"Not even water?" The good news about Ramadan in lockdown is not having to hear such questions, young Muslims in Germany say. But that gain doesn't come without a new set of challenges.
Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims, who abstain from food, drink, sexual activity, and other temptations from sunrise to sunset. It is a period that tests one's willpower and dedication, that strengthens their connection to Allah — or God.
Muslims make up around 6% of Germany's total population, according to 2016 estimates by the Pew Research Center. Germany's Muslim community is also notably younger. With a median age of 31, Muslims in Germany are on average 13 years younger than their non-Muslim counterparts.
But now, for a second year under coronavirus restrictions,the experience of young Muslims observing the fasting month in Germany has changed.
Fasting can be easier in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by family members — especially in a country like Germany where Muslims are a religious minority and Ramadan practices are not common knowledge, Huma Ullah explained to DW.
The 19-year-old student is majoring in English and philosophy in the western city of Wiesbaden. During the month of Ramadan, she often got tired of facing the same questions about her religious practices from peers. Sometimes, the questions were even confrontational or judgmental, she said.
"At university, a lot of people don't know about fasting and Ramadan. You always get annoying questions like 'not even water?', 'Isn't that unhealthy?' or 'Do your parents force you to do this?'" she says.
But now that her classes have moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, she no longer has to explain herself, she said with relief. "That is uplifting. Being home with your family — who are also fasting — is comforting. We're all in the same boat."
For students who are still in school who have to attend in-person classes, the experience is not as pleasant, Emin, a 16-year-old student in Munich, said.
Mandatory mask rules mean students have to wear masks for prolonged periods of time, which adds to the dryness of the mouth one experiences when abstaining from water. "It's not so pleasant because masks trap unpleasant breath that comes with fasting."
Working or studying from home has eliminated the need for those who are fasting to commute on an empty stomach.
On the other hand, employees and students around the world have reported increased workloads as they spend hours in front of a computer screen. When you're fasting, it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate on a screen as the day progresses, they say.
"When you're staring at a screen for Zoom conferences and reading and doing assignments for three, four hours on end, It's really tiring. You really feel the need to drink water or eat something just to have more energy to concentrate more," Ullah said.
Coronavirus restrictions have left many Muslims in Germany feeling isolated. Restrictions differ from region to region, but in many places, people from one household can only meet with one other household in private — with a maximum of five people in total.
"I think lockdown made it worse for families that usually gather with their extended families. Particularly grandparents, aunts and maybe neighbors," Yousur Al Mudaffar, a 25-year-old confectioner in Bonn told DW.
"It kind of shrunk your Ramadan circle," she said, adding that it took away from one of the special components of the months' celebrations such as "futur" (also known as "iftar"), the meal with which Muslims end their fasting. "The best part of this month is having a huge gathering for futur [iftar]."
Because of this, many families experienced smaller, closed-group iftars for the first time. This also granted family members the opportunity to grow closer and overcome difficulties together.
"I have more time with my direct family and we have a lot more talks. We got a chance to open up more to each other," Ullah said. "It's just the four of us at home. It forces us to be together. The connection grows stronger, I think."
Observant Muslims perform five prayers a day. In the month of Ramadan, Sunni Muslims attend an additional night prayer known as Taraweeh, which takes place every evening for the duration of Ramadan.
"It's no longer easy to access a mosque for prayers, and that is a shame this Ramadan. Being present in a mosque is one of the best things about Ramadan," 19-year-old Sheraz said.
In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, worshippers are allowed to pray at the mosque, if they register first. Prayer times have been capped, while worshippers use barcodes to enter, have to bring their own prayer mats, wear FFP2 masks and keep a distance of 2 meters when praying.
The German federal government is attempting to fast-track a law allowing it to impose nationwide emergency coronavirus measures. If approved by parliament, the new regulations would include an overnight curfew to be enforced between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in cities and districts if the infection numbers rise dramatically. Yet most federal states have said they would like to grant exemptions for those wishing to practice their religion.
For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month of gratitude, reflection, and perseverance. A global pandemic — while challenging — does not change that.
In the end, whether lockdowns make it easier to observe Ramadan or not depends on individual circumstances, as evident by the consensus among everyone interviewed for this article.
"I am convinced that Muslims around the world will make the most of Ramadan. May Allah grant everyone strength and perseverance," Sheraz said.