Sydney’s Muslims are urging one another to keep up the spirit of Ramadan as they pass the halfway mark of the Holy Month, in lockdown. As Fatimah Ayoubi explains, the coronavirus has forced families to rethink tradition.

Muslims around the world observe the month of Ramadan by abstaining from food and water between sunrise and sunset to focus on spiritual practices. At night, they traditionally congregate in mosques or invite extended family and Muslim and non-Muslim friends to their homes for iftar, the fast-breaking meal.

In Sydney, as many as 10,000 people of all cultures and religions usually flock to Lakemba – where food vendors and colourful decorations line the footpaths of Haldon Street.

But not this year.

Lockdown restrictions mean Muslim families have had to alter traditional celebrations between April 23 and May 23, while Canterbury-Bankstown Council has had to cancel Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights.

The usually bustling Haldon Street Lakemba (Photo: Fatimah Ayoubi)

Lakemba MP and Shadow Minister Assisting on Multiculturalism Jihad Dib, is heavily involved in the Ramadan festivals. In responding to community disappointment he said: “Ramadan is more than just the Haldon Street Festival because, ultimately, we can’t forget that Ramadan is a spiritual time.

“You fast all day but then you’re also practicing Ibadah, so you’re practicing different elements of faith… it’s still a faith-based month.”

Mr Dib said Ramadan in lockdown has allowed him, like many busy Australian Muslims, to “do things within my own household”.

He emphasised that it is “your responsibility to do the right thing” by engaging in alternative Ramadan activities such as turning “your house” into “a masjid ”(mosque); exchanging and sharing meals by dropping them off for families; and setting up a rotation between family visits.

“I’d love to go to the masjid either for Tarawih prayer (nightly congregational prayer in Ramadan) or for the Eid prayer (the congregational prayer at the end of Ramadan) because that’s the really special thing – that’s part of what Ramadan is… Ramadan is about praying together.”

(Photo: Fatimah Ayoubi)

With the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a three-step plan for the easing of restrictions, and promising signs from the NSW Government, Mr Dib believes “there is a good argument” that the lockdown could be over before the end of Ramadan. But he remains cautious.

“I’d love to see things lifted but I don’t want to see things being lifted just for the sake of them being lifted, I want to see them lifted because it’s safe to lift them.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I just can’t see by the time it’s Eid, that we’ll have completely no restrictions, I just can’t see it in that time”.

— Fatimah Ayoubi @Hamitaf18