ramadan in isolation thoughts

On my mind

Tonight is Ramadan. This Ramadan might be extra lonely for many of us, but knowing that Muslims worldwide are in the same boat is somewhat comforting. Having Ramadan in a time of quarantine and isolation is a big challenge many of us weren’t ready for. Ramadan is usually the time we reunite with loved ones and spend time in community gatherings and prayers. But maybe this year we can use this time to self reflect and focus more on our own healing and our relationship with Allah. Sending love to all my Muslims observing Ramadan. Especially to all those essential workers who are sacrificing their health to save and support others. May you be safe and well 🌙✨
April 23, 2020

There's a running joke Muslims have that if you ask us when the morning and evening prayer times are performed, we likely won’t know and may give you an approximate guess. But during Ramadan, we will know exactly— to the second—when the sun sets and when the sun rises, because that's how we know when we get to start and stop eating each day. And believe me, every second truly counts when you’ve been fasting for 14 or 15 hours straight.

That’s one of the many things I'm grateful for this Ramadan— the return of a sense of time and routine amid the endless days of quarantine. It’s been nearly two weeks since the strangest Ramadan most of us have ever witnessed began and I’m still grappling with how quickly life as we know it has changed. Though it’s been an unexpectedly heavy time in our lives, I believe this Ramadan in isolation can serve as a reminder for all of us about the importance of slowing down, gratitude, and community care.

Normally, my calendar would begin to book up weeks in advance with friends’ iftars and fundraisers for nonprofits and mosques. I would have an extensive grocery shopping list and plans for nutritious but tasty meals to quickly consume in the early morning before my fast begins and for my dinner once I break it (but in reality, I’ll end up downing water and an energy bar from my nightstand by day 8). I would have decorated my apartment in Virginia with Ramadan themed string lights, banners and artwork to get myself into a festive mood. I would have set aside time before the month started to create an ambitious list of goals and desired outcomes.

This year, Ramadan looks different. My calendar remains fairly empty except for work meetings and the occasional lecture or Zoom iftar (although I never get to actually eat in these) , seeking to fill the absence of in-person gatherings. Visits to the mosque, people’s homes, and community organizations are canceled. My grocery list has shrunk to essentials and whatever is available when placing a grocery order online for pick up. I am also currently quarantining with my parents, who live in the quiet suburbs of Arizona, which has been an adjustment for my own autonomy and sense of place. My parents don’t have any Ramadan decorations and since that felt more significant while we’re in lockdown, I placed an order from an Etsy shop. Unfortunately, with current shipping delays, it may or may not arrive by the month is practically over lol. And while I did create a list of spiritual goals for myself, I am faced with the reality that my mental health and sleep schedule needs a lot more attention to deal with the ongoing news of death, suffering, unemployment and collective grief in the world and in my own family, and I’ve had to readjust my expectations.

Suffice it to say, much of what I have traditionally looked forward to and understood Ramadan to be about feels like it is gone and there is a great deal of sadness and frustration that comes with that. Now, I do want to acknowledge how privileged I am by simply having a safe place to live, access to food, loved ones to keep me company and my health in this moment. That’s not the case for so many Muslims who are high-risk individuals or may already have COVID-19, unemployed or essential workers, and those who live alone and are struggling to observe Ramadan without the support of a community.

In the Quran, fasting is prescribed as a form of worship, but it is also a practice in self-discipline, a means of empathy with those who are less fortunate, and for me, a reminder to be more intentional with what I consume and how I take care of myself. I will admit I am a huge emotional eater and there have been countless times over the last few weeks where I had to fight the urge to stuff my face with cookies. Ramadan is therefore an opportunity for me to find other ways to handle those emotions and overcome the sense of helplessness that many of us are feeling right now. I am appreciating the extra time to journal, read, reflect and talk to my parents instead.

There is also a level of vulnerability and softness you have to grow accustomed to while fasting and trying to go about your day as you normally would with work, family obligations, and other commitments. I try to be kinder, more patient and grateful in fasting mode. While so many people have tried to turn the pandemic and quarantine into an opportunity to work more, I believe that is missing the point entirely. I encourage all of us (myself included) to try experiencing stillness, sitting with our thoughts and feelings, resting, meditating or praying and taking in this huge shift in the world. Fasting has moved me out of my hyperactive work mode because I am naturally more fatigued and in tune with my body whether it wants to nap or take a walk or sit outside to feel the sun on my face. It has pushed me to create healthy boundaries, reexamine what I think I should be doing with my time and the idea that my self-worth is tied to my productivity. 

Of course, Ramadan is not just about the individual but about the community at large, a mentality that is increasingly important right now to be able to successfully eliminate the coronavirus pandemic. While we may not be gathering for communal prayers and dinners, that spirit can still exist. Mosques and nonprofits usually raise a ton of money during this month, which allows us to actualize our gratitude and distribute resources to those in need. Self care has become a buzzword over the last years and for good reason, but I think community care should also go hand in hand. I’ve been happy to see all the mutual aid groups, service opportunities, and digital gatherings focused on themes of community resilience, friendship, philanthropy, food insecurity, processing grief, and justice. When you are feeling well enough, remember to think about what you can do for the people around you. Can you check in on a homebound elder or someone living alone? If you have the means, can you give to a fund to support those affected by COVID-19?

This is getting rather long but being stuck inside with your thoughts can do that lol. Hope your fasting is going well for those of you observing Ramadan. I’d love to know how you’re doing and any insights on what isolation has done for your spiritual, emotional or physical experience.


What I’m noting

  • ✍🏽Poetry In Isolation // Poetry in Isolation invites you to write poetry inspired, influenced, or related to the current pandemic we are all facing. Submit your poems for potential publication in a chapbook. Deadline is May 23.

  • 🏃🏿‍♂️Run With Maud // Today, people are running 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, who was tragically hunted down and killed by two white men while he was jogging near his home on a Sunday afternoon in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. Ahmaud would have turned 26 today.

  • 🌝Please indulge me for the next few personal links:

    • 📷Celebrating Ramadan before the pandemic // A photo essay I worked on collecting archival images of Ramadan around the world, leading up to the lockdown

    • 💤Rest as Resistance // An Instagram Story I produced about Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry on why we all need to rest and not work more in a pandemic (and life in general) plus “You Are Worthy of Sleep,” an episode of The Atlantic’s Social Distance podcast it inspired

    • 🎧Ramadan stories under quarantine // Hear from Muslims (including me!) on this week’s episode of Al Jazeera’s The Take podcast how the coronavirus is affecting their traditions and their spiritual experience

    • 🎓Help me support ISF // I’m raising money for scholarships to support Muslim students pursuing media, the arts and policy. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from ISF for grad school and I’d love to be able to help others have the same opportunity.


Hope you’re staying safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. Let me know what’s getting you through the pandemic from books to music to recipes to workouts, so I can feature them in an upcoming newsletter. You can always hit reply to this email if you want to share or just say hi :)

Have a good weekend!

— Nesima

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