The lockdown edition of Ramadan 2020 in Islamic year of 1441 Hijri offers unique challenges and opportunities. For the first time perhaps, Ramadan in the midst of COVID-19, has a potential of fulfilling many obligations for the faithful – roza [fasting], namaz [praying], Zakat [charity] and jihad [struggle or quest] within a month.
While other concepts are easily understood, jihad needs explanation and emphasis. For a majority of Indian Muslims and clergy, jihad in letter and spirit is a spiritual struggle within oneself against sin, will, circumstances etc. where the fight against adversity may not necessarily be physical. The literal meaning of the Arabic word jihad, is “striving for a worthy and enabling cause” and not the internet-social media induced sense of a ‘holy war’ against non-Muslims.
Centuries long traditions have it that Ramadan is a time for worship, comradeship and relationship. However, if social distancing and lockdown are taken as will of God to save and protect against a Coronavirus spread, avoiding guests at breaking of fast [iftar], community prayers [tarahwih] and Sahri [beginning of the day-long fast] would merit a sense of sacrifice towards the will of God.
However, enforcing a sense of discipline among 170 million Muslims [sharply divided on sectarian, linguistic, socio-economic conditions] spread across the country is not an easy task. Several academic studies have shown that in order to bring about any form of social change, it is imperative to recognise the presence of religious organisations and enter into working partnerships with them. Unfortunately, due to post-2014 political divide, polarization, anti CAA stir etc.., the task of government and a rather tardy bureaucracy in winning hearts and minds has become tougher.
On his part, union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has held several rounds of meetings with Muslim clergy, intellectuals, community leaders and officials of various state waqf boards via video conferencing to work out on Ramadan guidelines. There are over 7,00,000 mosques and Islamic religious and social institutions which fall under state waqf boards and receive financial assistance.
On their own accord, many Muslim scholars and clergy in India have issued appeal that gestures such as avoiding crowd in iftar and prayers would be equivalent to life–after reward for jihad. In fact, for the first time in recent memory, religious heads of all Muslim sects such as Deobandi, Barelvi, Shias, Ahle-hadith, Bohras and seminaries like Darul Uloom, Deoband, Nadwa, Ala Hazrat Academy, and organisations like Jamat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Majlis Ahle Hadith etc. have sunk their ideological differences to issue common appeals and fatwas to minimize physical contact.
For instance, just like many other communities in India, shaking hands or hugging is a preferred form of greeting. Muslims have been advised to go back to Ottoman era of placing hand over the heart in order to exhibit affection and warmth.
As per some estimates, Indian Muslims offer Zakat, or charity to the tone of Rs 50,000 crores during Ramadan. Zakat amount, as we understand, is calculated as 2.5% of a person’s annual savings. While Zakat donation can be made in cash or kind any time of the year, but most contributions are made during the Ramadan because most Muslims believe that the after-life rewards of good deeds in this month are far greater. If some iftar party expenses are clubbed to sadqa or voluntary charity, the amount of money for the needy and lesser privileged could easily scale to around 1,00,000 crores. For millions facing starvation and want in the midst of COVID-19 crisis, this amount, if distributed judiciously, has a potential of saving hundreds and thousands of lives due to hunger. For iftar too, Muslims can approach many NGOs and agencies distributing food packets in lieu of the past practice of iftar parties and banquets.
For recitation and listening of Quran during Ramadan known as Tarawih, Muslim community has multiple options of using their smartphones, television, radio or the internet. There are many phone apps offering language translations and real-time telecast or recording of Quran recitation from Makkah, Madina and other established seats.
The Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh of Saudi Arabia, who enjoys high religious authority among Sunni Muslims, has gone a step further to say that even Eid-ul-Fitr feast should take place at home if the situation doesn’t improve in the coming days. But let us hope and pray that by last week of May 2020, situation in most parts of India would be such as it would allow neighbours of every Muslim household in the country to receive a bowl of ‘sheer’, ‘sewaiyan’ or sher-khurma.
The piece has first published at orfonline.org