It's that time of the year again when Muslims all over the world practice fasting for an entire month, ending it with a three day celebration called Eid. For those of you that may not be familiar, Ramadan makes up one of the five pillars of Islam, and is an obligatory task upon all Muslims. It is when Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset, not being able to eat or drink anything...and to answer a common FAQ right off the bat, nope, not even water! However, it's more than just keeping away from food (especially your stash of chocolate you've hidden from the kids for times of need). Ramadan means to fast or abstain from as many bad habits as possible, and instead taking the time to reflect, to be grateful, to give charity and become closer to your God.

Although growing up in a muslim household means that I have been fasting during Ramadan for as long as I can remember, fasting as a mother is a whole different ball game! This year my boys are aged 5 years and 2 years old and I feel it has eased just a little compared to the past years when I was breastfeeding or cradling a crying baby in my arms during what seemed like all hours of the day. I am thankful that the older one is now mature enough to understand the concept of Ramadan and be excited about it whilst also being able to entertain the little one, especially during the prayers.

This year, with the arrival of Covid-19 and lock down measures taken by the UAE government for our safety, the fundamental essence of Ramadan has not changed. However, it is still a very different kind of Ramadan that I am spending at home with my family of four and not only are we learning to adapt but also see that some lockdown measures as a blessing in disguise during this month.

Although Zeyna misses the usual Ramadan celebrations, some lockdown measures are a blessing in disguise

I do miss participating in the Ramadan Fridge initiatives and seeing Ramadan tents cater food to those not as fortunate as the rest of us that have food readily available on the tables every day. I miss the Ramadan ambience light up the streets of Dubai, and catching up with friends over Iftar. I miss Ramadan the way it was before Covid-19.

But there is good to come out of this Ramadan too. For one, distance learning is surely taxing on a parent's mental state, but I am so glad that I am no longer having to set my alarm to wake up early every morning for school, only two hours after having woken up for Suhoor and Fajr prayers. Similarly, no longer having to do the school picks ups and drop offs, especially with the rising temperatures, is such a relief! I remember that I was pretty much a walking zombie because of this last year during Ramadan. So this year we have traded in the Zombie-mum for a much more relaxed one that gets to have a little bit of a lie-in, even on weekdays. Bliss!

Another source of happiness this Ramadan is trying out all the recipes that my husband and I have been meaning to try out for the longest time. We are recreating many dishes that we normally love to enjoy during the handful of Iftar parties and restaurant offerings we attend during weekends that are always so lavish, because let's face it, if it is a Ramadan Iftar in Dubai, you go big or you go home! So we may be amateurs out in the real world, but in our own little humble abode, we have become maestros in the kitchen. And of course there's always a food delivery service in hand when things don't go quite to plan.

One of my favourite things this Ramadan though is praying in "Jamat" (congregation) as a family due to the closures of mosques during this month. Well when I say family, what I really mean is my husband and I doing the praying, whilst my older son tries his best to follow along with the steps, only to have the little one annoy him, run around, climb our backs, empty the toys all over the floor and try his best to tackle his older brother to the ground in a fit of giggles. A little Expectation versus Reality for you there! All the same, it's a lovely feeling to have my husband lead the prayers, especially the late night prayers called Taraweeh that go on for quite a while. We exchange looks of glee or roll our eyes in between, depending on how our children are behaving, but I have no doubt that we will look back on these times with glee in the future. #MemoriesMade, albeit painful at the time!

“My son watches the sandstorm behind closed windows and prays that God blows away the virus with it”

My five-year-old, who is of course a lot more aware of the current global situation than my two year old, who is oblivious to it all, often asks "Will Coronavirus be over when Ramadan ends?" To this I can only reply that he pray that it does, and I am sure God will listen to him. And that's exactly what he does. He watches the sandstorm behind closed windows and prays that God blows away the virus with it. On the other hand, he is enjoying the Ramadan crafts that we are doing together, making banners, painting lanterns, reading stories of the miracles that the Prophets performed, picking out a good deed of the day from our Ramadan Calendar, which has become a yearly Ramadan tradition, and more.

Zeyna is also a talented illustrator

My five-year-old will also be celebrating his sixth birthday in quarantine during the month of Ramadan in a couple of days, and it will be a different affair compared to previous years when we celebrated with his school friends and birthday dinner out with the family. The mum guilt in me has of course forced me to scour the entire internet for Quarantine Birthday ideas and ways in which we can still make this as memorable and special for him as a homemade birthday cake it is (seeing as I am no less than a Master Chef now anyway!) along with activities, family games for his gifts and his favourite take out meal for the Birthday Iftar (Hey, there's only so much cooking this Master Chef can do on one given occasion!).

“Ramadan in quarantine means I have almost no time left for me during the waking hours”

This year though, as relaxing and peaceful weekday lie-ins and cooking new recipes may sound, Ramadan in quarantine also means that I have almost no time left for me during the waking hours. My entire day is taken up wearing all the different hats that my children need me to wear: Mum, Teacher, Cook, Entertainer, Activity Organiser, Negotiator, Cleaner, Bum Wiper and much more, and when you add to that fasting, I often find myself frustrated for not having had more time or energy to pray. That's when I remind myself that God also considers all these hats that I wear as acts of worship and not to be so hard on myself.

But for now, I will take all these challenges in my stride, seeing them as blessings in disguise and instead make memories with my family amidst all the chaos, tantrums, mum guilt and pining for Iftar gatherings.
The Quarantine Ramadan of 2020 will surely be one to remember, and though it's a different one than we are used to (seeing so much of my husband for one!), the essence of it remains the same. The feeling of peace remains the same. Knowing that God is listening to our prayers remains the same. Ramadan Mubarak.

British Indian expat Zeyna is a family and lifestyle blogger based in the UAE. Find her on Instagram or check out her personalised family illustrations for sale on Saffron Souk.