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  • Zareen Ahmed

The Gift of Lockdown this Ramadan

Some reflections on the effects of Ramadan this year amidst the Covid-19 lockdown.

As a Muslim, my faith is what gets me through every challenge, and this certainly applies to how I tackle Ramadan during the Coronavirus lockdown. Naturally, I’m missing my family (especially my grandchildren), surviving on video calls and WhatsApp messages, but I know that this is a temporary separation and it will be all the sweeter when we see each other again. As a Muslim, I know that everything happens for a reason and is part of God’s plan... so I don’t worry or dwell on why this has happened. It’s the difference between tolerating a test and actually embracing it and dare I say, being grateful for it.

The gift of tribulation

My faith teaches me that every test that Gods gives me, has several benefits. Which means that in addition to how I will respond to the main challenge or tribulation, the other part of the test is about recognising and being grateful for the benefits of the test. For example, yes, we’re forced to stay at home, but it is a once in a lifetime chance to spend quality time with our families/spouses. In truth, how do we know what we’re really capable of unless we’re tested? A crisis puts us under pressure, forces us to think more clearly and brings out the best in us. Or depending on your outlook and temperament, the worst. As someone once said, if you squeeze a lemon, you will only ever get lemon juice. One of the tests of a tribulation is to be patient, as the benefits may not become immediately apparent.

I’ve learned this the hard way, having endured the most difficult test for a parent, when my only daughter passed away. At the time of course, it was difficult to see the benefits, but now, through the charity that we established in memory of our daughter, they are too many blessings to count, which by far out-way the pain of the test itself. Further, my faith provides me with the assurance that this too is a temporary separation with a promise of reunion. This promise alone has rendered me fearless, not only of death but of everything, from public speaking, to taking a risk in business.

Practice equanimity

The most notable skill that I have gained from my experience, which I recommend should be practiced through prayer and meditation is to work on developing a kind of sixth sense of equanimity. This is the ability to have a Zen-like calmness and composure in difficult situations, not being phased, shocked or overwhelmed, or swept up in the hysteria of the moment. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to see people dying or suffering, and we don’t want to develop an immunity against feeling empathy and sorrow. But we should practice channelling these powerful emotions into acts of love and compassion. This is what leads to unity and peace... which is exactly what has been missing in the world recently. Besides, isn’t it a good thing to be wary of our own mortality. It makes us grateful for every moment and all the gifts that God has blessed us with.

Focus on others

During the lockdown in our 3 bed semi in Derby, I’m also reminded that we live in splendid luxury compared to most of the world’s population, such as the women and girls in war-torn Idlib, who we sent sanitary pads to last week through our Period Poverty campaign, or the orphans that we support through The Halimah Trust in Pakistan. The Halimah School of Excellence in Pakistan, that we built in memory of our daughter is currently being used as a screening and quarantine centre for local residents. Our main focus at the Gift Wellness Foundation at the moment is on supplying sanitary pads to women and girls, who as a direct result of Covid-19 are unable to access or afford these essential products. At this stressful time, it is easy to overlook basic essentials that are important for safeguarding the dignity of women and girls. Women are telling us that money is a problem, but accessing sanitary products is the main challenge. Cultural taboos combined with the physical restrictions on them going out are causing extreme anxiety. In response, we’re are in close contact with groups and individuals that are in desperate need of sanitary products to support local women, as well as women’s domestic violence refuge centres, refugee organisations, foodbanks and homeless charities.

Business as unusual

From a business perspective, we watch dumbfounded as the invisible corona-disruptor brings the most indomitable companies of the world to their knees; while micro-businesses and entrepreneurs, race to profit from the fallout. The business world as we knew it is over, to make way for a new normal in the way that business is conducted. I believe that a more level playing field will emerge. Wouldn't a revival of independents in the high street be lovely? My point is that the fall of many of the global conglomerates that had been greedily gathering up more than their fair share, presents an opportunity for a fresh wave of innovation and entrepreneurship. The perfect environment of new gaps in the market combined with the time and breathing space of the lockdown is a once in a lifetime gift that should not be wasted.

The universe is telling us something

I believe that God has tested us with this pandemic in order to redress the balance in the universe. The greed, hatred, violence, oppression and disregard for the beautiful environment that God has given us, was all getting out of hand. It’s like a reset button has been pressed to force us all to stop and think about how we’ve been blindly consuming. The environmental benefits are clear to see from satellite images, with flights grounded and less traffic on the roads, we're reminded of the scene in the movie, ‘Day After Tomorrow’, after global warming triggered the storms, when the astronaut from the Space Station reported that he’d never seen the sky looking so clear. Similarly, there are now satellite images showing clear skies over some of the most polluted regions of the world. During the lockdown people are thinking about the changes that they can make, such as recycling and upcycling, or re-loving as many are calling it. I have just launched a campaign on Gift Wellness called Join the Re-LOVE-ution, a term that is trending on social media, where I’m giving away free 'ReLOVEution' tote shoulder bags with every new subscription of our products.

Ramadan reset

I look forward to my annual reset during Ramadan each year, but I feel that this year, the whole world is benefiting. It actually feels like the spirit of Ramadan descended early this year and embraced not only fasting Muslims but the entire population. For weeks since the lockdown began there has been a Ramadan-like sense of community, of showing kindness and charity. Yesterday I turned on the news and for the first time, much of the programme comprised of good news stories about how people were helping one another. It was so up-lifting. For once the news actually made me smile! Families are video calling one another and many have probably spoken more to one another during the last month than they have all year! As in Ramadan, food is being cooked at home and shared with family and neighbours, and even though it is being left on the doorstep in adherence to social distancing and then wiped down before opening, it is regarded as token of love and solidarity.

Despite the Mosques being closed and economic difficulties that many are facing, this Ramadan will be one of the most memorable of our lives, because for the first time, families are spending them together. In past years, unless Ramadan fell within a holiday period, children would be at school and parents at work, only coming together for Sahoor (pre-dawn breakfast) and Iftar (evening breaking of the fast) meals. Men would then make their way to the mosque for evening (Tarawih) prayers, while the women and children prayed at home. This year, social media is overflowing with wonderful images of families praying together, crafting Ramadan decorations and getting creative in the kitchen in preparation for the nightly feast. Indeed, every day is like Eid (festival to mark the end of Ramadan) for Muslim families this year.

Regardless of your lockdown experience so far, my advice is to embrace every moment of this test with optimism and gratitude. If the Almighty has presented us with this challenge, then trust that it comes with countless opportunities. It is up to us to discover them. Let’s take this time during our confinement to get in touch with our true authentic selves, to express what we’re most passionate about and to unleash our creativity to redesign our lives within the context of a newly cleansed world.

Zareen Roohi Ahmed, PhD

26 April 2020

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