Otago Polytechnic’s Muslim whanau are observing Ramadan differently this year.
Ramadhan is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community for Muslims around the world. It started on Saturday 25 April here in New Zealand.
Otago Polytechnic lecturer Hymie Abd-Latif has been observing Ramadan every year since the age of seven, but says this year is unlike anything he’s ever experienced, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I often look forward to this month of reflection, fostering stronger connection to God and man, learning and reading Quran (the holy book) prayers,” he says.
Nights are typically filled with families and communities getting together to celebrate iftar (the breaking of the fast) and tarawikh (prayer). However, this year these events could only take place in small bubbles.
Muslims haven’t let this stop them from connecting. Hymie created an online group for friends and the community to get together via Zoom.
“We have a weekly Bros-Catchup group that meets online every Sunday afternoon to recite Quran together and sometimes throw in some banter after.”
There is another nightly Zoom meeting for families where they recite the Quran, have discussions on its lessons, and hear guest lectures from New Zealand and abroad.
“Both of these have received very good turn out with about 20 families participating,” says Hymie.
His friends and neighbours are sharing food through non-contact drop off and pickup.
Monetary donations for the poor and needy, another aspect of Ramadan, are being made online.
“The month of Ramadan has always to me, been a test of my physical and spiritual endurance and resilience, this year the test goes up a notch (or a few notches),” says Hymie.
He notes that Kiwi Muslims have been tested in recent times – having been affected by earthquakes, the Pike River Mine disaster, the Al Noor mosque shooting and now the Covid-19 pandemic, but they emerge triumphant.
“Because we work together as a community and a nation, we unite regardless of our colour, language or ethnicity. We roll up our sleeves and tread carefully through the calamities,” he says.
“The mosques may be empty, but our hearts are filled with Aroha and we are spiritually connected.”
His advice to fellow Muslims is to take the opportunity to make this Ramadan special by strengthening family and community ties while continuing fasting and prayers.
“Find solace and space for self-introspection. Ramadan Kareem.”
Graduate Farjana Rahman
OPAIC graduate Farjana Rahman feels privileged this Ramadan, because she is spending it with her father, brother, and nieces and nephews in Bangladesh.
“I’d never experienced Ramadan like this in last 19 years. Because I was away from my home for study and work in another city.”
Farjana travelled home to visit family and became stuck there when the borders closed. She hopes to return to New Zealand when the borders re-open.
Farjana says Ramadan was particularly hectic the last two years because she was juggling study and work in New Zealand.
“But this time being in lockdown with my family, I started maintaining kinship as it is obligatory for Muslims to build healthy relationships with the family.”
Usually she would invite friends and family over for Iftar during Ramadan. Muslims also usually distribute food in their neighbourhood and feed the poor during this time.
“Sadly, we are not able to do that now,” says Farjana.
Some of her neighbours and relatives are in dire need of food and supplies, having lost their jobs or had their salaries reduced. Their fellow Muslims are still finding ways of offering charity from a distance.
Farjana says Muslims see calamity as a test and work to do good deeds, unite and look after others in this difficult situation.
“I personally try to see the positive even in the worst cases. So, I feel this situation brought out my empathy, self-reflection and patience in a different way.”