Ramadan faces challenges this year due to social distancing

Ramadan, which this year began last Friday, April 24, is an especially important month in the Islamic calendar because it is believed to be the month when the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the prophet Muhammad, thus bestowing the revelations of God on humanity.

Observant Muslims, numbering more than a billion throughout the world, would normally gather throughout the month with family and friends, build community, pray for peace and evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. With social distancing to limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease, this year many of Ramadan’s rituals and traditions will be curtailed.

A key component of Ramadan is fasting. While many religions, including Christianity, prescribe fasting at certain times, I frankly don’t know many Christians who fast very religiously.

For observant Muslims, however, Ramadan is a strict fast. There is a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, and Muslims break their fast after sunset with a meal called iftar. Nothing is consumed during daylight hours. Not a sip of water. Not a piece of candy. Neither a morsel nor a crumb. Nothing from sunrise to sunset.

The purpose of the fast is to help instill patience, self-sacrifice, spiritual cleansing, enlightenment and submissiveness to God.

The iftar (which, again, is the evening meal after sunset) is usually a communal affair. It is common for mosques to host large iftars, especially for the poor.

Because of the pandemic, many Muslim leaders have advised the faithful to avoid large gatherings and have suhoor and iftar individually or with family at home.

For me, the importance, impressiveness, and beauty of the Ramadan fast became personal thirteen years ago. A Muslim friend and I were in a demanding physical exercise as part of a program in which we participated. While hiking steep mountains and crossing rivers, we were working with three other people – all from different countries – to overcome specific challenges and accomplish a common goal. Our only directional instrument was a partially accurate paper map.

And through all of that, my friend maintained his fast. The rest of us ate our trail food and drank our water as needed and wished we had more. 

But my Muslim friend, without being self-righteous, simply stated that he fasted and prayed for peace out of his devotion to God. I was amazed and inspired by his witness.   

For the month of Ramadan, I hope you’ll support Muslim friends and colleagues. can post general words of support on your favorite social media platform. You can text or call with words of encouragement and inspiration.

Feel free to ask about family traditions, especially traditions around the iftar. You might think that would be a sad thing to bring up at this time, but I know that is was kind of nice for me to talk about typical Easter traditions a couple weeks ago that my family changed this year due to important and necessary social distancing.

At this time (and others), you can boldly treat all people with honor and respect. 

And when anyone, I mean anyone, attempts to spread the lie that Islam is a faith of violence, you can correct them with the truth that Muslims are just starting an entire month praying for peace. 

Wilson, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is director of communications for Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Read his blog at www.nathandaywilson.com and follow him on Twitter: @nathandaywilson   

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