My first Ramadan without a mosque, tarawih, jummah prayers, communal iftars or family gatherings is not this one.
There was no global pandemic at that time, nor any national restrictions on my movements. The parks and shops and schools were all open. Everything was as it always had been, it was only my own circumstances which had changed, and as we happily heralded the new moon of our first Ramadan with a newborn, I had no idea that a mother’s Ramadan is amongst the loneliest there is.
As an immigrant mother, I was already far from family and there was no prospect of vibrant and loud intergenerational gatherings, full of dhoodh-pathi, dad jokes and duas. Despite my fervent hopes, there were no invites to iftars elsewhere, perhaps out of a sense that we would be too busy “with the baby” to attend. And the mosques… well, some communities are giving and forgiving, they want the energy of children and the baraka of babies at their gatherings. They aren’t phased by the breastfeeding bundles held to chests between rakats nor children talking amongst themselves behind the prayer lines. But more often, our sacred spaces are not welcoming of young children and the mothers to whom they are usually attached. Every place I looked to find connection seemed distant and unreachable. The communal rituals I turned to for spiritual buoyancy and that deep sense of belonging had been made almost completely inaccessible.
Alhamdulillah, unlike so many others, I had the privilege of a supportive spouse and a safe, warm home however, for me, it was also Ramadan like I had never known it. And it was difficult.
But I did make it through and along the way I learned important things, some of which I am sharing now, in the hopes that they may prove helpful in case this is your first Ramadan in isolation and you are wondering how to cope without a mosque, without tarawih prayers, jummah khutbas, communal iftars or spontaneous family get togethers.
It is okay to grieve the Ramadan of your past, pre-isolation life. It’s okay to miss the gatherings, the camaraderie and that feeling of blessed togetherness that permeates this month. Miss it all, acknowledge the absence and try not to distract yourself away from it. This feeling has something deep to teach you, and that thing is empathy.
As your heart hurts from being separated from your fellow believers, remember, in every Ramadan after this one, the countless people in your community, in your neighbourhood, who feel the exact same way – the newcomers, the parents of young children, the vulnerable, those who have just come to Islam and those finding their way back to it. Vow never again to let a Ramadan pass without reaching out and widening your own circle.
Part of the joy of communal worship in Ramadan is the feeling of leaving your ‘everyday’ life for a short space of time in order to focus completely on the rituals of fasting, recitation and prayer. Often it means stepping away from your own space and domestic responsibilities or at least sharing them in some greater way and for many, the quest for ‘concentration’ and ‘focus’ becomes paramount.
If you have children, then you may feel like you need to wait for them to be settled before turning your attention to greater ibadah, but the truth is, this is unlikely to happen.
This Ramadan, we have absolutely no option of separating our devotions from our homelife, no getting away from the everyday things such as the preparation of food or the caretaking of children, in addition to any work responsibilities. This of course, has almost always been the case for women, but perhaps we never before were able to adequately appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by our mothers and aunties, who expertly multitasked the entire month with such good cheer that we never considered they may want to observe it any other way.
It’s important not to let frustrations fester – adjust your expectations and put aside any hope of serene solitude, embracing instead those whom you are self-isolated with. Appreciate all the women who have done it before, thank them if you are able to do so and then, instead of fruitlessly attempting to get away, get together – share the work, share the worship and share the blessings.
There is an intensity around time which Ramadan brings. Every moment feels so precious and blessed and rare, worth more perhaps, than playing with children, holding a sleeping baby, making another snack or answering work emails. You may feel that your Ramadan is being wasted by these and other perfectly ordinary things. Guilty that you aren’t able to read as much or pray as much as in years before. Afraid that the gifts of this sacred month will pass you by as you try to juggle everything without backup.
This is because, for whatever deeper reason, we have stopped respecting the spiritual value in the everyday efforts of fulfilling our responsibilities with thoughtfulness and intentionality.
Every moment in Ramadan, as indeed in life, can be, with the right intention, a moment which is for us. One which is completely revolutionised by the expression of its sacred purpose. So before making that snack, make a quick intention that you are feeding your child with halal sustenance. While answering work emails, make an intention to properly fulfill your responsibilities in order to make an ethical income. Or while holding the sleeping baby, reaffirm your intention of nurturing this child with kindness and raising them to be a light in this world. The sincere intention transforms everything and thus no single minute is ‘wasted’. Guilt be gone.
… Because everything you most associated with this special month is no longer possible.
But it is Ramadan and you have been graced with its presence even if you don’t immediately recognise it. The gates of heaven are still open, the blessings are still abundant and Laylat ul-Qadr is still waiting to be found. The Quran is still your friend and your reward for fasting is still with Allah alone. I won’t write any platitudes about how loneliness is beneficial because it still feels the way it feels, which is mostly sad and empty. But the one thing my own lonely Ramadans made clear to me is that, with some slight changes in perspective and much Divine Grace, your home can be the most intimate of mosques, your family the most enlightening of congregations and contentment the most wonderful of all gifts.
Wishing you and your families a blessed, safe and beautiful Ramadan – regardless of our own state, it comes as the best of friends always do, splendid and smiling!
Aiysha Malik is a photographer, writer and award-winning designer. In 2016 she founded mamanushka.com, a popular lifestyle blog devoted to the experiences of being a mother and Muslim woman of colour. Originally from Canada, she now lives in the UK and has spent the last decade experimenting with how to build capable communities whilst maintaining the joy in life. Follow her work and inspirations on instagram @goodonpurpose