Being one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan encourages us to connect with loved ones and appreciate that we take for granted as a way to feel more spiritual.
Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset and practice more generosity and giving. It might come as a surprise, but the four weeks of self-restraint are something Muslims look forward to.
As we look back over the past year, thinking about its challenges and new experiences, this month helps us to appreciate how far we have come as individuals but also as a nation.
Like other faith communities’ festivities, we are marking a Ramadan with restrictions for the second time. Despite rules easing, people remain unable to meet indoors to break fast together. However, we should look at Ramadan this year with gratitude and optimism.
It is because of the country’s collective efforts that we are on the road to recovery and places of worship are open.
It is tradition for Muslims to gather for Iftar, the meal after the sunset, with extended family and friends and I appreciate this Ramadan will be difficult for many families.
Some will be left with an empty seat at the dinner table that would once have been taken by loved ones. I do not know of any worshipper in my mosque that has not lost a family member in the last year. It is for this reason I am hosting a special virtual Iftar dedicated to remembering those members of the community who lost their lives to the coronavirus.
We are all now well versed to the virtual realities of Zoom and Skype, and the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, which I chair, is urging Muslims to stay even more connected to friends and family through virtual Iftars, attending mosque services safely and benefiting from online sermons.
Ramadan is not a time to be alone or feel lonely, and so I want to make sure that everyone feels a sense of belonging online and offline.
As well as remembering those we have sadly lost due to the pandemic, Ramadan this year will also be celebrating the kindness and selflessness of the Muslim community, including health and frontline workers who have worked tirelessly to help keep our country safe.
It is important we also recognise the generosity of volunteers who have made incredible sacrifices to help others. Charity is an important pillar in Islam but there is an even greater focus during Ramadan and the generosity shown in this month always amazes me.
Young Muslim volunteers from my mosque, as well as neighbouring mosques, will distribute more than 10,000 meals to vulnerable people in Leeds over the month.
The remarkable contribution of mosques across the nation does not stop at foodbanks, as many are operating as vaccination hubs.
Being at the heart of post-Covid recovery is really paying off, as there has been a significant decrease in vaccine hesitancy.
A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed a 16 per cent increase in vaccinations in these communities. Receiving the vaccine does not invalidate our fasts and I know this has given a new sense of confidence and reassurance to many in our communities knowing that taking the vaccine is another form of selfless act of helping the other.
The end of Ramadan is marked with a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, which will also have to be restricted this year, but as always, it will still come with a real sense of achievement.
The support over the years from other faiths has always been enlightening as it shows the deep appreciation among faiths and communities and highlights our collective bond as a nation.
Ramadan 2021 will be different but still a deeply meaningful and reflective time for the Muslim community.
I have faith with the vaccine rollout successfully ongoing, and with lockdown measures easing, we will be celebrating Ramadan in full force in the years to come together in person and I am confident that soon enough mosques will be as full as they have ever been, and the next year will be prosperous and fruitful for everyone.
Qari Asim MBE is Senior Imam at Makkah Masjid mosque in Leeds and Chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board.
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