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Like most people in this world, the hats I wear are varied: doctor, government official, father, friend. And in playing these roles, daily interaction is required for tasks to be accomplished and for relationships to thrive. After living through the past 6 weeks, I would be lying if I said that the restrictions of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) did not place a toll on myself, my job, or my family. In fact, the most heartbreaking experience I had to endure was the inability to go to my hometown when my mother died a few days after the implementation of the ECQ.
More than the inconvenience of losing the privilege to leave our houses at any given time, the quarantine restrictions of the ECQ gave rise to many other socioeconomic and sociocultural concerns. People were complaining about having no food to eat, inability to avail of government aid, or curtailment of religious freedom because of the prohibition of mass gatherings. Everyone had to stay home, unless it was for an emergency or essential reasons.
Ramadan started on April 24, but prior to that, congregational prayers were already suspended in all mosques and masjids in the Philippines, which was a reflection of the move that the Saudi government did as one of their efforts to curb the virus’ spread. It came as no surprise to us in our office when inquiries started pouring in about the holding of tarawih prayers when Ramadan starts. (READ: No food, no water, no sex: What we need to know about Ramadan)
Tarawih prayers are part of the traditions we follow during Ramadan. Tarawih is composed of repeated movements (rakats) as well as a public reading of portions of the Holy Quran, done after the iftar dinner, or the breaking of the fast. For many, especially in my hometown in Marawi City, the holy month of Ramadan is seen as a time for family and community, and social gatherings happen daily well into the night. Non-Muslims perceive Ramadan as a monthlong period of hunger, thirst, and self-deprivation. For us, Ramadan is an opportunity for us to renew our relationship with Allah swt, to free our minds and body from impurities, and to be reborn as a baby after the fasting period concludes with Eid’l Fitr.
Imagine the sorrow that rippled across the Muslim Filipino community when everyone realized that there would be no traveling back to Mindanao, no communal iftar dinners outside their immediate household, and no tarawih prayers. Ramadan would have to be done in isolation during the time of COVID-19.
It is human nature to question many things that happen to us, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Although Muslims are taught from an early age about “qadr,” or Divine predestination, we can not help but think about why we are going through such an ordeal. Social media is full of statements such as “Why do we have to stay inside our houses instead of going to our mosques to pray? If we get COVID-19, it is the will of God!” Or, “What will happen to Ramadan if we are not allowed to have congregational and tarawih prayers? Why do we have to be isolated?”
In my own prayers while in the confines of my room, questions and anxieties surfaced in my mind. As a doctor, my thoughts revolved around the patients having to go through the quarantine period as COVID-19 cases without relatives by their side. Many have died without seeing their loved ones for the last time, and it is petrifying to imagine dying alone.
The beauty of fasting, abstaining, and praying during Ramadan is that we are able to focus on our relationship with Allah swt without the distractions of worldly effects. And during one of my prayers, I realized that we are never alone, not even during the last moments on this Earth. If you had accepted Allah swt as the one, true God, and you dedicate your life in establishing a relationship with Him, then He will always be with you.
To equate the essence of Ramadan with having to physically visit the mosques for tarawih prayers disregards the teachings to look after the welfare of one another. We are free to converse with Allah swt in our own homes, or in isolation, and it does not remove any value from the practices of Ramadan we had known for years. ‘Uqba b. ‘Āmir said: “I asked the Messenger of Allāh pbuh, ‘How can salvation be achieved?’ He replied, ‘Control your words, keep to your home, and weep over your sins.'”
The loneliness we feel while being locked in our homes is nothing compared to the feeling of an isolated and quarantined dying patient. It is not something we would wish for anyone. I hope and pray that Ramadan would serve as a practice in sacrifice not just for ourselves, but for the ummah we all call family. Allah swt is not found only in the mosques. He is everywhere, and He is with us. – Rappler.com
Dr Dimapuno A. Datu-Ramos Jr is spokesperson of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos or NCMF. He is also Director IV of the NCMF’s Bureau of External Relations.