SINGAPORE: For as long as Sayed Mohammed Assaf can remember, he has always spent his time during Ramadan in the company of family and friends or at the local mosque for spiritual lessons on Islam.
But with the coronavirus pandemic gripping nations across the world, Singapore, too, has introduced social distancing and anti-virus measures until June 4, resulting in some Muslims in the country switching to a new way of observing the holy month — through the internet.
“I use Zoom or Google hangout for online classes with my sheikh. It feels rather weird as I cannot interact with him in person as I used to,” Assaf, 35, told Arab News on Saturday
The one-on-one lessons are an essential part of his “spiritual journey for the month,” he said, during which he learns about different aspects of Islam and the importance of “doing good deeds.”
“It helps me a lot. I learn to have more patience — you have to wait to reap its rewards of what you give,” he said.
With mass gatherings banned and mosques closed for the congregation as part of the coronavirus “circuit breaker,” it means less public interaction for Muslims in the country. They constitute 15 per cent of the total population of 5.9 million, with a majority hailing from the ethnic Malay community.
Assad, however, said the stay-at-home measure is “a blessing in disguise,” especially “if you compare it to Ramadans in the past.”
“We are all home, and there is a blessing to that as well as many Muslims can focus on good deeds and be less distracted by the outside world,” Assaf said. While Ramadan under lockdown is “different and difficult, somehow, it has brought me closer to God.”
With more time on his hands while working from home, Assaf says he begins his day by checking work emails, connecting with family and friends and dedicating a lot more time to reading the Holy Qur’an.
For 35-year-old Nadiah Alkardi, the lockdown means being able to spend “quality time with her young family.”
“We pray at home as a family nowadays. It gives you a sense of connection with your family members. So the bond grows stronger and more precious,” Alkardi said. Together they have been “offering the Taraweeh prayers since the first week of Ramadan” which would otherwise be prayed separately at mosques.
The only downside, Alkardi said, is that she’s unable to meet her siblings and parents for regular iftar gatherings.
Iftar is the time when Muslims who abstain from food and drink all day, break their fast at sunset. It serves as an occasion for family and friends to gather for a shared meal and is synonymous with Ramadan for Muslims across the globe.
Since the lockdown and subsequent ban on gatherings, Alkardi said she “meets her family” online.
“I speak to my mum and grandma on video calls to exchange recipes or talk about how their time during Ramadan preparation,” Alkardi said.
To help Muslims to adapt to the holy month under lockdown, Singapore’s authorities had launched Ramadan-specific content at the start of the month.
One initiative is the SalamSG TV – a YouTube channel launched by Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council (Muis) – to provide “everyday Islamic knowledge” through an online platform.
The idea seems to have clicked, with viewership growing by the day and content creators producing daily Ramadan videos in Tamil, Bengali and Malay languages, alongside English, which is the primary language of the channel, Muis has said.
“With mosques unable to provide regular iftar, tarawih, qiyam and noon and evening talks, it is important that the spiritual needs of the Muslim community are not neglected,” it said.