On a typical Ramadan, observant Muslims spend the month fasting from morning to evening, praying through the night, performing acts of charity, and spending time with their loved ones and local community. But this year, with stay-at-home orders in place around much of the globe due to new coronavirus, the typical has been made impossible.
In the U.S., some states have been under stay-at-home orders since March 23. That means that by the time Ramadan began in late April, many people were already one month into social isolation. And because it’s not clear when or how the orders will lift, Muslims have had to make a massive shift in expectations for the month.
In North America, mosques have been shut down for weeks and no longer offer fast-breaking community dinners or night time tarawih prayers. Many Muslim “essential workers” who work in healthcare, transportation, or delivery will experience a double whammy this year, continuing to work at risk of exposure whle still fasting. No longer able to visit friends and family, people are turning to Zoom calls to find community.
Adeel Khan, M.D., M.P.H., instructor at Harvard Medical School and hospitalist at Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends Muslims continue to follow the CDC’s guidance by observing social distancing guidelines (which unfortunately means not visiting friends and family or going to your masjid), wearing a mask in public, and following their states’ rules about sheltering in place.
For those who are stuck at home, there is little to break up the monotony of the tasks of daily life—working, cooking, cleaning, and interacting with the same people every day. Safiyya Shabazz, M.D., owner of Fountain Medical Associates in Philadelphia, tells SELF that, “For many people who look forward to the communal aspect of Ramadan and the congregational prayer, this Ramadan is going to be a challenge. Everyone is going to have to develop new routines.”
While the virus is unpredictable and can affect people differently, Dr. Shabazz says we should “not forget about the basics of optimizing our regular health through diet, regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep,” all of which are challenges during any Ramadan. Dr. Shabazz recommends having a conversation with your primary health care provider to make sure they are “familiar with and respectful of Muslim tradition,” when determining whether you are healthy enough to fast. In addition, the mental health strain during quarantine has been a huge concern for Muslims practicing fasting. SELF spoke to mental health experts, doctors, physical trainers, and registered dieticians to help Muslims under quarantine adapt to the new circumstances.
1. Acknowledge that this Ramadan will be different
Kameelah Rashad, Psy.D., founder and president of Muslim Wellness Foundation, likens the overwhelming emotional experience of a Ramadan under quarantine to whiplash. “Everything happened so quickly and [people feel like they] had no time to prepare. We feel ill-equipped and overwhelmed. The feeling of loss is acting as a barrier to imagine possibilities.”
But while imagining new approaches to Ramadan is the goal, first, people have to acknowledge the loss, Dr. Rashad says.”We have to acknowledge how difficult it is, how challenging it is… it can fill you with a sense of despair. And that is okay.“ The first step to finding ways to cope with the situation is to fully accept the truth and the reality of the situation.
2. And then allow yourself to imagine new possibilities
But once we’ve accepted that, we’re ready to start thinking creatively, Dr. Rashad says, which will help us adapt to Ramadan during COVID-19. “It’s hard. but it’s also an incredible opportunity,” Dr. Rashad says. Muslims around the world have already started rising to the challenge; delivering meals to health care workers and the food insecure, hosting virtual iftars, and even finding ways to grieve loved ones lost to the virus.