How Ramadan can get us through COVID-19

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It’s almost the end of April, about our sixth week in lockdown, and I can’t eat. Last week marked the beginning of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims around the world fast — abstaining from both food and water — from sunup to sundown for 30 days. It’s a time for self-reflection and growth, yet I can’t help but think about anything except the future.

I feel stuck in this transition phase between our lives before the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic and a future I know nothing about. But what worries me the most is time. The world has mostly gotten a handle of what it’s going to take to beat this virus, but I get the feeling that many people haven’t internalized how long it’s going to take.

A vaccine will take 12-18 months minimum to develop, and states will have to develop widespread testing and contact-tracing programs before the disease can truly be managed. After all of that, the economic fallout could last for years. This is our new normal. Maybe for the next few months — and most likely for a long time to come. The only way out is through.

The question we need to ask is: What can we do to help ourselves get through this crisis?

I’ve been approaching this question through the lens of Ramadan. The purpose of Ramadan in Islam is to teach ideals like patience, self-restraint, empathy and generosity in order to become closer to God. These values are not, however, just useful for Muslims during Ramadan; they are valuable lessons that can teach us how to adapt to these uncertain times.

The most important value to me is patience. Patience means seeing something through to the end and not letting short-term desires or uncertainty get in the way. As somebody who is fasting right now, I can tell you that I am constantly watching the clock, counting down the hours and minutes until I can eat again. Even though I’m eager to eat and open my fast, I wait until sundown because I know the meal will be more fulfilling if I carry out my duty by finishing my fast.

That’s patience. If we’re going to tackle a long-term problem that is constantly changing like this epidemic, we’re going to need to practice patience above all else. When we see stay-at-home orders get extended as new data comes out, timelines for schools change or some businesses close, we have to exercise patience because it keeps us safe in the long run.

Patience will be able to help keep us in check as we try things we have never done before. For example, this will hopefully be the first major election in which a majority of people are voting by mail. Voting by mail is more convenient and safer than regular voting, but it also comes with massive delays in counting and skepticism about results. It is easy to see a scenario in which President Donald Trump declares an early victory because the less-populated rural areas are counted faster, but then presidential candidate Joe Biden comes out the winner a few days later with the votes from densely populated urban centers.

We just have to know the risks of timing before going in. There will probably be some mistakes when implementing a widespread vote-by-mail system, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. Since this election will be hugely consequential, it is vital that people have patience and wait for the results to finish being tallied, since a contested election like that could shatter faith in American democracy.

Next are self-restraint and empathy. These two values are united by how every person’s actions affect somebody else’s in a community. The pandemic has made that clear more than ever — dozens of people can be infected from a single person’s recklessness. It’s important to empathize with others and realize that possibly putting other people’s lives in jeopardy is not our decision to make.

During Ramadan, Muslims voluntarily give up what rightfully belongs to them. Thus, it is unimaginable to take something that belongs to someone else. Social distancing is an incredible burden. It’s easy to give in to our frustrations and start ignoring these measures after a while. But we have to realize that giving in to our anger and acting against these measures is selfish and will put others at risk. If you have qualms with how your state is handling the crisis, you should call the governor’s office and voice your concerns instead of staging protests with crowds of people that could spread the virus or block roads to hospitals.

Finally, Ramadan is the time to be charitable. Everybody is hurting right now, whether you’ve lost your job, know somebody who’s gotten sick or have even gotten sick yourself. Anybody who’s able to contribute should help get resources to the people who need them. That could be donating to a relief fund, donating masks to hospitals or simply helping an elderly neighbor get their groceries. We’re all in this together and every bit of help can make a difference.

If we practice patience, self-restraint, empathy and generosity, we won’t just get through this crisis — we’ll come out of it stronger. The clock is getting closer to sunset now, and I don’t feel as trapped as before. I’m definitely still hungry, though.

Nishi Rahman writes the Thursday column on cultural and political diversity as a first-generation American. Contact him at [email protected]