Ramadan in the Philippines this year commenced on April 24, following a moon sighting event and a proclamation by the Darul Ifta’ of the Bangsamoro. Although Muslim Filipinos certainly met the announcement with exuberance, the current lockdowns brought about new concerns to those practicing religious traditions in the holy month – more so for those who are already economically disenfranchised to begin with.
Residents in some Muslim enclaves in Metro Manila hardly afford iftars (meals to break the fast) even just within their households with little to no source of income. They say the relief goods they received from the local government ran out before Ramadan even started. This problem is worsened by the rising cost of goods and the fact that some need to walk miles to access food, and, since they cannot afford to buy stocks in bulk, some do this every day. For a fasting person, it was a different level of hardship altogether. (READ: [OPINION] Islamic lessons on quarantine during coronavirus crisis)
It is even more heartbreaking that we were required to worship in place and limit social interaction. In Sultan Mastura in Maguindanao and other municipalities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where there are zero reported cases of COVID-19, some people questioned the fatwah (religious decree) of the Darul Ifta’ and the memorandum order of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) suspending taraweeh (nighttime prayers in Ramadan) in large congregations. Reports of people violating the ban on congregational prayers in mosques slowly arose. This could lead to tensions and potential retaliatory actions after against individuals who oversaw the directive and who were seen as disrespectful of faith and traditions.
The recent Critical Events Monitoring System (CEMS) report of International Alert Philippines indicate ISIS-affiliated groups had threatened local chief executives in Lanao del Sur that they will launch attacks if the ban continued against congregating in mosques. The organization noted that threat groups could prey on the deflected attention of the State and launch opportunistic attacks. This projection played out in the killing of two soldiers manning a quarantine checkpoint in Datu Hoffer in Maguindanao by ISIS-affiliated gunmen last May 4. Evidence from Alert’s CEMS further point to a regrouping of ISIS forces in the Bukidnon-Lanao-Maguindanao corridor. (READ: Islamic State exploits virus, political crisis to boost Iraq attacks)
The essence of Ramadan
The quarantine surely posed many difficulties and anxieties to those who observed Ramadan, as it still does to everyone across the Philippines. Remarkably, though, overcoming challenges is the essence of Ramadan.
The holy month encourages Muslims to pray more often while not discounting the Islamic teaching of “trusting in God but tying one’s camel first” – which means we must not rely solely on prayers to address our problems, but instead focus on what we can realistically control before leaving the rest to faith.
A cursory internet search about Ramadan would almost always tell us the same thing: it is regarded as a holy month by Muslims who go for 30 days abstaining from food and water from sunup to sundown. However, to fast in the holy month is to abstain not only from eating and drinking, but also from actions that are discouraged in Islam, like telling lies and acting on anger. To a Muslim, fasting from these things helps develop self-restraint and inculcates patience, gratitude, and compassion. Not being able to eat and drink for hours teaches one to empathize and be one with the poor and the oppressed. Fasting in Ramadan is thus seen as an intense moral training to break bad habits and develop character.
The lessons we learn
One goal of Muslims in the period of Ramadan is to overcome challenges and be better versions of ourselves. The challenges that the lockdown has brought also offer us to do the same.
As with Ramadan, the lockdown provides us with an opportunity to learn from the challenges and adversities that face us in our daily lives, to reflect on the situation and the suffering of others, to speak the truth, especially to power, to seek justice for the oppressed and voiceless, and to move forward with the universal values of equality, peace, freedom, and human dignity that we all share regardless of religion.
Just as Ramadan allows for flexibility and permits the young, the old, the pregnant, the breastfeeding, and the sick to refrain from fasting, authorities also need to ensure that general quarantine guidelines accommodate the needs of all sectors – especially the disadvantaged – and its implementation demonstrates empathy to those who do not have the means to combat hunger now that they do not have jobs. There can be a balance between the necessity to limit people’s exposure to each other to manage contagion and the need to earn a living to survive.
The youth are untapped
The youth are an untapped resource in this pandemic – they are technology-savvy, they are creative, and they have access to all sorts of information from all sorts of online and offline sources. International Alert Philippines’s youth partners in Maguindanao, for example, localized and uploaded to social media instructional materials on how to pray taraweeh immediately after the ban on congregational prayers during Ramadan was enforced. Not only does their guide help fellow Muslims observe their faith even in solitude, they contribute to minimizing the risk of spreading the virus and igniting community-level tensions and conflict by discouraging violations. This is an example of a practical and timely response to a critical issue that affects their communities.
There is merit in involving people in coming up with good solutions together. Cooperation is better fostered with stakeholdership, not by force and instilling fear.
This important concept in governance is called shura in Islam, which requires all decisions made by and for Muslim societies to come from consultations with the community, especially those who would be affected by the decisions. Shura is mentioned in the Qur’an as a praiseworthy activity, one that our own government can replicate in its response to the crisis.
Living the new normal
The COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing lockdowns have not always been about protracted issues, we also witnessed collective action and solidarity at its best. We need to continue to look out for each other. Just as fasting in Ramadan is a test, so too is this lockdown. Just as Ramadan allows us to reflect on what the less fortunate are going through, so too should this lockdown. The celebration of Eid’l Fitr marking the end of Ramadan poses an opportunity for reflection on the huge challenge ahead of us and for the re-examination of what values to strengthen and habits that need to be shed, as we live the ‘new normal’ in this period of massive humanitarian and health crisis. – Rappler.com
Nina Rayana Bahjin-Imlan is Senior Project Officer for Youth and Women of International Alert Philippines, a peacebuilding organization that brings people across divides to solve the root causes of conflict and build lasting peace.
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