2020 Ramadan During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic
Timeless Traditions to Grace a Modern Calamity
During normal times, Ramadan is an emotionally charged, challenging, and immensely rewarding experience that through a hard fast, engages your mind, body and soul to be at it’s very best for an entire month. As such, it’s a test of endurance for everyone who celebrates it. But given the COVID-19 epidemic, these are surreal times –the most abnormal in over a century for sure.
The epic COVID-19 calamity during Ramadan this year serendipitously may be an exercise of not only enhancing one’s faith, but also the grace that this holy month facilitates to bring out the best in humanity.
Spiritually, in our tradition, we believe that Ramadan is a very miraculous month when thousands of angels descend upon earth to shower their blessings on humankind. Prayers are answered. Charitable works are multiplied. The best of humanity is uplifted. In fact, our scholars deem that many of the following Abrahamic scriptures were revealed during Ramadan: The Scrolls of Abraham, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel of Jesus, and the Holy Koran. I founded Saffron Road 10 years ago as a socially responsible venture with pluralistic values, on a mission to celebrate the beautiful vibrancy of all faiths and champion ethnic diversity and compassion through world cuisines as an ecumenical feast on a Journey to Better.
Fasting is a timeless tradition – embraced by Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and of course Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon all of them). The physical regimen of Ramadan is simple enough: a hard-daily fast for 30 days from 90 minutes before sunrise to sunset (about 15 hours this year), without anything -not even water and no smoking, nor any type of eating or pleasures during the day. The accompanying hunger pains, fatigue, weariness, impatience are “little mercies” to cleanse our physical being and elevate our mindfulness. The meal at sunset to break the fast is called the “iftar”, when in normal times, huge daily social gatherings and feasts for the whole month occur, with lots of physical embracing of friends and family, as well as communal prayers & meditation. None of that will be possible this year – for the first time ever. Many of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide will be doing Zoomtars or Video Skype iftars. Indeed, sharing meal preps for iftars with friends and relatives on FaceTime, WhatsApp, Instagram, or TikTok are already in full swing.
But the real deal in Ramadan is the inward fast—as the famous 11th century scholar Al-Ghazali would call, the “fasting of the heart”.
The emphasis here is on abstaining from feasting on doubt, despair, anxiety, and fear of losing what we have. And to practice patience, restraint of the pen & tongue in all affairs. Ghazali called it, “a time to disinfect the heart”. Wow—how true those timeless words spoken 1,000 years ago apply to today’s crises. This is a time for us to relieve suffering and practice mercy – compassion, forgiveness, empathy for the disenfranchised, who have been disproportionality excoriated during this COVID-19 crisis. By fasting inwardly and outwardly, our mind, body, and souls are brought into alignment by graceful redemption-versus the weight of our worldly privileges. Ramadan inspires Muslims to be their very best, and this is part of the miracle of the month. So cosmically enough, as we observe the world going through this terrible global pandemic and the brutal suffering it has exacted on so many, Ramadan couldn’t come at a better time — providing a divine providence, an opening, to enable Muslims, and anyone who cares to join them, to practice prayer, mediation, and human connectivity as a shields against fear, panic, or despair and as a call to action to do charitable works to lift up our struggling communities as well as those most in need during this calamity. Moreover, this Ramadan, the silver lining is that the mandated Stay Home regimen results in our spending more intimate moments with family –in prayer, reflection, mediation, and charity.
The timing of Ramadan is illuminating a path of light for us to come out better from this crisis than we came into it—a blessing otherwise in disguise.
Now you know I couldn’t be true to myself without making a shameless plug for Saffron Road… So here it comes.
Iftar Meal Prep–and Keep it Simple
When fasting, why put so much pressure on yourself for a perfect meal prep for every iftar. Now that you can’t go to communal iftars, better to cook at home, but give yourself a break and without having to spend hours preparing for an iftar. Saffron Road offers healthy, halal, and delicious pre-made traditional Ramadan cuisine options. The gourmet chefs in your family will love Saffron Road’s simmer sauces which allow you to create culinary masterpieces with their Coconut Curry, Pad Thai, Tikka Masala and Korean stir-fry sauces, choices to satiate every diverse craving at your dining room table. Or enjoy our frozen entrees that just need to be microwaved for a few minutes. The quality and authentic taste of Saffron Road’s brand-new shelf stable meals, like Chickpea Masala and Delhi Potatoes (Aloo Matar), are incredible. Everyone at iftar loves a comfort food like Chickpea Masala or Aloo Matar! They are currently only available in certain Costco stores – so do a socially distant stock up trip to Costco and fill your Ramadan pantry before it runs out. When it comes to snacks, consider protein-filled, plant based options like Saffron Road’s roasted chickpeas. Getting a protein fix will help curb your hunger until you can sit down for a proper meal. And of course– don’t forget a huge bottle of water! Make sure to plan ahead of time so that you can gather the specific ingredients or specialty items you need. Given COVID-19, you can order Saffron Road’s products for home delivery by ordering items ahead of time online on Amazon, Whole Foods Market, Instacart, Shipt, Thrive, Walmart, Peapod, Fresh Direct and many others.
Ramadan’s Primary Purpose: Charitable Works and Alms for the Neediest
In the face of unprecedented tribulations this year, I am heartened by the grace, resolve, and selfless good works so many Muslims worldwide have already been doing this Ramadan. One of those avatars of goodness is LaunchGood. We have proudly partnered with them for 3rd year in a row on our mutual journey during Ramadan for charitable works locally and globally. I am so proud of their whole team. I recall first meeting the socially responsible entrepreneurs of LaunchGood 6 years ago –Chris and Amany, when their venture was just a passionate dream. Now that dream is a resounding reality: their faith-based crowd funding platform has since raised over $100,000,000, all for the most desperately needy causes globally and in USA—with an impact that cannot even be measured it’s so magnanimous. LaunchGood and Saffron Road further collaborated with Penny Appeal USA, CELEBRATEMERCY for the COVID-19 Emergency Response Financial Hardship Grants which support the elderly & enable families to pay their rent, utilities and medications. Through the financial relief that LaunchGood’s team facilitates and then amplifies through its platform of charitable alms for the poor, Launchgood is actually the living example of Ghazali’s fasting of the heart, via their passionately delivering aid to the most needful and strengthening communities during these challenging times. Please donate, as we have, generously to any of their Ramadan campaigns –I stand by them and you can be assured your funds will be leveraged optimally through Launch Goods’ efforts.
Saffron Road also partnered with the following additional organizations by donating funds, meals, or healthy snacks: Citymeals on Wheels to support the elderly community in NYC; first responders, doctors, nurses and all of those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 1,000 care packages via our Facebook post; with my good friend Daniel Lubetzky with the KIND Foundation & Project N95, where Saffron Road committed up to 5,000 frozen meals to the #FrontlineImpactProject; delivered snacks to #FoundersGive, & #OlmstedxLeeInitiative to support healthcare and (unemployed) hospitality workers; and finally we sponsored halal meals for healthcare workers through #OnCallHalal, and sent them healthy snacks.
From our socially distant family tables to yours during this epic time, we wish all who are celebrating a most beneficial and rewarding Ramadan. During this month of miracles and compassion, we wish blessings of peace, good health, and protection over all of humanity during this epic. May Ramadan’s illuminating light of goodness drown out the dark path of this calamity.