A Tale of Two Fasts amidst COVID-19: What Lessons for Humanity?

On Thursday 23rd April, the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims began the Holy Fast of Ramadan which runs through Saturday, May 23, 2020. Being one of the five bases of the Islamic faith, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this period, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are expected to abstain from food, drink, tobacco products and sex. It is also a time that the two Pillars of Islam, namely fasting and almsgiving are given the finest expression in both private and public life. Expectedly, members of various families and their friends usually gather to pray together and break the fast while sharing pleasantries. Adherents are also required to engage in extra pious activities like reading the Holy Quran and reflection. 

It would be recalled that on March 1st 2020, Christians too marked Ash Wednesday to usher in the Lenten Season which invites the faithful to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The period which is in imitation of Jesus Christ who fasted for 40 days and nights (Cf. Matthew 4:1-11), invites Christians to embrace custody of the eye, avoid the sins of the flesh, resist pride, imitate Jesus (the new Adam), use their gifts wisely, worship God alone and take to reading the Holy Scriptures. What is more, Lent is a moment of grace and spiritual rejuvenation which obliges believers to forego the pleasure of choicest foods and drinks to give in charity. They also follow Jesus during the Via Dolorosa – the Stations of the Cross.

Although the major departing point could be the 30/40 days disparity between the practice in Islam and Christianity, the meeting points are the same – prayer, fasting, charity, scripture reading (Quran and Bible) and reflection. The People of the Book agree that fasting and prayer provide members with a tapestry of spiritual insights meant for their good. Also, penance and mortification are viewed as virtues which help adherents to address sinful personal habits like masturbation, sexual immodesty, gossips and nagging. Sacrifices made are geared towards seeking for mercy to relish God’s benevolence.  

The title of this piece “A Tale of Two Fasts amidst COVID-19: What Lessons for Humanity?” is inspired by the current unfortunate circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic. Like their Christian counterparts who had to fast and celebrate the Easter Festival amidst lockdown and social isolation, Muslims too are not enjoying the best of time as regards the Fast of Ramadan. The ban on social or religious gatherings as well as restrictions imposed by countries to curb the spread of the Coronavirus has forced many Mosques to close. BBC reported that “In parts of the world particularly hard hit by the virus, this year’s celebrations are tinged with sadness.”

Me thinks that there is a positive side of the story. It is the opinion of this writer that religious leaders across the globe must teach their adherents how to adjust during epidemics. This is because their followers are seeking leadership in terms of how to pray, fast and carry out other religious observances under these new and changing circumstances. With the closure of epicentres of the two religions – St. Peter’s Square in Rome (Vatican) and Kaaba in Mecca, (Saudi Arabia) plus the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem around March, worshippers are in dire need of direction on how to worship God wholeheartedly during the lockdown – they are asking questions around how best to fast and pray as individuals and family-members without necessarily going to Church or Mosque.

Beyond looking for temporary solutions on how to serve God in the time of isolation, there is an urgent need to rethink religion. In a digital age where people are likely to overindulge in the use of social media due to the stay-at-home regulation, those at the echelon of power should think outside the box to provide their adherents with attractive options. This calls for digital religion as a veritable option which would help people to find useful resources online which could help them to reflect about God, their existence, the meaning of life and their eternal destiny while staying at home. Among other social media platforms, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are useful tools for doing religion online.

It will be playing the ostrich to pretend that moral safeguards are not required in the use of social media. This is where the need for training in the use of modern media becomes imperative. With the help of experts in the technology industry, religious leaders could develop applications that provide a safe Internet environment for their members to ward off pornography and illegal activities of hackers. Besides this, there are many applications out there that can block unethical content on social media. 

The tale of two fasts amidst COVID-19 teaches us to adapt to changing times and seasons. The quote: “Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching” from Chinua Achebe’s blockbuster novel Things Fall Apart (1958) applies here. Instead of being angry with civil and religious authorities for shutting down places of worship, the lesson for humanity is for everyone to adjust to changes in the worship of God. While we wish our Muslim brothers and sisters a Happy Ramadan, it is expected that as they look forward to the Sallah celebration, their prayers, sacrifices and supplications would lead to a peaceful and prosperous nation. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria! 

Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through – justinejohndyikuk@gmail.com.  

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