A Ramzan like no other: COVID shadow on Muslim fasting month

New Delhi: The shadows over Ramzan are darker this time and the despair deeper, the scramble for oxygen, hospital beds and even a decent burial for their loved ones eclipsing the gloom that marked the fasting month last year.

With no large congregations in mosques, no iftar’ parties and no late night shopping, it was said 2020 Ramzan was like no other in living memory. But as a second, deadlier COVID-19 wave ravages large parts of the country, Ramzan 2021 has rewritten even that pandemic norm.

Almost every family across the country is affected by the pandemic in one way or another with many losing friends and family members and several others battling the dreaded virus.

“Ramzan is a time for family and friends, but this year I have lost many of my near and dear ones and many in the family have been infected by the virus. This has been a tough month and I spent it just praying to Allah that this deadly virus goes away from our lives,” said Tanvir Parvez, a lawyer from Ghaziabad.

The festivities, the cheer, the morning sehri’ at food joints that underscored Ramzan and Eid for not just devout Muslims but for others as well have receded like a distant dream for those like Parvez.

Who would have thought that instead of dwelling on the spread laid out across virtually every dining table in a Muslim household at ‘iftar’, families this Ramzan would be sweating over arranging oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, hospital beds and plasma or a burial spot for friends and family hit by the deadly virus.

Mumbai: Minara Masjid wears a deserted look on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr, during the ongoing COVID-19 nationwide lockdown, in Mumbai, Sunday, May 24, 2020. Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramzan, will be celebrated across the country on Monday. (PTI Photo/Kunal Patil)

“Iftar is such an amazing time when we pray to God, have a wholesome meal with the family and count our blessings. But it has not been so this time where we are daily dealing with some bad news or another, Parvez told PTI as India on Wednesday again reported more 4,000 Covid deaths.

With 4,205 fresh fatalities, the country’s death toll has risen to 2,54,197. According to Health Ministry data, 3.48 lakh new cases were recorded to take the tally to 2,33,40,938 (23 million/2.33 crore).

As the holy month of Ramzan nears its end with Eid likely to be celebrated on May 13 or 14 in India, depending on the sighting of the moon, Covid fears hang like a cloud over the festivities.

“This year, the fasting month went by running around dealing with health emergencies, deaths and funerals for relatives and friends,” said Qazi Rafat Masood, an agriculturist from Uttar Pradesh’s Nagina district.

Though mosques have been open in many places during Ramzan, prayers were held with COVID norms and restrictions. Also, many appeals were made by clerics asking people to pray at home, especially in Covid hotspots.

Masood said Ramzan, a time for self-discipine and introspection, would be marked with great fanfare in his locality of ‘Qazi Sarai’ every year. Throughout the month, there would be a ‘Roza Iftar’ party in one house or the other.

Lockdown: Juma-tul-Wida in Delhi
New Delhi: Jama Masjid wears a deserted look on Juma-tul-Wida (last Friday in the month of Ramzan) ahead of Eid al-Fitr, during the fourth phase of the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown, in New Delhi, Friday, May 22, 2020. (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary)

The inevitable comparisons of cooking skills of each household would add a dash of fun to the iftar parties, he said, looking back at the good times when the run-up to Eid was about shopping and preparing for feasts with ‘sheer and sewai’ sweet dishes topping the culinary agenda.

This year, somewhat like last year, it has been about lockdowns, deserted streets and shuttered shops — symbolic of the emptiness during what is generally a festive time.

The special Eid prayers will also not be the same. In several cities, it has been decided that prayers will not be held in Eidgahs but in local mosques with social distancing norms. At other places, calls have made urging people to offer Eid prayers at home.

“I appeal to all Muslims to perform Eid prayers following all local Covid-related protocols and guidelines. Do not gather in large numbers and it would be best that you perform prayers inside your homes,” prominent Muslim body Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind president Maulana Arshad Madani told PTI.

In Delhi, two other prominent clerics — Ahmed Bukhari of the Jama Masjid and Mufti Mukarram Ahmed of the Fatehpuri mosque — have issued separate video appeals to Muslims to offer Eid prayers at home.

Social media is also abuzz with calls for celebrating Eid in accordance with Covid protocols with hashtags such as ‘EidAtHome’ and ‘SayNoToEidShopping’ doing the rounds on Twitter.

Madani said Muslims had acted with a lot of patience during Ramzan as many lost their loved ones, many saw their family members struggle in hospitals and many were infected by the dreaded virus themselves.

This Ramzan, several people also missed their fasts after getting infected by coronavirus and lamented about not being able to fast throughout the duration of the holy month.

“I usually never miss any Ramzan fasts, but this year I could not keep fasts after the first week as I tested positive for COVID-19. It was frustrating to miss out on fasts,” Saad Majeed, a resident of Dwarka, said.

“Having been infected with coronavirus and then not being able to fast was a double whammy that took time to come to terms with,” he told PTI.

Srinagar: A Muslim man offers zhuhr prayers (mid-day prayers) during the ongoing holy fasting month of Ramzan, amid a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Srinagar, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (PTI Photo/S. Irfan)(PTI28-04-2020_000055B)

The going has been tough in many different ways. While middle and upper class homes struggled to come to terms with the social and emotional toll of the pandemic, the poor and the needy worked to make ends meet.

“Ramzan always brings cheer in our otherwise full of struggles life, but for two years we have been robbed of that. This year was even more dreadful as so many in my family got infected by this virus,” said Shaheen Bano, a domestic help and mother of six.

“Also, financially we are struggling as many households have asked me not to come for the fear of the virus. We begin our fast just by drinking water and don’t know whether our family will have enough for iftar’,” she said.

With lockdown in several places as Eid approaches, medium and small traders have also been feeling the pinch with their businesses and shops taking a serious hit.

As Muslims mark the end of the holy month and head for Eid, there is just one thing on everyone’s mind — to pray for this pandemic to end.

Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims worldwide refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk and end their fast in the evening.