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Ramadan in quarantine
"Suddenly, my room has become the center of everything—where I recharge, dance, work, sleep, cry, laugh, and pray."
I’ve been celebrating Ramadan since I was ten years old. Growing up in a non-Muslim community, my family was one of a handful in my hometown to observe the holiday.
Even as a kid, I eagerly looked forward to the days spent abstaining from food, breaking fast with my family over milk, dried fruits, and some sort of decadent evening meal. Since then, I’ve fasted as many days as I could through middle and high school sports, university exams, birthday celebrations, thesis papers, and countless other circumstances that were challenging to both body and spirit. And yet, I have to admit, I never imagined I would be fasting through a global pandemic.
Ramadan, the month-long celebration that commemorates the arrival of the holy Quran, is observed by fasting (if able), engaging in nightly prayer rituals known as taraweeh, reciting the Quran, and being in community. From sunrise to sundown, we abstain from drink and food. The time to break fast changes each day, but we do so with a large meal known as iftar, where we gather with friends, families, and communities for evenings of reflection and prayer. Obviously, though, things have had to adapt quite a bit this year in light of the global quarantines in place.
At the beginning of this month, a friend asked me what I was reflecting on as I headed into this annual, month-long spiritual journey. I recorded a series of voice notes (which he turned into a short audio narrative). The sentiments flowed from me quite naturally, and I was surprised to find I was more prepared for this month than I initially realized. The piece is titled, ‘A Global Fast’ because I believe this Ramadan aligns with a moment where the entire world is forced to fast from many of the comforts and sustenance of our normal lives. In this sense, there is something particularly harmonious about Ramadan’s timing this year.
As a freelancer who works from home, I found myself relieved at the thought of not having to take in-person meetings where I worry about the smell of my breath (a side effect of not eating all day) or make excuses for missing lunch meetings or coffee appointments. I also realized that so much of my day in the past years of Ramadan involved physical movement—whether that was traveling around the city to meet clients, going for long walks, or visiting friends, in addition to my regular exercise. Now that I’m in quarantine, I’m indoors the majority of my week, only leaving home for bike rides, runs, or the grocery store. My movement during this time is limited to the walls of my apartment. I dance and do push-ups here and there, but that’s about it; I’m focused on spiritual and mental fitness this month. Still, this relative stillness is easier in theory than in practice.
When the novel coronavirus first started shifting things in New York, I realized that my apartment, though spacious in certain ways, lacked physical boundaries for my work. You’d think that someone who works remotely as much as I do would have a handle on this. But prior to this global crisis, I relied heavily on cafes, not only because I enjoyed the ambiance, but as a source of inspiration and feeling connected to the environment around me. Then, my couch, kitchen table, and a small desk in my bedroom became my revolving work stations. It wasn’t ideal—as I settled into this new post-pandemic paradigm, I could feel my mental boundaries yelling at me, like, “Hey! This is where you relax! Meditate! Cook! How are you supposed to do work here?”
I did some shifting. I moved my desk so it could face a window and moved some plants around to create a bit of a barrier for myself. But with these physical shifts, I’ve had to also mentally shift how I see my space. Now, one side of my bedroom is for work and music (I’m also a DJ), and the other is for recharging. Ideally, I’d have a separate room altogether for work, but I’m doing my best with the space that I’ve got.
The most challenging thing about this moment is that our homes aren’t used to holding space for so many facets of our lives. Suddenly, my room has become the center of everything—where I recharge, dance, work, sleep, cry, laugh, and pray. My windows have become the main source of my daily vitamin D intake. My floors carry the weight of my exercise, laziness, clarity, and lack of focus. Today, we are asking so much of our homes. And while I am lucky to live with someone I feel comfortable around, I understand there are challenging situations where this is not the case.
As someone who is religious and spiritual 365 days a year, my routines and rituals haven’t changed too drastically from what they were prior to Ramadan. But, in the Muslim community, we often talk about how Ramadan can be a time to introduce new habits to our lives. For me, prayer and spending time with the Quran is something I can always improve on. After all, just because I am engaging in daily prayer doesn’t mean that I’m always 100 percent grounded in the present. This moment in time has put this ritual to the test.
I pray five times a day, and my prayer breaks offer a bit of respite from the workday and the chaos of the world. I’ve realized this is what prayer was intended for in the Islamic tradition: It is a practice that helps us remember that no matter how important we think the tasks that fill up our days may be—pouring over our to-do lists, anxiously checking our bank account balances, or dealing with an overflowing email inbox—anything can wait for a few minutes in the name of re-centering.
As I observe the growing uncertainty around the world, my relationship to prayer and the realizations I’ve had about prayer, offer me much needed solace. This Ramadan is one for the books; it is a time I know I will look back on in the future when things feel overwhelming and uncertain, as they inevitably will. In those moments, I’ll think back to the time I sheltered in place in my small Brooklyn apartment as the world spun in turmoil, and found refuge in moments of prayer that made the world stand still.
Nourie is a Levantine Illustrator from the mountains of Lebanon. She focuses her art on representation, changing the narrative of the image portrayed of middle eastern women in media and the beauty standards, arabic poetry, womxn's rights and mental health.