The COVID-19 pandemic has emptied houses of worship across the country as religious gatherings are now limited and, in some places, prohibited.
As the pandemic rages for the second straight year, adjustments still have had to be made to preserve worship traditions, including the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
This year, in the evening of April 12, Samira Gutoc, a former Bangsamoro Transition Commission member, started the tradition of Ramadan with the taraweeh. She performed the taraweeh, an additional Muslim prayer, before the beginning of Ramadan inside her home together with her mother.
“We wake up at 2-3 am, we eat food then will stop eating at 3:30 am, just before 4 am prayer time. When we hear the call of the prayer we stop eating, we stop drinking, then we sleep, and do the normal routine,” she said.
During Ramadan, Muslims wake up early to have a meal before dawn in preparation for the start of their fasting at sunrise.
There are 5 primary obligations or pillars of faith which must be fulfilled by a practicing Muslim in his or her lifetime. The fourth of these pillars is sawm or fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Without religious gatherings, some Muslims also turned to themselves to serve as their prayer leader and even going so far as learning the Qur’an on their own.
“Before, we have a prayer leader who will lead us when we congregate, but since gathering and even inviting people were prohibited, we have no opportunity to have a prayer leader and instead we pray alone in our houses,” Gutoc explained.
This is true not only for Gutoc but for other Muslims in other parts of the Philippines.
As for 21-year-old student Nurul-izzah Abdulghaffar, member of the UP Association of Muslim Students, his brothers took turns in fulfilling the role of an imam. An imam is the one who leads the congregational prayer in Islam when performing taraweeh and tajajjud inside their home.
“I remember one of my friends saying that he memorized only less than 10 surah (chapter) in the Qur’an before, but now he could no longer count how many surah he knows because he studied so that he can lead the prayer,” she said.
Before the pandemic, the Muslim community used to gather in mosques for their routine prayers but with COVID-19 restricting social gatherings, prayers became less of a community event, but a familial one.
Dimple Cali, 21, grew spending her Ramadan away from the Muslim community. However, as the pandemic continues to limit activities inside her home, observing Ramadan during quarantine for the second year has brought her closer to her community and tighten her closeness with her family.
“That is the time when I feel my closeness with my family. We are stuck inside our homes, praying and fasting together. I can say that this is one of the most memorable Ramadans that I’ve had,” Cali said.
For the Muslim community, the month of Ramadan is also a season of charity. As the community gathers together to pray and celebrate in mosques, financially capable families donate and distribute food packages in mosques for iftar, an evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.
However, this community iftar among Muslims was banned in the meantime due to the COVID-19 pandemic and greatly affected those people who rely on having free iftar in mosques and those families who struggle financially.
“It’s more difficult for those people who are still surviving from the first year of pandemic. If we can donate some food, I’m sure we can give them to those people in the mosque,” Gutoc said.
Abdulghaffar remembers how other Muslims from other places go to their community in Marawi for free iftar food. “When the pandemic happened, however, the simplest medium for charity which is the ‘community iftar’ was removed which was devastating and sad,” she said.
However, despite the limitations brought by the pandemic, Gutoc saw this extraordinary time of Ramadan as an opportunity for greater self-reflection.
“It connected us to a bigger world. Even if we’re alone in our residences, it deepens our resolve that we are one world, one community. The pain of one COVID-19 patient, the pain of all,” Gutoc said.
Gutoc underscored how the pandemic deepened her faith as a Muslim, offering her prayers of support to those suffering from the pandemic.
“This is our second Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic and this time we feel more sympathy for those who were hurt, lost, and died,” Gutoc said.
Cali believed that celebrating Ramadan with her family inside their home has positively affected her way of thinking and the way she perceived things.
“I focus more closely on what I have and not on what I don’t have. I am more grateful for anything on the table, and if we have more than what we need, we give,” Cali said.
As the pandemic brought major challenges for Muslims in celebration of Ramadan, Abdulghaffar has remained strong and steadfast in exercising her faith saying it did not stop her from believing and worshiping her Creator.
“I believe that my faith became even stronger when the pandemic happened, realizing that we have no one to turn to and ask for help in times of crisis other than the Almighty God,” Abdulghaffar said.
This Ramadan, Abdulghaffar prays for peace and for the unheard voices of the poor, farmers, victims of misplaced justice, the Lumad, and Muslim minorities to be heard.
“I pray that we find it in our hearts to realize that this is a time for helping one another and setting aside personal wants and greed,” she said. – Rappler.com
Jezreel Ines is a Rappler intern. He is a third year journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.