In spite of America’s dominant civilization; of North Korea’s advancement in nuclear technology; of China’s ubiquitous economic powers; and of black man’s fetishism; COVID-19 continues to ‘rule’ and devastate the world. The human population live in fear as the disease now spreads through community transmission. A cure for the viral disease has still not been found. Yet, the number of death is daily on the rise. The statistics of persons that test positive for the disease is still growing in nearly all countries visited by, at least, an infected person. No one ever thought a 21st-century virus could put humanity to task in a manner that COVID-19 is doing. It is challenging the best and most sophisticated of human ability and achievement.
With about a week to the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, Nigerians in most parts of the country are still under the stay-at-home order issued by federal and some state governments to contain the spread of the global enemy, coronavirus. Ramadan was about 8 weeks away when COVID-19 was imported into Nigeria on February 27, 2020. Many people thought that the pandemic, which took nearly two months to arrive Nigeria, wasn’t going to take as much time as it took the index case to reach the country before it is kicked out.
Now, Ramadan is almost here and the end to the spread of this deadly virus is, yet, not in sight. It is now obvious that most parts of the Muslim world would begin this year’s Ramadan fast in lockdown. Health experts have already advised countries to allow social distancing to remain in force for some time even when lockdown orders might have been relaxed or ended. It means that social distancing could extend to the end of Ramadan or even beyond.
Since mankind came under direct threat of COVID-19 in December 2019, losses are being counted daily at individual, community, national and global levels. Every day, tens of thousands of deaths are being recorded in many high-risk countries including the United States of America. While more people test positive for the disease than they recover, strong regional and global economies are being threatened by the lockdown orders imposed at various levels. Commerce and trade have been at their lowest ebb. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has hinted that Nigeria may be heading for its worst economic recession in 30 years.
Academic calendars have been disrupted worldwide as schools remained closed since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Conferences, capacity-building workshops, seminars, wedding ceremonies, construction works, football (the most popular sports) and other sporting activities have all remained suspended. Even the exigencies of religion, a very important matter in the Muslim world and Christendom, have been affected. One cannot pretend to be happy in the face of all these damages that we have individually and collectively suffered.
However, that which Muslims stand to lose if lockdown and other social distancing rules continue in Ramadan is huger than the cost of all the other losses put together. Ramadan is a month like no other. Because Ramadan provides rare spiritual opportunities for believers to get closer to their creator, it is a month every Muslim look forward to. Muslims may be compelled by lockdown and social distancing measures to miss out from some of the spiritual exigencies of Ramadan especially for those acts of worship that are required to be observed in congregation. They include Tarawih prayer, attending public Tafsir sessions and Tahajjud prayers. The public breaking of fast, usually at sunset, during which the poor and the needy are fed for free by benevolent individuals, groups or organizations may also be affected.
In view of this, therefore, it is necessary for us to workout strategies for achieving a fulfilling Ramadan under lockdown so that we would have nothing to lose even if the restrictions were to continue beyond the period respectively announced by federal and state governments. “Necessity”, they say, “is the mother of invention”. In spite of our present predicament occasioned by COVID-91, lockdown should not preclude us from making the best out the forthcoming Ramadan. Let us not feel daunted or intimidated by the lockdown measures as to fail to take advantage of the options available to us.
No matter the response guidelines put in place by health authorities at various levels, let us adhere to them. Let us seek guidance from those who know and avoid attempting to be ‘holier than thou’. The holiest mosques in the Muslim world (notwithstanding their indispensability to Muslims) have since been closed to worship. I’tikaf (religious seclusion in the mosque) in the last ten days of Ramadan as well as Umrah are two crucial events that Muslims will miss in this year’s Ramadan. Saudi Arabian authorities announced a few days ago that the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah shall remain closed to congregational prayers throughout this year’s Ramadan; meaning that Muslims who desire and can afford to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah (lesser hajj) would miss out of it.
Rather than go to join others and congregate in large numbers in our various mosques, each household could turn its living room into a converging venue for observing Tarawih and Tahajjud prayers. The most learned in Islamic knowledge including the recitation of the Holy Qur’an could be asked to lead others in the prayers. Our response to lockdown in Ramadan may also include setting aside a particular period of the day during which the most learned in the family shall give lessons to others. A hadith book such as the 40 traditions of Annawawi’s collection may be selected for study. Tafsir may be added if the person to conduct the teaching session is learned enough to give commentary on verses of the Holy Qur’an. Else, a book of jurisprudence such as Izziyyah may be selected in addition to the hadith book. This could substitute our going to attend public Tafsir sessions.
Government is encouraged to support broadcast media houses to subsidize air time for persons who wish to sponsor Tafsir programmes on radio or television during Ramadan. Government can further respond by supporting food production companies to subsidize essential food commodities including rice, semovita, vegetable oil, sugar, milk and beverages. Except for workers who may be able to draw their salaries during the lockdown, more Nigerians have since had their sources of livelihood cut by lockdown measures.
Finally, let us use Ramadan to kick COVID-19 out of this universe. There’s no month during which a Muslim is privileged to remain closer to Allah (SWT) throughout its 29 or 30 days as in Ramadan. Coronavirus did not create itself. Like every other creature of Allah (SWT), it is subject to the will of the Omnipotence and Omniscience who, when He wills a thing, says “Be” and “It is”. Ramadan should be seen by believers as a weapon to be deployed against everything that constitutes a threat to human existence including COVID-19. May Allah (SWT) extinct coronavirus and take us through a rewarding Ramadan, amin.