Reframing Ramadan: How to Flourish While the Masjids are Closed
For more on this topic, see Faith in the Time of COVID-19
On Friday, March 12, 2020, religious leaders and board members at masjids across the country made the excruciating decision to suspend the Friday (Jumuʿah) prayer due to the spread of COVID-19. This decision was not taken lightly but, after consultation with scholars and medical professionals, it was seen as absolutely necessary. The community had to face the reality that there would be no Jumuʿah prayer for some time. Now, nearly six weeks after the decision, Jumuʿah prayer continues to be suspended at the masjid, in addition to daily prayers, weekend schools, and Friday night programs. Additionally, there is no hanging out, drinking tea together, or youth activities. Essentially, the masjids are closed as we enter into Ramadan. Given that almost half of the Muslims in the US attend the masjid at least once a week (43%),1 these closures have left many feeling sad and some in a state of despair. Many are wondering how communities will survive this difficult time, and it seems people have more questions than answers.
Sadness at masjid closure: A sign of īmān
If one feels distraught over the closure of the masjid, stop and thank Allah. On the surface, this may seem strange. Why would a Muslim thank Allah when the masjid is closed? The answer lies in analyzing the thinking behind the sadness. Missing the masjid is a great sign of īmān. It would be far more problematic if a believer was indifferent to the suspension of activities in the masjid. Not everyone experiences the feeling of missing the masjid. The fact that you miss it shows concern and that is a gift from Allah. In the famous hadith that mentions seven categories of people who will be in the shade of Allah on the Day of Judgment, one of the categories is people whose hearts are attached to the masjid.2 The wording used in the hadith literally means “whose heart is hanging in the masjid.” Commenting on this hadith, Imam Nawawī mentions that a person in this category is not one who remains constantly in the masjid, but rather one who has a strong love for the masjid.3 Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar also mentions the meaning of this category is to have a love for the masjid even though one may not be physically present in it.4 Given the current situation, it is a blessing that so many Muslims fall into this category. They are unable to attend the masjid at this time, but they have a longing to return to it. Their hearts are metaphorically “hanging” in the masjid even when they are physically detached from it. Let the believer rejoice in this sign of iman and look forward to the shade of Allah on the day there will be no other shade.
Channeling energy to other outlets
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim is reported to have said, “Allah does not close a door on a servant with His Wisdom except that He opens two doors for him with His Mercy.”5 It is adaptive to think about the benefits one can attain when the masjid doors are closed. One of the ways to explore other avenues is to utilize a concept called reframing. Reframing is a counseling technique that facilitates a different way of viewing a situation by changing its meaning.6 Instead of focusing on what one cannot change, one focuses on what one can change. We identify benefits given the circumstances, instead of focusing on the negative. We view the situation through a positive lens by exploring what is stressing us. The following is a chart utilizing the concept of reframing regarding masjid closures.
Now create a similar chart by yourself or with family members. Reframe some of the negative thoughts you may have been harboring. Reframing allows us to channel our energies to engage in productive tasks. Allah says, “And whoever has taqwá (consciousness) of Allah, He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah, then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a decreed extent.”7 These verses remind us to stay positive, as ultimately Allah will remove us from our difficult situation. However, this is conditional on having taqwá. Thus, it is the one who is truly aware of Allah who will find the way out and provisions that Allah has created.
The Muslim community has certainly demonstrated the potential for spiritual growth during these difficult times. In a recent survey of American Muslims who were generally religious and did not believe the masjid should be open during the current pandemic, over 58% of people said their relationship with Allah had improved since social isolation policies went into effect.8 Thus, it appears that many in the Muslim community have channeled their energy into productive outlets.
What about Ramadan?
Although many Muslims have been able to reframe their attitudes towards the closure of the masjid for Jumuʿah and daily prayers, nothing looms over the hearts of the believers more than thinking about the masjid being closed in Ramadan. When asking Muslims what they would miss the most due to social isolation a month before Ramadan, the masjid being closed for tarāwīḥ and ifṭār was what the majority of people had at the top of their lists.9 Attendance in the masjid greatly increases during Ramadan. Many masjids host ifṭārs daily or weekly, attracting hundreds of worshippers to break fast together. In Ramadan, the masjid is on full display as a house of worship, community center, and much more. The masjid becomes the center of life for many Muslims during this month. Interestingly, despite the concern for the masjid being closed this Ramadan, in a more recent survey of Muslims administered a week before Ramadan, the majority of people expressed feeling that this year’s Ramadan would be better than last year’s.10 The overwhelming majority (80%) said they planned to read more Qur’an this year than last year.
It appears that many Muslims are successfully reframing Ramadan without the masjid. Although they will greatly miss the experience of ifṭār with friends and extended family and standing shoulder to shoulder with community members listening to the melodious recitation of the Qur’an in the masjid, many people are embracing new opportunities.
As one person stated, “This will be a different Ramadan, but I don't think that’s necessarily bad. It’s a new experience I look forward to exploring.”
Another person commented, “This Ramadan will be a new experience because we won’t have access to the mosques, but in-shāʾ-Allah we benefit from it in ways that we can’t even expect as individuals and communities.”
Many others commented that this Ramadan may be a special opportunity (one individual called it “a once in a lifetime opportunity”) to get intimately closer to Allah due to solitude. This form of reframing is similar to what Ibn Taymīyah mentioned to his student, Ibn al-Qayyim, when he said, “What can my enemies do to me? My paradise is in my heart wherever I go and never separated from me. If I am imprisoned, then it is seclusion for worship. If I am killed, then it is martyrdom. If they expel me from my land, then it is tourism.”11
However, there were also people who were fearful and scared of the upcoming Ramadan due to being alone and separated from the masjid. Don’t push away these feelings but rather allow them to propel you forward in connecting with Allah (swt). Whether optimistic or a little anxious about Ramadan without the masjid, what can we do to make the most of the situation?
The Prophet’s Ramadan
No one benefited more from Ramadan than the Prophet ﷺ. ʿĀishah reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to strive more in worship during Ramadan than he strove in any other time of the year and he would devote himself more (in the worship of Allah) in the last ten nights of Ramadan than he did in the earlier part of the month.12 Given the dedication of the Prophet ﷺ in Ramadan, it is hard to believe that tarāwīḥ in nightly congregation was almost non-existent during his and most of the companions’ lifetimes. The Prophet ﷺ prayed the tarāwīḥ prayer in congregation and individually at home. It is related from Zayd ibn Thābit, that, “The Prophet created a room out of date palm leaf mats in the mosque. Allah's Messenger prayed in it for a few nights till the people gathered [to pray the tarāwīḥ prayer behind him]. Then on the fourth night, the people did not hear his voice and they thought he had slept, so some of them started humming in order that he might come out. The Prophet then said, ‘You continued doing what I saw you doing till I was afraid that this [tarāwīḥ prayer] might be enjoined on you, and if it were enjoined on you, you would not continue performing it. Therefore, O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home, except the compulsory congregational prayer.’”13
The Prophet ﷺ continued to pray the tarāwīḥ prayer at home and the companions continued to pray individually. This continued during the caliphate of Abū Bakr and the beginning of ʿUmar’s caliphate. Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī, sub-narrating on a hadith from Abū Hurayrah, said, “Allah's Messenger ﷺ passed away and the people continued observing [the tarāwīḥ prayer individually]. It remained that way during the Caliphate of Abū Bakr and in the early days of ʿUmar's Caliphate.”14
Though congregational tarāwīḥ was not a staple of their month of Ramadan, the Prophet ﷺ and the companions still maximized the spiritual benefit of this blessed month. The focus was more on attaining the two major objectives Allah mentioned in the Qur’an regarding fasting, namely, to attain God-consciousness (taqwá), and to experience gratitude. Allah says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become God-conscious”15 and “The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey, then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful.”16 Therefore, our focus should be on the ultimate goals of attaining God-consciousness and being thankful, regardless of the specific actions by which we achieve them.
Recommended activities for this Ramadan
Here are some activities that may be beneficial spiritually and in maintaining social connections.
- Prepare together. Make a list of goals you want to accomplish as a family. Solicit everyone’s opinions. Hang the goals on the refrigerator to increase motivation before the month starts. Decorate the house together. Put up banners and decorations so everyone in the household feels this month is truly special. As a group, make it a goal to reduce or eliminate behavior such as overeating at ifṭār or watching movies several hours a day.
- Praying together. Many of us do not have many opportunities to pray in congregation with our family. We can now take the time to perfect our prayers together. We can dedicate time to teach our children how to call the adhān, how to properly pray, and how to make wuḍūʾ. If we are unaware of the fundamentals of worship, this is a great time to learn.
- Making duʿā together. Spend a few minutes asking your children what they want to ask Allah. Make the morning duʿāʾs together as well as the evening duʿāʾs, and make duʿāʾs a few minutes before breaking fast.
- Be grateful together. Sit together as a family (or independently if needed) daily and each person in the household should list three to five things they are appreciative of that day.
- Exercise together. Take a short walk and connect with nature while maintaining social distancing. Reflect over the beauty of Allah’s creation.
- Eat together. Another rare opportunity is to have suḥūr and ifṭār together. Leave all phones, tablets, and other devices in another room to avoid distractions. Give time to each family member to talk about their day. If you are a family that has trouble communicating, use an activity to facilitate conversation. Make rounds and ask everyone to mention their “sunshine” (a positive thought or event) and “cloud” (a negative thought or event) for the day.
- Read Qur’an together. Read and reflect on what was read. Focus on verses everyone will understand like the reality of the Day of Judgment, Muslim character, and lessons from the stories of the Prophets عليهم السلام.
- Learn together. Watch a daily reminder from your local masjid and discuss it.
For those who are single, converts, or living alone, you can perform many of the above-listed activities (except prayer) together virtually. It is crucial to stay connected with family and friends so consider some ways to maximize this Ramadan in quarantine. For converts who do not have Muslim family members, reach out to friends from the masjid. Similarly, if you know of converts in your community who may not have the same support as you, make an effort to connect with them. In this process, you are also creating opportunities for others to make the most of Ramadan, which is a source of blessings and good deeds for you as well.
1. Virtual resources are an excellent option to stay connected with family and friends:
- Have virtual ifṭārs together
- Take FaceTime walks together
- Initiate Zoom duʿāʾ and Qur’an sessions together
2. Reach out to someone to become your Ramadan goal buddy and discuss goals and hold one another accountable.
3. Each day, set aside time to watch a short lecture with someone and reflect on it together.
Livestreaming this Ramadan: A note of caution
Masjids and Islamic institutes are working hard to organize virtual programs for their communities. On the slate of programs are livestreams for after-suḥūr reflections, weekly classes, and tarāwīḥ tafsīr reminders. It is truly astounding how quickly masjids have been able to put information technology systems in place to facilitate the spiritual development of their communities, especially as many of those masjids may not even have had a functional website prior to a month ago.
There is no doubt that having access to spiritual reflections, motivational speeches, and classes this Ramadan will be a valuable service to many Muslims. However, like anything else in life, moderation is essential. Be mindful of not binge-watching anything in Ramadan, even religious content. Try not to be a passive consumer of content. Rather, make use of valuable video content to motivate yourself to be an active worshipper. Ramadan is a month to actively engage in personal worship, including extra prayers, Qur’an reading, and duʿā. Actively praying tarāwīḥ or reciting Qur’an is better than listening to someone else pray and recite online. If you struggle to recite Qur’an, or you recite slowly, do not be discouraged. The Prophet ﷺ said, “A person who recites the Qur’an and masters it by heart will be with the noble upright recording Angels (in Heaven). And a person who exerts himself to learn the Qur’an and recites it with great difficulty will have a double reward.”17 This inspirational hadith should encourage us to be active reciters of the Qur’an in Ramadan as we pray tarāwīḥ in our homes.
The end result: What truly matters
During the current crisis, we may ask ourselves why this is happening.18 Only Allah knows the answer to this question, but the better question to ask is what will be the end result for us when this crisis is over. Allah says “Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what man's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of what they have done, in order that they may return.”19 The end of this verse may be the most important lesson in the current crisis. Regardless of whether this is a punishment or a test, the ultimate goal is to return to Allah. If we do not make any changes and waste our time in frivolous deeds, then we will have failed. If we are able to better connect with family, learn something new, make more duʿāʾ, and ultimately draw closer to Allah, then we will have succeeded. May Allah make us successful.
1 Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac, “U.S. Muslims Are Religiously Observant, but Open to Multiple Interpretations of Islam,” Pew Research Center, August 28, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/28/u-s-muslims-are-religiously-observant-but-open-to-multiple-interpretations-of-islam/.
2 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bk. 10, hadith 54; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, bk. 12, hadith 117.
3 Nawawī, al-Minhāj fī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (Beirut: al-Maktaba-al-Assrya, 2009).
4 Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Barī fī sharḥ ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Riyadh: Dar al-Tayyibah, 2011).
5 Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, al-Fawāʾid (Jeddah: Majmaʿ al-Fiqh al-Islāmī, 2013).
6 Nancy L. Murdock, Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Case Approach, 3rd ed. (New Jersey: Pearson, 2013).
7 Qur’an 65:2–3.
8 Osman Umarji and Hassan Elwan, “Embracing Uncertainty: How to Feel Emotionally Stable in a Pandemic,” Yaqeen, March 30, 2020, https://yaqeeninstitute.org/osman-umarji/embracing-uncertainty-how-to-feel-emotionally-stable-in-a-pandemic/.
9 Fifty-five percent said it would be the most missed or second most-missed activity, more than socializing with friends, school, sports, and other things.
10 Sixty-six percent said it would be somewhat better or much better than last year’s Ramadan.
11 Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Y. Slitine, and Michael Abdurrahman Fitzgerald, al-Wābil al-ṣayyib min al-kalim al-ṭayyib (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2000).
12 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, bk. 9, hadith 1194.
13 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bk. 96, hadith 21.
14 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bk. 31, hadith 2.
15 Qur’an 2:183.
16 Qur’an 2:185.
17 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, bk. 65, hadith 4937; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, bk. 6, hadith 290.
18 Osman Umarji, Hassan Elwan, and Mustafa Umar, “A Punishment or a Mercy? What We Can Learn from the Coronavirus,” Yaqeen, April 14, 2020, https://yaqeeninstitute.org/osman-umarji/a-punishment-or-a-mercy-what-we-can-learn-from-the-coronavirus/.
19 Qur’an 30:41.