As we approach the last few days of Ramadan, I am overcome with a melancholy that is sure to last long after the Eid feasts and festivities, when life returns to its normal, dizzying pace and these days — quieter and simpler — are etched forever in memory.
The air feels lighter in Ramadan. The world seems, if only for a moment, completely still. Even the birds seem to chirp louder, particularly in the early hours of the morning, as the Fajr darkness dwindles and golden sunlight emerges on the horizon.
It has been two years since the pandemic irrevocably changed our lives, altering its course, transforming our day-to-day interactions, and remaking our communities. When I close my eyes, I am transported back to Ramadan 2020, that first year spent in complete isolation, breaking bread with my immediate family, praying taraweeh on my own prayer mat, Facetiming friends I had not seen in months to discuss our newfound rituals.
While undeniably different from the Ramadans of my childhood, that year accounted for one of the first where I felt truly connected to my religion and my roots. I suppose, in a way, the isolation provided an opportunity to look within and explore my relationship with God on a deeper level. I felt stimulated in the truest sense of the word — grateful for every breath, every moment spent in the company of those I love most in the world.
Ramadan 2021 was the first that a seat at our dinner table was empty. My beloved Dadi Ammi (paternal grandmother) passed away in October of 2020, and every moment that followed felt hollow, senseless without her laughter filling every corner of the house, her boisterous persona making each suhoor and iftaar feel like a special occasion. My faith, while fluctuating following her passing, regained its footing that Ramadan — I found solace in community.
While isolation remained, the Muslim world found new ways of connecting; utilizing digital platforms to educate, spread knowledge, and empower our community.
While lockdown provided alternative ways to build momentum around this blessed month and create new traditions, what I missed most was being in the masjid, hearing the adhan fill the prayer hall as women and men gathered together, shoulder-to-shoulder, offering themselves in humble supplication.
I missed the hustle and bustle of the community center, the kitchen filled with catered kebabs, butter chicken, and biryani, laid out on buffet tables as families took their place in line, eager to fill their plates and their neighbors’.
I missed seeing children swing on the playground, chasing each other in circles under the cherry blossom tree near our local Sunday school, newborn babies cooing and toddlers crawling across the prayer hall as we bent our heads in sujood.
The masjid is an alive and breathing thing, its inhabitants strengthening its presence and significance. This year, stepping foot inside, albeit still masked and socially distanced, felt like coming home.
I could sense how powerful this was for others, as well — sitting among strangers and familiar faces, there was an unsaid exchange that passed between us — I understand. I understand that we have been through something immense and life-altering, that its effects remain profound and that we are forever changed by it, that we deeply miss those who we have lost in the process, that still, we come back here, broken and bent as we are, to cleanse and nourish our souls.
As I look back on the trajectory of these past few years, I am filled with an emotion I cannot adequately describe. I often wonder how our ancestors would perceive us now, having been through what we’ve been through, and still feeling a yearning to connect to this religion, to falter and come back each time.
I hope they are proud of us. I hope our connection to this faith — something so much bigger than ourselves — remains steadfast and enduring, come what may.