This opinion piece was written by Dr Mohamed El Gammal, Associate Professor at the College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
The COVID-19 pandemic has paralysed the entire world. This novel coronavirus does not differentiate between developed, developing or poor countries who have proved powerless and disabled in its wake.
The negative effect of the virus has become particularly evident on the common rituals of Muslims, halting congregational and daily communal prayers at mosques.
As Ramadan approaches, COVID-19 is still spreading. The virus will most likely prevent congregational religious rituals such as Tarawih prayers and sermons in mosques, as well as communal Iftar parties, particularly in light of social distancing measures. Many governments have also closed ministries, organisations, universities and schools and opted for working from home. This may nevertheless turn into a source of relief for fasting Muslims, as it will help save commuting time and avoid exposure to the virus.
Under these circumstances, we are required to feel satisfied and not horrified by the pandemic. We should also recognise that Ramadan is a gift from Allah to His servants. Therefore, we have to feel happy and rejoiced with its advent, particularly in light of the fact that this is the month when the gates of Paradise open and those of Hell close. Ramadan also has a night that is better than one thousand months.
Behaviour Modification and Balanced Relationships
Ramadan provides an opportunity for embracing change and striking a balance between meeting individual requirements, contributing to the fulfilment of the collective responsibilities, and observing the rights of Allah and fellow community members. It also instils morals and virtues, such as altruism, tolerance and forgiveness in the fasting person. Therefore, imbalanced relationships should be rectified as whoever gives precedence to a single aspect at the expense of another will inevitably lose the desired balance. This poses a high risk because it creates imbalance when little attention is paid to one’s family, job or skills.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: Three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet to inquire about His worship. When they were informed about it, they considered their worship insignificant and said, ‘where are we in comparison with the Prophet while Allah has forgiven his past and future sins’. One of them said, ‘as for me, I shall offer prayers all night long’. Another said, ‘I shall observe fasting continuously and shall not break it’. Another said, ‘I shall abstain from women and shall never marry’.
The Prophet (peace be upon Him) came to them and said, ‘are you the people who said such and such things? By Allah, I fear Allah more than you do, and I am most obedient and dutiful among you to Him, but still I observe fast and break it; perform prayers and sleep at night and take wives. So whoever turns away from my traditions does not belong to me’. (Narrated by Al Bukhari)
Strengthening Family Bonds
In the rush of our competitive world, a person may forget himself and his family members. However, self-quarantine may provide opportunities to strengthen family bonds and adopt the etiquette and morals of Islam. It can also encourage community members to perform their rituals and prayers, as well as reciting the Holy Qur’an. Quarantine also gives us a chance achieve delayed tasks and drives us to be more righteous. This undoubtedly requires a sincere love to Allah, constant remembrance of Him and continuous reflection on His glory. Allah the Almighty said in the Holy Qur’an, ‘but be wise, learned and forbearing because you are teaching the Qur’an, and you are studying it’. (Surah Al Imran, verse 79)
Giving alms amidst the coronavirus pandemic is more obligatory than giving it at all other times. It is a reason for relieving distress, ending troubles and enjoying the mercies of Allah. Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon Him) said, ‘whoever knowingly fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry is not a true believer’. If this applies when a person is able to go out and earn his living, then giving alms is more important at times of crises and destitution during the quarantine.
By Alms, I do not mean the prescribed rate of Zakat only because people usually pay their Zakat during Ramadan. I do not also mean Zakat Al-Fitr (fast-breaking alms) that should be obligatorily paid by every Muslim but rather supererogatory alms that enhance social solidarity and compassion. This kind of alms becomes obligatory in times of need because it helps the poor people and fulfils their needs. This happens when a person thinks compassionately about another person, which drives the former to support the latter. Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon Him) said, ‘indeed charity extinguishes the Lord’s anger and it protects against the evil death’. (Narrated by at-Timidhi and others)
Beware of Losing Time
Social media platforms are no longer just sites on the internet. They have turned into a part of our social life that wastes our time and contributes to losing the most beautiful moments of our life. Although these platforms bring families, friends and strangers together, it is not easy to dispense with their usage. Therefore, it is important to reconsider the principles of our interaction with social media during Ramadan.
We also warn against watching useless TV programmes, movies and charades. It is important not to waste a lot of time watching TV during Ramadan because indulgence even in watching useful programmes may result in losing the spiritualities of the Holy Month. Of course, a person can watch recorded episodes of any of Ramadan programmes after the end of the month.
Increasing Forms of Obedience to Allah
People vary in observing forms of obedience to Allah according to their willingness, skills and talents. Some people tend to worship God by catering to the needs of vulnerable people or giving alms to the poor. Therefore, it is up to everybody to choose his way to get closer to Allah.
Ramadan has come to strengthen our determination and resolve and to free us from weaknesses and vulnerability. Therefore, it provides us with an opportunity to modify our behaviour and purify ourselves after some people become accustomed to ineffectiveness and low achievement.
Finally, we pray to Allah to relieve us all from this pandemic, alleviate all our worries and cure all our illnesses.