Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 May 2020

How I'm making sure Ramadan is still special while celebrating at home alone

This Ramadan is a whole new landscape and each day has offered its own set of surprising insights

Saeed Saeed has been spending his Ramadan at home.
Saeed Saeed has been spending his Ramadan at home.

We are nearing the second half of Ramadan, and this one has been like no other I've experienced in the 27 years I have been actively fasting.

Over the decades, I have become accustomed to Ramadan's rhythm.

It normally begins with a flurry of enthusiasm, before it settles into a steady groove of work, family time, communal prayers and socialising with friends late into the night.

Then, from about day 15 to day 20, the weariness creeps in. Waking up at dawn for suhoor loses its novelty, I begin to slack off in my Ramadan food regimen and overeat, which in turn can make the nightly taraweeh prayers feel more arduous than fulfilling

Thankfully, a much needed second wind arrives in the last ten days due to added spiritual significance and the run up to Eid.

It's a well versed pattern, and each year I try to iron out the kinks of last Ramadan in order to achieve the serenity the next holy month promises.

Only this year, the lessons of the past are null and void.

This Ramadan is a whole new landscape and each day has offered its own set of surprising insights.

One of the most interesting things for me is how the holy month has still managed to retain a communal spirit even though I'm at home with only my fridge for company.

The things that have helped me are, ironically, television and technology. Long viewed as barriers to a fulfilling fast, both have played a major role in reminding me that my experience is shared beyond my four walls.

Here are three things that have helped me remain grateful and connected while celebrating Ramadan alone...

1. Seek solace in the routines and rituals of regional TV

When it comes to television, I am glad to say that regional broadcasters are playing a huge role in maintaining the Ramadan vibe for me this month.

Before the channels, with star-studded dramas, were almost a distraction from the spiritual practices of the month, but this time they seem to have stepped up to the plate to remind me what is important.

The daily broadcast of the Taraweeh prayer from a beautifully desolate Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is enough to bring a lump to my throat

Flicking the hundreds of channels at home nightly, I see more family friendly shows, religious programmes discussing Islamic history and the role of faith in times of crisis, as well as many safety announcements.

Each night I see and read segments and hashtags in the Emirati, Egyptian, Syrian and Moroccan dialects reminding me to stay home and offering various versions of the phrase “we are all in this together.” These steady affirmations are encouraging and soothing.

But the most powerful moments on the small screen need no commentary. There's the daily sunset broadcast of police officers firing the Ramadan cannon (to mark the end of the fasting day) from the empty Qasr Al Hosn, Umm Al Emarat Park and Sharjah’s Al Majaz promenade.

Then there's the daily broadcast of the taraweeh prayer from a beautifully desolate Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, enough to bring a lump to my throat. It brings home the severity of our situation, which in turn triggers a flood of gratefulness for the fact I'm experiencing Ramadan at home and healthy.

2. Try “zoomhoor” with your friends

A new Ramadan phrase has been coined by me and my bachelor friends. Once a week, we try to catch up for an online suhoor: a practice we now call our “zoomhoor” sessions.

Whether it's Zoom or Google Hangouts, these catch ups have played an important role in keeping me plugged in with my family and friends.

3. And cook nice meals for yourself

The last and most surprising feature – for those that know me, anyway – is that the holy month has given me a new-found interest in cooking.

Deciding that I was going to limit my takeout food orders to once a week, I have been cooking up a storm using tips from my mother on how to perfect a curry, not overcook a risotto or even things as simple as what a shallot is. It made me appreciate, once again, the hard work she put in as a single mother to come home after a hard day’s work to whip something delicious each night for her rowdy children.

It's now me cooking for myself and the routine brings me solace, and connects me to my mum, who is all too far away.

Remember, the blessings are there, just be prepared to look for them...

Gratitude, empathy and acceptance. These are some of the traits that define Ramadan.

And, I am choosing to chalk up this Ramadan as a blessing. Each challenge presented to us does have a silver lining, if we are prepared to really look for it.

With each passing day of “Coronadan” I am seeing more of these signs.

I see them in my family and work colleagues who are bonding more than ever online. I may not be creating the best quality food, but my home cooked meals have been more personally satisfying than any luxurious hotel iftar.

And, although I am at home alone, I do feel more connected ever.

Ramadan Kareem, indeed.

Updated: May 7, 2020 05:09 PM

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