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Fatiha Azzarhouni: ‘Even during Covid, Ramadan is about fasting'

Mosques with limited opening hours, fewer family visits and fewer events: for the second time, Ramadan was different due to Covid. Islamologist and deputy director of the Leiden Islam Academie Fatiha Azzarhouni looks back on a special month.

‘During the last ten, fifteen years there was this trend to organise big iftar events', she says. ‘After sunset, everyone gets together to eat. I have been to one organised by the Moroccan ambassador for the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, but for example the police in Amsterdam also organises a fairly large gathering every year to break the fast. These are not about eating a lot, you don't usually do that after a day of fasting. What matters most to those present is togetherness. All of that can’t take place now, just like gatherings with friends and family. I have also noticed that myself: for the first time, my schedule was not filled with appointments months in advance.’

Like Christmas and Easter

According to Azzarhouni, these changes lead to a different feeling about Ramadan. ‘The collective experience changes, but the religious experience is also different than usual. Usually, the evening prayer is an important part of the day. This year, mosques are hardly open. My husband and I have decided not to go at all. This makes the month lonelier than usual.'

At the same time she emphasises that the position of Muslims is no different to that of many other Dutch people. ‘Ramadan is mainly a period of reflection, not a celebration, but in terms of changes this period, and certainly Eid, can be compared to, for example, Christmas and Easter. Compared to last year, we have all become more accustomed to Rutte’s "new normal", but it remains a pity that a cherished tradition is changed.'  

Working from home as a plus

Yet, when asked, Azzarhouni sees a few silver linings in the changes. While people who celebrate Christmas and Easter sometimes didn’t really mind skipping family gatherings for a change, she particularly appreciates working from home. ‘It makes it easier to fast because you can schedule your own time. You can work in the evening or at night if that is more convenient, for example. And we shouldn't make the differences bigger than they are. In the end, this month is all about fasting.’

Leiden Islam Academie

The Leiden Islam Academie is an initiative of Leiden University to give a new shape and direction to Islam education. The Academy offers existing academic knowledge and expertise in the field of Islam studies in the Netherlands outside the university.

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