Ramadan 1441H and the “little” new normal
This year, Ramadan comes at a time when the whole world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. The Muslims in Malaysia are celebrating Ramadan in a way they have never celebrated before – in the midst of the Movement Control Order (MCO) and the mosques being closed – in order to curb the pandemic.
This means that the Muslims cannot perform the five daily prayers congregationally at the mosque – something that is normally being pursued by Muslims during Ramadan. Similarly, they cannot attend the congregational Tarawih prayers at the mosque – something that the Muslims look forward to in the nights of Ramadan.
Because of the MCO too, there will be no Ramadan bazaar this year. This is another new normal for the Muslims in Malaysia because these bazaars are the place where the majority Muslims get their food and beverages for the iftar – the breaking of the fast at sunset.
However, despite the closing of the mosques, the five daily congregational prayers and the Tarawih congregational prayers can still be done at home, with family members. With the minimum participant of two, congregational prayers can be done between a husband and wife or a mother and a daughter, in their own home. The beauty of Islam is that no matter where the congregational prayers take place, the mosques or at home, the reward will still be the same. Abdullah ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah p.b.u.h said, “Prayer in congregation is better than prayer alone by twenty-seven degrees” (Sahih Bukhari). Therefore, perform these congregational prayers at home with our family members. Definitely, it is easier to do this during the MCO. Not only can we perform the congregational prayer five times a day, we can also perform it at the prime time – as soon as the time sets in – a very commendable act in Islam.
Similarly, the absence of Ramadan bazaars should not be an issue for the Muslims. We can always cook our food or order them to be delivered to us. In fact, cooking is a cleaner, healthier and cheaper alternative. With the MCO, we also have more time to cook. Yes, we may not have “Ikan Bakar Kampung Baru” or Roti John or Air Kathira to break the fast with, but we can still have decent food for iftar.
The closing of mosques and food bazaars are the “little” new normal that the Muslims have to face during Ramadan this year. These are considered as ‘little’ adjustments because there’s more to Ramadan than the congregational prayers and the food bazaars. The main objective of Ramadan is to achieve taqwa or self-restraint through the highest quality of fasting.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is not just about abstaining from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset. A person who is fasting is also expected to: (i) guard the eyes from looking at something that is haram; (ii) guard the ears from hearing bad and cursing words; (iii) abstain from sinful speech; and, (iv)free their soul from harmful impurities such as suspicion, envy, jealousy and the like. Furthermore a fasting person is encouraged to perform the voluntary prayers (solat sunat), recite the Quran, make duas and zikr more than the usual.
Socially, a person who is fasting is encouraged to be kind and generous to others, starting with their family members, neighbours and those who are in need. Giving food for others to break their fast with is a very commendable act. Similarly, giving alms (sadaqah) especially in the last days of Ramadan is also highly encouraged. Although we are still observing the MCO, we can still arrange these commendable acts – in cash, food or the kind – through the online platform.
All that is mentioned in the two previous paragraphs above is actually the benchmark that determines the quality of our fasting. It can still be implemented during this MCO. In fact, we can say that the MCO is a blessing in disguise for those who are fasting because they will have more time to improve the quality of their fasting. I am not saying that we should replace work from home (WFH) with these ibadah. What I am saying is that now that we do not have to go to the office and get caught in traffic jams, we can use that time to do all these commendable acts.
Perhaps, this year, Ramadan is meant to teach us to improve the quality of our fasting so that we can achieve taqwa. It is not about the form but the substance. It’s not about going to the mosque for congregational prayers, but it’s about praying together with our family members at home. It’s not about a table full of food and beverages during iftar, but it is about the feeling of gratitude with what we have on the table for iftar. If these are the learning objectives of Ramadan this year, are we ready to take the lessons?