This year, Ramadhan will be different and it is all due to the Coronavirus Movement Control Order (MCO).
Families have already learnt to spend time with one another, to rebuild relationships, to cope with very little contact with others, to do without the excesses, and to manage with the bare necessities. We learn to enjoy each other’s company, to appreciate nature better, breathe cleaner air and when the lockdown is over, we will learn to value social contact with others.
Instead of keeping up with the Joneses and boasting that one had gone to a five-star hotel for a breaking of fast buffet which cost hundreds of ringgits, the true spirit of Ramadhan will finally be celebrated.
The real reason we fast, is to empathise with the poor, who cannot afford three square meals a day. It is also to curb our excesses, and our desires, in other words, it is about self-control. We are supposed to encourage clean thoughts and not be emotionally aggrieved or feel anger.
Many Muslims tend to forget, that the breaking of fast, is not a time to gorge or to show off that one could afford a lavish buffet.
In previous years, we read that religious officers from the state religious authorities, patrolled the streets, checking the popular restaurants and fast-food outlets, to catch Muslims who were eating.
It was a waste of resources and time. The officers would have been better employed if they had checked conditions in tahfiz schools and ensured that the children were treated with respect and not severely punished, for a minor antic, like playing football instead of reading the Koran.
Religion should be a personal choice and its practise should be a private matter between the individual and God, but in Malaysia, it has become the state’s business to ensure that a Muslim obeys the official doctrine. Those who smoke in public will suffer the same punishment, of a fine and possible imprisonment, as those who eat in public.
So what will the authorities do while many people are working from home and have to practise social distancing? Surely they will not break into houses to check on an errant Muslim?
Perhaps the authorities need to have more faith in individuals. A Muslim who practices his faith, will do the right thing. If he does not, then he will be punished by God, in the afterlife.
There is little need to heap extra humiliation on him, by ridiculing him and questioning him in public, as was done in previous years.
For years, people whose features looked Malay found Ramadhan a stressful time. A number claimed that religious policemen would harass them in public, by making them prove they were not Malays, who should have been fasting.
Ramadhan is also about a spiritual cleansing. The lockdown will remind us that it is alright to pray on one’s own, or with one’s family, rather than in a large congregation, when one can show that one is more pious than others.
Many people may feel lost this year, because they cannot attend group Terawih prayers, but the lockdown will finally allow them to experience the real reasons behind fasting and prayer.
Although we have been forced to practise social isolation in the lockdown, Muslims will finally be able to rediscover the true teachings of Ramadhan which is about the inner-self and being closer to God.