Ramadan musings during COVID-19 crisis
For more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is considered the holiest month in the Islamic (Hijrah/Hijri) calendar. It is the month of fasting, with Muslims eating only at early dawn, or before daybreak, and not having any solid or liquid intake until after the sun sets. The hours differ depending on the side of the world Muslims are in.
Here in Mindanao, Muslims start their day in Ramadan with an early morning meal (saum) taken anytime from 3 to 4:20 a.m., or just before the call to prayer (azan) is being chanted to start one whole day of abstaining from food or drink and any other worldly pleasures. The day’s fast ends with the iftar meal shared by all members of the family starting at around 6 p.m.
This year (1441 in the Hijri calendar) happens to be doubly challenging for Muslims in Mindanao’s impoverished communities, especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Ramadan started on April 24 (in the universal Gregorian calendar), at the height of the world’s collective struggle against the onslaught of COVID-19, that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands in different parts of the world.
Before the intrusion of COVID-19 in our lives, Ramadan was a time for fostering stronger family and community ties. The early hours of waking up to prepare and share the saum meal together become occasions for enjoying family togetherness. The breaking of the daily fast through the iftar meal in the evening is also another happy occasion. The Taraweh prayers after the iftar meal are also opportunities for promoting social cohesion in a community, as neighbors greet each other before and after the prayers in the neighborhood mosque, and walk home together, happy in their joint celebration of success in being able to go through a whole day of fasting.
But with physical distancing and other guidelines for avoiding contamination of the deadly COVID-19, all these are no longer possible. While we celebrate the breaking of our daily fast, we do it as individual families and no longer as a community. And for the very first time in our lives as Muslims, we no longer are able to have huge, happy gatherings during Eid’l Fitr. We will all have to contend with being at home, and with just the members of our families.
The other challenge for daily wage earners among the Muslims here is the more than one month of having to stay at home. While some food assistance was provided for them, these are inadequate and unsustainable. Moreover, prolonged intake of sardines and other processed foods have adverse health consequences. Most processed foods (especially the cheaper ones that are the usual items in food assistance packages) are overloaded with salt and other toxic preservatives that ravage our vital internal organs, like our kidneys.
Before COVID-19, BARMM was the poorest region in the entire country, posting a poverty incidence of 61.3 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority in the region in its report on Feb. 18, 2020.
With the lockdowns and enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for almost two months now, poverty levels might even soar higher, making it quite insurmountable for the region to bounce back to pre-COVID figures.
The region’s Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has announced a relaxed “general quarantine” starting May 1. Travel will now be allowed within the region but with the usual restrictions during the ECQ period. However, it remains to be seen how the adverse economic consequences of the ECQ can be overturned to a much lower poverty incidence for the region, post-COVID-19.
On the other hand, crafting an inclusive contingency plan, coupled with stringent, transparent implementing mechanisms, processes and procedures might be a game changer and turning point for the region.
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