Saturday 25 April 2020

Fighting COVID-19 in the spirit of Ramadan

Opportunities for spiritual development and charitable acts can still flourish at home
By Shaik Kadir, Published The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2020

Yesterday was the first day of the Ramadan, and Muslims are fasting.

Ramadan has always been a busy month, one which offers Muslims the opportunities to further enhance their spiritual development and for charitable acts. However, many of the traditional Ramadan activities cannot be carried out this year because, under the circuit breaker, gatherings in places of worship are not permitted as precautionary and preventive measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

What were the scenes in mosques before the COVID-19 outbreak?

Muslims prayed in large congregations, with congregants positioning themselves next to one another, row after row, facing the qibla (direction of prayer towards the Kaaba in Mecca), united in the worship of God.

Until last year's Ramadan, mosques had been holding the iftar (breaking-of-fast session) with people sitting side by side in long rows taking the meal together.

Dignitaries - including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, ministers and MPs and others from the various religious organisations - have had the experience of taking iftar with Muslims.

Apart from preparing food for the mosque iftar, there was the cooking of bubur (spiced rice porridge) for free distribution to the public.

Muslims donated generously to meet these expenditures.

Usually, after the tarawih prayers - the special Ramadan night-long prayers - people would gather in a group to read the Quran, as reading and completing it during Ramadan is a blessed deed.

Anyone can join the group. Taking turns, they would read the Quran audibly, a section or two a night, until the whole 114-chapter Quran was completed a few days before the end of Ramadan.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all these mosque activities. Now that Muslims cannot go to the mosque for the tarawih prayers, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore has produced a guidebook on "how they can perform special prayers and practise their faith (at home) while doing their part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus". The guide is also available online.

Usually, on Aidilfitri (Celebration of Charity), large numbers of worshippers would throng the mosque for the one-hour early morning Aidilfitri prayer.

Then, from about noon of the day, Muslim families would start their silaturrahim (strengthening of ties) visits to the homes of relatives and friends, where food and kuih-kuih (cakes and snacks) are served and eaten together.

This whole-day exciting movement of people in new and bright costumes now will not take place this Aidilfitri - which falls on May 24 - as the circuit breaker has been extended to June 1. The safety advisory of "stay home, observe social distancing, wear masks when going out for necessary tasks" has to be adhered to for the good of everybody in Singapore.

What Singapore Muslims would miss most is the Ramadan aura in the mosques. There is definite sadness, but Muslims have to sacrifice customary practices that encroach on physical contact and close proximity interactions during this emergency period.

Also, this is the time to show empathy and compassion to the unfortunate victims who might be of any nationality or religion; it is not for lamenting the inconvenience caused by circuit breaker restrictions.

People need to obey rules strictly to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The stay home advisory can be taken to show resilience in facing the calamity positively, and to experience a new but temporary lifestyle - such as working from home, taking the trouble to teach children in the absence of their teachers, and taking it as an opportunity to be closer to one's children, as well as paying more attention to elderly parents.

The opportunities for spiritual development and charitable acts are not lost but, rather, can flourish while at home - fasting, performing daily obligatory and voluntary prayers, reading the Quran, making donations to charity, and settling zakat fitrah (an obligatory contribution by all Muslims in Ramadan) online.

The spiritual and charitable virtues already gained from past opportunities can be manifested in empathy and sympathy to those affected by the bleak situation - victims, as well as over-stressed healthcare personnel - through various contributions, monetarily or in kind, and from being united with all people in Singapore in fighting the COVID-19 crisis together.

Shaik Kadir is a retired Institute of Technical Education senior lecturer and author of several books, including The Haj and Islam Explained.

No comments:

Post a Comment