those of different cultures, but mine consists of a few side dishes and a main dish. For side dishes, my Comorian family prepares beef sambusas, which are triangular fried pastries with spicy ground beef, and cuscuma, a flakey flatbread. Suhoor or sehri is the meal that Muslims consume before the sun rises, which helps fasting Muslims stay energized during the day.
Iftar is usually shared amongst many people at a house gathering or at the mosque, which is why living alone or being the only Muslim in your household can be isolating, especially during this pandemic.
Elijah shared that their family is extremely supportive of their religion and tries to prepare dinner as late as possible to accommodate their new eating schedule.
Alas, not all young converts are met with the same familial support, resulting in them seeking aid from their community and other sources. Mosques and Muslim organizations offer takeaway meals for those who want them or are in need of them. In addition, through social media, converts can chat with fellow Muslims online and spend virtual Iftar with them to make their experience less isolating.
Celebrating Ramadan during the pandemic
Celebrating Ramadan this year has been difficult because government guidelines restrict us from partaking in the many activities that we consider essential.
Despite these challenges, Muslims in places with Covid-19 restrictions have found new ways to celebrate. Instead of dining together like we used to do before the pandemic, my family exchanges sweets and gifts with our neighbours and friends. Aside from that, our traditions haven’t changed much. This Ramadan hasn’t been any less enjoyable than others because I still get to eat the same delicious food and be with my family.
Unfortunately, that sentiment isn’t shared by all Muslims. My friend Khadi Ja, 16, who has been celebrating Ramadan her whole life, described this year’s Ramadan as “lonely” and shared that she feels “disconnected from the world”.
Her family started hosting Iftar dinners with friends and family through Zoom and they decorated their home to make things more festive. Decorating with a moon tree and lights to bring back some Ramadan spirit seems to be a common trend amongst Muslims this year and it might become a tradition for the years to come.
Khadi Ja shared that she misses a lot of aspects of her pre-Covid celebration of Ramadan.
“Attending mosques was a very special part of Ramadan but unfortunately [my family] has not been able to go,” she said.
Places of worship, such as the mosque, have been closed in Ontario so Muslims cannot attend the nightly Taraweeh prayer or break their fast in the mosque.
Eid al-Fitr, which means “the Festival of Breaking the Fast” marks the end of Ramadan. After 29 or 30 days of fasting, we get together to pray and celebrate. Mosques and Muslim organizations all over the world host large events. One of the biggest Eid celebrations in Canada is the MacEid fest, organized by the Muslim Association of Canada. It’s held in many cities across Canada and in 2019 over 100,000 people attended those festivals.
In most places in Canada, Covid-19 restrictions prevent Muslims from participating in such large-scale events. However, things seem to be more promising for our southern neighbour, Elijah, who has already started planning for Eid-Al-Fitr.
“I'm going to try and link up with my best friend Hafsa so we can celebrate [...] and go to a Mosque for Eid for prayer,” they said. “I get my vaccine today so it shouldn't be too much of a hassle.”
I’m sure that Muslims in Ontario would love to celebrate with friends and external family as well, but keeping safe during Eid al-Fitr festivities is the main priority. Celebrating with less people is better for the community.
Having to spend another Ramadan under lockdown was unexpected for a lot of us. For individuals like Elijah, this month has been a positive and enlightening spiritual journey. For others, it has been lonelier and less exciting than previous Ramadans. Although we might find joy in our new traditions and in the new ways we’ve been celebrating, I’m sure that most Muslims hope to spend the next Ramadan Covid-free.