Ramadan under lockdown: “Less social, but no less meaningful”

Ramadan under lockdown: “Less social, but no less meaningful”

It’s a Ramadan like no other for Muslim students. Mosques are closed and daylong fasts can’t be broken with festive iftar get-togethers. How are members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) in Tilburg experiencing the holy month under coronavirus lockdown?

Abdeljalil Bel-Elkatib, Miryam Amalou and Forohar Taariq

Abdeljalil Bel-Elkatib, Miryam Amalou and Forohar Taariq

Psychology student Abdeljalil Bel-Elkatib usually spends Ramadan evenings at the mosque to join in the nightly taraweeh prayer, or gathered around the kitchen table to share an iftar dinner with family and friends. But this year, Islam’s holy month has come at a time when mosques are closed and gatherings are restricted to keep the coronavirus from spreading. 

Abdeljalil now prays at home and shares an iftar-for-two with his wife after a day of fasting. “It’s different,” he says. “I especially miss going to the mosque. Traditionally, we try to recite the entire Quran in congregational prayer during Ramadan. The communal prayers are my favorite moments of Ramadan – praying together, sharing thoughts, running into friends and fellow students at the mosque. This year, it’s not possible to experience that.”

Ramadan under restrictions

Ramadan is a monthlong period of fasting, prayer and scripture study. It’s also a time of community, Abdeljalil says. “Ramadan is a time of togetherness, so keeping distance from each other and not being able to come together at the mosque during this time is particularly painful. For me, personally, the dinner table also feels a bit empty because my mom is in Morocco. She has been living in Morocco for a year now, and she was planning on coming to the Netherlands for Ramadan. But then the pandemic hit. My father passed away five years ago, so I’m without both of my parents during this Ramadan.”

For Miryam Amalou, who also studies psychology, the most difficult part of Ramadan under lockdown is not being able to spend time with her grandparents. “In normal times, my grandparents’ home is the beating heart of our Ramadan family traditions. It’s where we come together to cook, where the youngest members of the family proudly tell each other how many hours they fasted, and where stories about our homeland fill the house before we make our way to the mosque for the communal prayer.”   

An iftar-for-two at Abdeljalil's home

An iftar-for-two at Abdeljalil’s home

What’s also challenging about this year’s holy month, Miryam says, is that the university is closed. “Ramadan often coincides with the exam period. For me, the university was a place where I could study before going home and leaving study-related thoughts behind me for the rest of the day. It gave me a lot of structure. Not having that structure is something I struggle with right now, because I tend to get distracted from my studies quite easily when I’m at home.”

Time for self-reflection

Even without the social and communal aspects of Islam’s holy month, students say the essence of Ramadan remains the same. “Ramadan is about self-reflection and self-improvement. It’s training for the rest of the year,” Abdeljalil explains. “It can still be that under the restrictions of lockdown. This year’s Ramadan is less social, but it’s no less meaningful.”

For some students, the restrictions of lockdown don’t feel restrictive at all. “Personally, I don’t mind the quarantine. It gives me the chance to really focus on my spiritual growth during Ramadan,” Forohar Taariq says. “For me, this month is about strengthening my faith and my connection with God. As much as I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, I prefer to spend the month in self-reflection and prayer. Without the social aspects of Ramadan, I feel like there’s more room for the spiritual.”

Lesson in appreciation

Forohar lives near Tilburg, but she studies pedagogy in Nijmegen. “Usually, I have to travel for an hour and a half to go to class. Now that I don’t have any places to go to or people to see, I can use that time to look inwardly and to excel spiritually. I have no distractions, no excuses, no reasons not to fully focus on the true purpose of the month of Ramadan.” 

“Without the social aspects of Ramadan, there’s more room for the spiritual”

According to Abdeljalil, there is another positive element to this year’s quarantined Ramadan. “If anything, the quarantine makes me more aware of how much I appreciate the time I get to spend with others and the experiences we normally get to share,” he explains. “For me, this year’s Ramadan is a lesson in appreciation.”

Keeping spirits high

As the president of MSA Tilburg, Abdeljalil is trying to find new ways to maintain a sense of togetherness among the student association’s members. “We usually get together every Friday, so it’s been a big adjustment. We try to stay connected through social media, and we’re planning on having a digital meeting soon to talk about Ramadan in times of the pandemic.”

The student organization has become a “mini family” since its foundation four years ago, Miryam says. “Just like any other family, we’re currently staying connected by exchanging messages regularly and keeping in touch,” she says. “There’s a very strong bond between us that is based on team spirit and altruism. That’s what I like best about MSA. Despite the physical distance, we’re keeping spirits high by sharing motivational talks, cards with good wishes and lots of encouragement and positivity.”

Bekijk meer recent nieuws

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief

Blijf op de hoogte. Meld je aan voor de nieuwsbrief van Univers.