How My Holiday Had Me Spend Ramadan In Lockdown And What it Taught Me
“It took spending Ramadan in the midst of a pandemic for me to really learn the concept of Syukur – gratitude for the present moment.”
By Nur Khairiyah (Khai)
In my part of the world, the Malay Muslims have a saying: “Kita merancang, Tuhan yang menentukan”, which translates to “We plan, God determines it”. When I first heard about the Coronavirus situation developing in China in late December last year, I never for one second thought that it would derail almost everything that the year had in store for me. In fact, I don’t even remember calling up my family and friends in Singapore to check up on them.
But that soon changed.
I went back to Singapore in March for the first time in two years for a family wedding. As excited as I was for my two-week stay, I never imagined it would extend into a two-month stopover. After two years of not being home, I was very much looking forward to meeting family and friends, but my arrival coincided with the global outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, which meant I had to serve a two-week Stay Home Notice and a Circuit Breaker – the isolation protocols currently in place in Singapore seeing authorities conducting regular spot checks, using GPS to track people and even requesting photographic evidence to show they are truly at home.
It seemed it was just my bad luck.
Ramadan is the ninth and probably most important month in the Islamic calendar. The act which is most synonymous with Ramadan is of course fasting – abstaining from food, drinks and other impermissible acts from dawn to dusk. But there is more to it than just fasting, as Ramadan is also a chance for Muslims to grow closer to their creator, and to repent and seek forgiveness as well as try and become better Muslims.
Ironically, it took me losing all the things I love most about Ramadan to fully understand one of its most important concepts, something we call Syukur in Malay: being grateful for the present moment, with full understanding that the next is not guaranteed to you.
As Ramadan started whilst Singapore was in Circuit Breaker mode, it meant that my husband and I missed out on the ‘typical’ Ramadan. We couldn’t visit family to break our fast with them, we couldn’t visit mosques because they were all closed and the month-long Ramadan bazaar was also cancelled. All this meant that the anxiety in me had reached its peak.
“And then slowly it dawned on me, the one thing that I never really understood about Ramadan – being grateful for having the chance to encounter this blessed month once again.”
At first, I felt spending Ramadan in lockdown also meant the whole spirit of Ramadan was lost, as it is a very social time of the year. In Singapore, families get together to break fast, making raya cookies at home with their grandparents, exchanging food that they cooked from home with neighbours, lining up to get a bowl of porridge from the mosque, which they call Bubur Masjid, and of course going out to night markets to get their fix of traditional cakes, food, fairy lights, new furnitures and clothes for Raya – the celebration that takes place at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, most commonly known as Eid.
The whole month of Ramadan also teaches you to reflect, ‘beribadah’, to become better people. Meditating on that this year was different to most, yet its impact more profound.
One night, as I went to sleep on a thin mattress at my sister-in-law’s house, I thought to myself: “What is there to be grateful for?”
I came back to Singapore to meet family and friends and hang out with them and go to all the places I missed and eat all the food I loved, and now I couldn’t do any of that. But all my friends and family are healthy, and almost of all them took the trouble to cook or buy the food that I had planned to stuff myself with.
And then slowly it dawned on me, the one thing that I never really understood about Ramadan – being grateful for having the chance to encounter this blessed month once again.
During Ramadan last year, the first time I experienced it in London, I got the chance to perform Taraweeh prayers at the London Central Mosque. Taraweeh are voluntary prayers that are performed only in the month of Ramadan and, as such, they are considered to be a very treasured form of worship due to its exclusivity. And, as Ramadan was coming to an end, the Imam leading the Taraweeh prayers would remind the congregation to be grateful that they had the chance to meet this Ramadan, for there is no guarantee that they would meet the next one.
Ramadan during this lockdown has given me a chance to reflect and take stock of my life. During this isolation, even when I feel that time is passing by too slowly, I try to turn it to my advantage. I try to learn new skills, I am reading old books and plays that I love, and I try to practice ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Patience’, just two of the many components of Syukur, or being grateful. My gratitude lies in what God has given me and my patience is from my understanding that if God withholds something from me, it is because he is the best planner and that he knows best when something is right for me, so I just have to be patient and trust Him.
Khai is a Malay Muslim from Singapore working in theatre who moved to London in 2018. She is the founder of RUMAH, an organisation born with the purpose of providing spaces of representation for Asian voices within the arts world, and the co-producer of Monologues from My Bedroom, an online theatre performance that took place during lockdown. You can support RUMAH by donating here.
Picture credits: Nur Khairiyah