Faith in Lockdown: Not the Same Ramzan in Kashmir

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The vibrant mosques and markets during Ramzan in Kashmir have become subdued in pandemic. Absence of festive community spirit and congregational entreaty has further reduced the revered month for Muslims as an act of individual veneration.

Text by Swati Joshi

Photos by Abid Bhat

For Hilal Bhat, the holy month of Ramzan would mean beseeching time in mosque, and an evening-time hangout with friends to explore the special market.

But with novel coronavirus majorly holding people hostage in their homes this time around, this 23-year-old commerce graduate from Srinagar’s Eidgarh area is spending his time wondering about the pervasive desolation, deserting even the faith centers acting as liberating spaces for masses.

“We may be sailing in the same boat right now, but it feels like a curse,” Bhat says, in a subdued voice.

“For the violence-marred society, faith has been the ultimate solace. It acts as a refuge for conflict-torn hearts. It’s sad how this virus has severed that soulful connection now.”

In absence of the congregational prayers in mosques, the likes of Bhat are today silently grieving over the viral transition in their lives.

As a vibrant community faith centre, Jamia Masjid in Srinagar would always lead in congregational prayers by hosting the special Ramzan gatherings from different parts of the valley.

One of the grandest mosques of Kashmir, the Jamia Masjid is always bustling with people in the evening discussing religion, politics, and life.

But now, the mosque is quiet amidst the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I used to visit Jamia Masjid every year during the holy month to offer prayers with my family but this time the ritual has been broken,” sighs Wasif Khan, a martial arts instructor from Soura, Srinagar.

Already, from last one month, religious places are closed, with clerics advising people to maintain social distancing norms and offer prayers in their homes.

Earlier, a statement in this regard was released by Jamia Masjid’s management, “In view of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic Anjuman Auqaf Jamia Masjid Srinagar keeping in view the strict medical advisories of maintaining social distance by health experts will continue with the suspension of Friday congregations and Taraweeh prayers in Jamia Masjid, till the situation returns to normal, In Sha Allah.”

It’s a tough time for everyone, Khan continues.

“We’re passing through unprecedented times when we’ve to even lock down our faith centres, otherwise known for their divine blessings and spiritual healings, and that too, in the month of great blessings,” Khan sighs.

With no cure available for the disease caused by rampaging germ, many are now skeptical about the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of the holy month of Ramzan.

Even as people are mindful of the fact that extraordinary times need extraordinary measures, Maksood Ali, a business analyst from Lal Bazaar, says the present times is a sad commentary of the invincibility of the human race.

“It just took one invisible entity to show us our true worth and place in this world,” Ali says.

“It has altered our social as well as religious order. Ramzan used to be the time when a festive feeling and community spirit would make it a different experience. But now, it’s no longer the same.”

Like others, the business analyst is staying at home and offering Tarawih alone these days.

Tarawih is the additional prayer offered by Muslims after Isha Namaz (night-time daily prayer) during the holy month of Ramzan.

“Last year, we would gather together in mosques for Iftar, and then some of us would go to explore the special Ramzan evening market in Srinagar’s Exhibition Ground and elsewhere,” says Ali, reminiscing the time when the month was meekly celebrated with gaiety.

But with the fear of the pandemic this year, even handshakes and hugs are replaced by video calls.

Many Ramzan special food stalls and stores flooded with people during the holy month are closed and the streets are saturnine.

“People with job or other means of survival can sustain their life, but what about smalltime shopkeepers relying on Ramzan market,” says Arif Sheikh, a Srinagar-based trader.

“We may be fighting this virus by maintaining social distancing, but it’s badly going to hit those living hand to mouth.”

Sheikh believes that festivals are meant to bring people together and create a vibrant environment where everyone forgets their problems.

“Some of us might be striving to improve our self-discipline in this month, but we need to help the needy around us, like never before,” Sheikh says.

As the important aspects of Ramzan, Muslims give Zakaat (alms) to indigent people. “However, due to lockdown,” the trader says, “many people are unable to reach out to the needy, and perform the obligation.”

Even the charity vans and paupers are missing from the scene. As the pandemic has become all pervasive, the deserted look of mosques and markets is evident to suggest how Ramzan has changed for the valley this year.

But during this subdued time, Sheikh says, it’s the responsibility of the people to maintain the community spirit by helping others in need, and spending quality time with the family.

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