Going digital in Ramadan 2020

24th Apr 2020
Going digital in Ramadan 2020

Hassan Joudi

Earlier this month, Christians worldwide celebrated Easter via their smartphones and TV screens, Jews connected for Passover on Whatsapp and Zoom, and Sikhs marked a virtual Vaisakhi, as Coronavirus lockdown rules forced us all to rapidly adapt in making digital our major religious occasion.

So, how will British Muslim communities be adapting for the month of Ramadan later this month? I believe there are three levels to consider:

Spiritually connecting

For many of us, our normal lives have suddenly halted — an interval or waiting period until the Coronavirus storm blows over — with the daily routines we were once used to, disrupted.
The spiritual lessons of this should not be lost on us, for the month of Ramadan is also a halt in our ‘normal’ routines – an intentional pause ordained by our Creator for 30 days each year. The abstinence from food and drink challenges us on what our ‘normal’ has become, reflect on what we have made our priorities in life and re-evaluate our purpose in this temporary life (dunyā) in the context of the bigger picture.

Just as Ramadan gives our stomachs a break and frees up our minds from the daily humdrum, for many, the Coronavirus lockdown could — if approached with a positive mindset — enable us to break free from the habits we have become accustomed to for years. “The world is fasting in a certain way,” said Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad, Dean of Cambridge Muslim College, in a speech reflecting on the current pandemic, and just like fasting itself, the opportunities to benefit are many.

Can we seize the opportunity to truly listen to and spend quality time with our families and loved ones at a deeper level, and put the distracting background noise of modern life aside? From a mindfulness point of view, with at least one person in our households being able to lead congregational prayer, will we practice one of “101 Ways to Concentrate in Prayer”? We may be secluded physically, but we know that spiritually our Creator is closer to us than our jugular vein (Qur’an, 50:16).

Community connecting

Whilst the bans on gatherings means that prayers and iftars (breaking fast) with people outside our households — such as at the mosque, or with family or friends at homes or restaurants — are sadly suspended, this does not mean the community aspect of the month of Ramadan is completely cancelled.

Virtual Iftars are an easy way to connect with family and friends over a video call from a mobile phone or computer, listen to the Adhan (call to prayer) live, breaking your fast with a date and glass of water together and converse over a meal.

The charitable act of cooking a meal or delivering of food parcels for a neighbour or relative who lives nearby and dropping off to their doorstep is still also possible too. So-called “meals on wheels” have been a common feature for many Covid-19 volunteer response groups since the lockdown began, supporting local neighbours, homeless partner charities or hard-working NHS workers at local hospitals, with many of these same groups continuing or even expanding their charitable efforts during Ramadan too.

And whilst our mosques are temporarily shut, they will still have bills and expenses to pay, with most not having significant cash reserves to survive on for more than a few weeks. Several communities have launched appeals to “Save My Mosque” or have urged community members to set-up a small regular donation such as £5/week, to help their local mosque financially through this difficult period.

We may be isolated from our regular community interactions during the lockdown, but communities are already finding new ways to connect digitally instead, with more innovation is set to come.

Connecting with new digital audiences

Many mosques — supported by young media-savvy members of the community or online digital mosque toolkits — are initiating digital services, often for the first time in their history. This includes a Friday sermon to replace the Friday Jum’ah prayer, daily Qur’an recitation circles, a weekly “Ask the Imam” session, online classes for the madrasah children and much more!

Some have focused on pre-recorded video, audio or graphics only, whilst others have emphasised there is a blessing (barakah) in live sessions with two-way interaction instead. The explosion of online services can be confusing for many regular mosque attendees, who understandably may not “feel” the same way about these services compared to what they were used to before.

But it also opens up Islamic services to new audiences — such as the young, hitherto disengaged or physically restricted — who may not have been interested to or able to attend before, but who may be willing to give it a chance now via online means. When the pandemic is over, these will be new “digital audiences” that mosques and Islamic institutions would do good to keep engaged with.

Conclusion

Ramadan is a month that has always carried significance at both individual and community level, with the self-discipline and selfless spirit we practise in both domains intended to mould our characters and fill us with taqwa or God-consciousness (Qur’an, 2:183).

The coronavirus lockdown will limit our traditional community-level activities for Ramadan but is opening doors for digital connections in new ways that were not considered possible before.

At the same time, our potential for spiritual upliftment at an individual level is perhaps even greater as many other distractions in our modern lives are temporarily on hold.

Ramadan in 2020 will perhaps be one of the most unique Ramadan in our lifetime – when the lockdown is gradually reversed, hopefully, we will not only look back at how we survived but also how we adapted and learnt more about ourselves and our communities in the process.

Hassan Joudi
Deputy Secretary-General of the MCB.

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