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Malia Bouattia

A Ramadan like no other

'Greater isolation has also meant a more intense relation with the Quran' writes Bouattia [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 May, 2020

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Comment: Malia Bouattia contemplates what a Ramadan under lockdown can teach us about resistance to injustice, and resilience in times of adversity.
As Ramadan draws to a close once more, we can confidently say that it has been a holy month like no other. 

The heavy shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic loomed over the ummah as we embarked on the fasting season at the end of April. Death surrounded our communities at home and abroad, as did the prospect of an unstable and bleak future following the end of the lockdown period. Many were depending on the collective gatherings for iftars, fundraisers and lectures as well as the overflowing places of worship to provide us with the empowerment and support that we would need to come out of the crisis more organised, and spiritually ready for the times ahead.

These were, of course, all abruptly taken away from us. We plot and we plan…

It would be a lie to say that it has not been a difficult Ramadan for Muslims, even for those who haven't experienced direct loss or financial hardship. Being surrounded by the continued reminder of the fundamental inequalities and injustices of our society, hearing the rising death toll, and watching political leaders deprioritising the health of the people they govern doesn't exactly provide an ideal backdrop for concentration at a time intended for spiritual connection.

Muslims have been, in many western states, also among the hardest hit, given our large numbers in essential industries. 

I was overwhelmed by the repeated reminders that our Prophets were revolutionaries and that the Quran is filled with injunctions to rebel against oppression and exile, sexual assault, femicide, and racism

In some ways, the abrupt disruption was a reminder of both the very real threats facing us, and that we may plan, arrange and organise all we want, but ultimate power lies with our Lord. The lockdown, much like Ramadan, serves as a sudden and radical break with business as usual. 

As we face the dual crises of capitalism and the environment, as well as the continued dehumanisation of migrants and people of colour, state violence and repression, and the sacrifice of all that we hold dear on the altar of accumulation, we are reminded that this cannot continue. We cannot sit by and let the rich and powerful get away with destroying our world and hope to continue enjoying the little comforts of our daily lives. We must struggle, revolt, organise, fight back. Or we will face challenges much more insidious than Covid-19.

In connecting to the holy text, I was strongly reminded that despite such a catastrophic crisis being the outcome of the decisions and actions of humans, sitting on the sidelines and feeling defeated by the huge task ahead, is not a desired option that the Prophets (PBUT) were instructed to take by the almighty.

Instead, I was overwhelmed by the repeated reminders that our Prophets were revolutionaries and that the Quran is filled with injunctions to rebel. It denounces oppression and exile, rails against tyrants, the wealthy, and corrupt religious leaders, condemns sexual assault, femicide, and racism, and moves us towards abolishing slavery, discrimination, and exploitation.

Read more: For Muslim women, Ramadan under lockdown has become a space for sisterhood and forever friendships

The text is a stark personal reminder to better oneself through the transformation of the world. It is a glaring reminder that we are currently, as an ummah, failing ourselves, and we are failing our Lord. 

Personally, my lingering traumatic experiences with displacement and uprootedness have certainly been tested. Instead of feeling the warmth of family reunions this month, my parents were stuck in Algeria where the borders closed before their return to the UK, and the regime increased repression of activists. One of my sisters is serving on the frontlines as a pharmacist in a hospital in London, and another as a doctor in Glasgow. My husband and I spent Ramadan in isolation, working from home, in a small town in the Netherlands. 

We are all pretty scattered, but like so many Muslims around the world, we used the privilege of technology to stay connected, often on a daily basis. The different iftar times further served as a barrier for us to share important communal moments. 

Of course, I missed the luxury of being with all of my loved ones under one roof, enjoying the aromas of Algerian chorba, bourek, and hamiss, experiencing the collective rush to get to the masjid every night (cup of tea in hand of course), because if you don't arrive early, chances are you'd be praying on the doorstep, or potentially even on top of someone else's feet. 

I was reminded at every page that God tests us, but that it is in our ability to respond, and to transform ourselves and the world around us

But while all of that changed this year, the consistent, and most crucial fact, was the presence, guidance and mercy of Allah. Greater isolation has also meant a more intense relation with the Quran, as well as joint reading, reflection, and discussion sessions with my husband, and increased engagement with online lectures. Being cut off from the world also means being put more starkly in front of ourselves, thinking about our actions, our commitment to the struggle, and our place in the world. 

It also means having to look inward, reflecting on loss, defeat, and pain. The loss of my aunt, Tata Nejma, in February, the family tensions that necessarily arise in the aftermath of death, and the political setbacks and defeats of recent times all risk grinding us to a halt. Concerns such as these were all reflected in my reading of the holy text, and I was reminded at every page that God tests us, but that it is in our ability to respond, and to transform ourselves and the world around us, that the beauty and strength of our humanity lies within. 

All tyrants, all rulers, all oppressors must fall, in our lives, and across the world. And only we, all of us, can make it happen through struggle and sacrifice. Otherwise we end up isolated, picked off one by one, weakened through our separation. A hadith, narrated by Abu Said al Khudri and included in Imam Nawawi's famous collection, reads:"

"I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, "Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart - and that is the weakest of faith." 

I have returned to this throughout the month, and in my engagement with the signs of this world, and the words of our Lord. There is much evil for us to hate with our hearts right now. So let's make this the moment we intensify our efforts to change it, with our collective tongues and hands.


Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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