INDIA. Delhi, Jama Masjid: The pious month of Ramadan, (also known as Ramazan) is here when Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn until dusk. But so is COVID-19, the cases are exponentially rising daily, and people are once again forced to observe Ramadan for the second time during the pandemic era.
I was apprehensive when I was making plans to check out the festive atmosphere at Jama Masjid in the Old Delhi area with my Muslim colleague, Rashid before the first 2021 total lockdown in Delhi. Rashid had to go for his religious obligations and visit his relatives.
Jama Masjid, originally called Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa – meaning mosque commanding view of the world, is the last great architectural work of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. 360 years old and India’s biggest mosque, Jama masjid has massive courtyards capable of accommodating up to 25,000-30,000 worshippers.
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar of 12 months, and the month of Ramadan, the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, begins with the first sighting of the new crescent moon and lasts either 29 or 30 days. Eid – al – Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and falls on 12 May in 2021, and the celebrations surely will be affected by COVID restrictions.
The holiest Islamic month of Ramadan deemed as one of the Five Pillars of Islam is a time of prayer and remembering God. The ultimate goal of Ramadan is to care, share and develop a closer relationship with Allah through prayer, reciting invocations, reading the Quran, and donating to charity more often.
Fasting during Ramadan
As I started to pack up to leave for Jama Masjid, my colleague, Rashid got curious to know if I knew anything about Ramadan. I was not confident and got a little embarrassed because of my ignorance of Islamic customs. For me, it was just a kind of month-long fasting from dawn to dusk very similar to what we Hindus do during Navratris for nine days. Also, Hindus fast for nine full days and nights eating food especially for fasting.
Rashid agreed and said, “Our fasting is different. We fast from food and water for a month from sunrise to sundown.” Now, this was news to me, how can one avoid drinking water during the hot summer of April in a place like Delhi? Rashid agreed with a smile on his face, and said, “Yes, that’s slightly crazy, but that’s a tradition.”
Muslims know fasting as niyyah which literally translates to get deeply connected with religion and Allah. Niyyah is an act of worship, which strengthens their spiritual health and self-discipline.
Instead of the normal three meals during the day, i.e. breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Muslims only partake in two – Suhour or Sehri, the meal that is eaten prior to Al-Fajr prayer (the prayer at dawn), and before sunrise, and Iftar or Fitoor, the meal that ends the fast immediately after sunset.
Traditionally, iftar begins with people chanting, “Allahuma inni laka sumtu wa’ bika aamantu wa’ aalaika tawakkaltu wa’ ala rizqika aftartu,” i.e. “O Allah! I fasted for you and I believe in you and I put my trust in You and I break my fast with your sustenance.”
And then dehydrate themselves by drinking fresh fruit juice, milk or water and eating dates. It is believed that Prophet Mohammad ate three dates when he broke his Roza.
Appeal by prominent clerics during COVID
There are restrictions on the number of people to get together for prayers and Iftar. Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari and bodies like Delhi Waqf Board have also appealed to the people to offer Namaz at their homes. They are asking all worshippers to follow guidelines, wear a face mask, and bring their own prayer mat, and maintain social distance. Even the length of prayers has been cut down to minimise the time spent in the congregation.
Foody affair for non-muslims
I was told that a lot of non-muslims also come here as, during this time, the area becomes the center of delicious fares. Bhavya, a pretty lady, told me that it’s the in-thing to do for her to savour delicacies laden with tradition. She comes here often as she finds the place buzzing with life and a unique aura oozing out from dozens of temporary food vendors set up shop, specifically catering to people breaking their fast.
Walking down the lanes, I was getting filled up just by feasting with my eyes on snacks sold at shops and restaurants – various types of delicacies like chicken soup out of steel drums perched on the back of bicycles, fresh bread, often still warm from the ovens sold at the bakeries, the sheermal, a saffron-flecked, mildly sweet bread from Kashmir, samosas piled up high on flat metal trays, saucers of sliced fruit sprinkled with salt and pepper; pieces of deep fried chicken, still sizzling after being scooped out of hot oil and ladled onto plates.
The appetising aroma wafting through the air, and the smoke emanating from the open ovens grilling chicken and kebabs and the large pans frying fish and chicken added to the overall aura of the place and made me super hungry. The scent of my favourite desserts from the nearby shop selling hot shahi tukras prepared with desi ghee made me euphoric.
Read Also: Lockdown-2021 In Delhi