Kamela Salimi, MSc RP
Ensuring a Fruitful Ramadan During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
For the last few weeks, the world has been absorbing the shock of COVID-19 and learning to manage life as changes have come our way. For those of us who are part of the muslim community, this also means learning to navigate celebrating Ramadan while living through COVID-19 pandemic restrictions (ie. mosques being closed and people needing to stay home). This is a loss we are going to be grieving over while simultaneously trying to keep the spirit of Ramdan alive.
I recognize that this Ramadan is not going to be a typical Ramadan. For many of us this can lead to feeling frustrated or hopeless. As a result, I’ve compiled a list of reminders and strategies which people can use in order to ensure that we continue to gain the spiritual benefits of Ramadan and have a more balanced mindset. In coming up with these strategies, I’ve combined aspects of my identity as a practicing Muslim along with my lens as a Psychotherapist, having worked with countless clients in supporting them to manage life’s many stressors.
1) Manage Your Expectations
As Ramadan starts, don’t expect that you will “feel” ramadan in the same way that you did in previous years or that you will be able to complete similar amounts of spiritual acts as before. There is value in being able to complete activities in groups and it often serves as a motivating factor in helping us work towards meeting our goals. Unfortunately, this in person, congregational aspect will be absent during Ramadan. This will mean being intentional about extending compassion towards ourselves and others instead of criticism and judgement. We need to remind ourselves that Ramadan is a month of mercy. Managing our expectations also means setting realistic goals for ourselves so as not to feel overwhelmed. Choose to do small acts consistently.
2) Feel the Feels
For a lot of us, as we enter Ramadan we are already dealing with carrying the stress of living through a global pandemic. On top of that, we will be grieving over Ramadan related losses that come with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. This is a lot of emotions to feel. We need to give ourselves permission to feel sad, frustrated or angry, acknowledge the losses and validate how we are feeling. Part of processing difficult emotions requires being able to sit with these feelings rather than pressuring ourselves to stay positive. Cry if you need to.
3) Turn Your Pain Into Prayers
What better time to pray (ie. make dua) than during this blessed month of Ramadan. If you are feeling a lack of control and a sense of powerlessness, complain to God about how you are feeling and ask for strength and contentment. Convert your difficult emotions into genuine and heartfelt prayers.
There was no guarantee given to us that we’d make it to this Ramadan and yet here we are. What a blessing that we get to live through and witness another Ramadan. This is another opportunity given to us to pray, seek forgiveness and do good. Ramadan is a time when the rewards of good are multiplied numerously. As you grieve for the losses, don’t forget to count your blessings.
5) Know that You can Grieve and be Grateful at the Same Time
As muslims we often encourage one another to be grateful and to count our blessings. There is a lot of beauty and wisdom in this advice. At times though this can lead to feeling guilty if we feel sad or are grieving. We may think that because we are feeling this way, we are being ungrateful and therefore are bad muslims. Know that presence of grief and sadness does not eliminate the presence of gratitude.
6) Intention is What Matters
Islamically speaking, actions are judged by intentions. Know that even doing activities such as working, answering emails, looking after a loved one, cooking, cleaning etc., is considered an act of worship if done with the intention to serve and please God. If our intention is in the right place, we can be in an act of worship continuously whether we’re at the mosque or at home. This is important for those who are working full time jobs or looking after children or other family members. Worship is not just limited to doing activities in congregation at the mosque.
Yes we will be missing a significant part of the communal aspect of Ramadan this year. Grieve as you need to. Remember also that solitude is an important part of our faith. Make time this Ramadan to use for introspection and reflection. This may be difficult for those who have busy schedules or are looking after children/caregiving. Make it a goal to do this consistently even if for a few minutes each day.
8) Physically Distancing Does Not Mean Socially Disconnecting
While we can't physically go to the mosque or be around friends and family members, we can still stay socially connected. We can use this month to connect virtually. Have an iftar dinner over Zoom. Organize lectures and talks online on a regular basis with others. If you know of people who may be living by themselves, take extra care to connect with them and check in on them.
9) Be Mindful of What You’re Consuming
The food and drink we consume during Ramadan will play a significant role in impacting our energy level. In turn this will impact our emotional wellbeing and how we interact with ourselves and others. Avoid overeating during suhoor and iftar. Minimize consumption of greasy and processed foods. Ensure that the foods you eat are high in protein. To avoid dehydration, ensure that you’re drinking plenty of water. Some people make the mistake of drinking water only during suhoor. To ensure that you stay hydrated throughout the day, drink water after Iftar as well. Keep a water bottle close to you after you’ve opened your fast.
10) Physical Activity
I can’t mention being mindful of what we consume during Ramadan without also touching on exercise. It's no secret that regular exercise plays a significant role in improving our mental and physical wellbeing. There is an assumption that during Ramadan, it is not possible to be physically active. This is untrue. Experts recommend taking part in low intensity activities before iftar (ie. brisk walk, mat exercise etc). For those who prefer high intensity workouts, this can be done a few hours after Iftar or before Suhoor. Avoid exercising mid-day as it can lead to loss of energy and dehydration. Figure out what works for you and remember consistency is key.
I hope these strategies are helpful and I wish everyone a balanced and fruitful Ramadan.