Ramadan, which comes to an end this weekend, this year overlapped with the coronavirus lockdown. The confinement made a change in habits necessary, on top of the changes that Muslims make to their daily routines during this important month. The Covid-19 crisis has forced Muslims to rethink traditions and find new approaches to one of Islam's most important religious rituals.
A unique experience
For Shamil, a student who lives in Mijas Costa, Ramadan is a true school of transformation in which he can change his actions, habits and manners. He fasted for the first time when he was seven years old. Since then he has observed Ramadan. This year Ramadan under lockdown has been a unique experience for him.
Shamil, tell more about yourself?
I am from the Russian Federation. I know Russia is usually associated with the Orthodox Church. However, this country is large and multicultural. There are regions in the Federation where Islam and Buddhism also are practised. My family is from Dagestan which is in the very south of Russia on the border with Georgia and Azerbaijan, sharing the Caspian sea with Kazakhstan and Iran. My ancestors are from Kurush - the highest mountain settlement in Europe. Dagestan is also famed for its ethnic and linguistic diversity, being home to more than 30 languages. The whole of Dagestan is a religious area of Sunni Islam - the largest denomination of Islam.
Why did your family buy a house on the Costa del Sol?
My grandfather visited the Costa del Sol seven years ago and he fell in love with this region. Dagestan translates as "land of the mountains" and it is washed by the sea. Here it is almost the same. Moreover, everywhere in Andalucía there are lots of monuments, palaces, names and traditions remaining from the Muslim times on the peninsula. I read that there is much more connection between Spain and my native Caucasus. It turns out that the Iberian Peninsula somehow derivates from the Caucasian Iberia. In addition, it is believed, that the Caucasians migrated westwards to the Pyrenean where today the Basques live. That's why they find some similarities between the Basque language and the Caucasian languages.
Shamil, is it hard for you to fast?
As a Muslim, I am obliged to fast during the Ramadan month which, as a rule, in Dagestan starts and ends one day later than here. From Fajr, which is before sunrise, until sunset each day, I cannot eat or drink and I have to control my emotions as well. Frankly, it is only the initial part that is hard. Within three or four days, my body adjusts to this eating habit. In general, fasting on the Costa del Sol is not easier than in my country. The case is that in Dagestan the great majority of people are fasting. That's why, most restaurants cover their windows during the day and people do not eat in a public or common space. However, on the Costa del Sol, when lunch break comes, there are plenty of people around eating their sumptuous tapas. It intimidates a lot. As for the hours of fasting, the time varies a lot. For example, this year, as Ramadan falls between the months of April and May, some Muslims have fasted for as long as 20 hours, while others have not eaten for about 11.5. In Dagestan actually like in Spain - between 17 and 18 hours. It is worth it because Ramadan is about breaking bad habits. We make a lot of sacrifices to overcome our "normal" habits and to change ourselves.
The most famous person from Dagestan is the UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov...
Yes. Dagestan is a country of wrestlers. Khabib is a professional mixed martial artist from Dagestan. He got world's fame after beating Conor McGregor. By the way, Khabib Nurmagomedov is the first Muslim to win a UFC title. As a devout Muslim, he wears his religion on his sleeve during his public appearances. Moreover, he prefers not to fight during Ramadan because fasting makes training conditions more difficult for him, because of a state of weakness and dehydration. Khabib is currently observing the holy month of Ramadan in Dagestan. Recently, Khabib made impassioned coronavirus plea after his father was hospitalised being diagnosed with pneumonia and flu-like symptoms.
A different celebration
The majority of Muslims on the Costa del Sol are originally from Morocco. The chief of the Malaga Department of Tourism of Morocco, Azzeddine Bijjou, tells about how the local Muslims have found different ways to celebrate Ramadan during the pandemic.
Bijjou, is this Ramadan really different?
I have never experienced this way of spending our holy month. For example, families and friends didn't gather at sundown for iftar, the special meal that breaks the daily fast. We could not go to mosques. Like others here, we had to stay at home. But it was not that bad, because our ninth month is a very spiritual time. Actually, Ramadan is about reflecting with profoundness on the blessings each person has been given. In self-isolation and this (not easy for everyone) situation some people could better understand the suffering of those who go without having their basic needs, such as food and water.
They said, fasting is a kind of risk during the pandemic...
I know. They always say, that prolonged periods of not eating or drinking can weaken the immune syste. We are aware of this and we try to get enough calories during the hours you are permitted to eat. That's why, on the table there are lots of different fruits and vegetables, pulses and nuts. At the same time, I would stress, that scientists also say that intermittent fasting can speed up the body's process of regeneration, causing old cells to die and be replaced with new ones. And, of course, people who are ill, including those with Covid-19, are exempt from fasting.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. What about maintaining the other pillars?
Apart from fasting there is faith, prayer, charity and the pilgrimage to Hajj. This year's Hajj was suspended. By the way, the Covid-19 is not the first pandemic that disrupted the Hajj for Muslims. There are reports that the first time it was an outbreak of plague and cholera which caused frequent disruption to the annual Hajj. In 2012 and 2013 Saudi authorities also encouraged the ill and the elderly not to undertake the pilgrimage amid concerns over Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. As for charity, I think, the lockdown could let people give more to charity and help the poor.
Ramadan is usually a high season for visiting Morocco, isn't it?
Usually yes... though this year the country is affected with the coronavirus pandemic. Morocco has extended the public health emergency at least through May 20. As you know, all passenger services between the ports of Morocco and Spain are suspended as a measure to contain Covid-19.