UNLIKE many other countries, Malaysians have been witnessing a slowdown in the spread of the deadly pandemic of COVID-19. By this time, many lost their beloved ones – although not as many as few other countries have painfully embraced the fatalities.

However, the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia will not be lifted completely.

Amidst this lockdown, we have just entered the holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, the decision has been made to cancel the usual Bazar Ramadan for this year.

Buka puasa (break of fast) with our families, friends and neighbours at the masjid compound will not be permitted.

No Bazar Ramadan might mean no or less Ramadan-favourite foods like martabak, roti John, satay, or ayam percik and kuih-kuih. There might not be any jus tebu! I shall definitely miss my favourite tepung pelita.

In a regular instance, we wouldn’t mind buying our favourite items even after queuing for half an hour from our favourite Bazar Ramadan. Without the favourite items, the buka puasa might be felt incomplete for many of us.

There are others who will painfully and dearly miss Bazar Ramadan too. Many we know who wait for this month to sell their expert-items and earn His blessings and livelihood.

And there will be no congregation for tarawih. Those who have never missed tarawih for the last 10, 20, or 30 years will painfully remember the recitation of their beloved imams. Some will painfully miss qiamul-lail (prayer at last quarter of the night) at the masjid, especially during the last 10 nights of the month.

Altogether, our experience to observe fasting this Ramadan will be very different.

Yet the obligation to fasting during this holy month will remain the same as it was before. This month will still bring the same unique fortuities for every ten nights from Allah the Almighty as before.

We shall still have the chance to have rahmah (mercy) during the first 10 nights, barakah (blessings) during the second 10 nights, and magfirah (forgiveness) during the last 10 nights from Allah the Almighty.

We shall still have equal opportunities to connect ourselves with Allah the Almighty and pray for His mercy, blessings, and forgiveness. It wouldn’t matter whether we shall have our favourite foods and drinks during the buka puasa.

What would matter is – our success to connect ourselves with Him. To achieve that, all we need to increase our taqwa (consciousness of Allah). The more we shall increase our taqwa – the more we shall be nearer to Him.

There are many ways to achieve that goal.

The time that we used to spend on the road can be used to recite the Quran and make dhikir (His remembrance). We can perform qiamul-lail at home to connect ourselves with Allah the Almighty. At the same time, the fulfilment of the obligatory abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations from dawn to dusk will also reflect our level of taqwa.

Essentially, this Ramadan brings us more opportunities than those rituals. This is the time when we can show our love and compassion for our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, and the rest in our surroundings. Many of them might not have enough foods and drinks in their home. Others might not have anything at all.

While we shall be in pain as we will dearly miss our Bazar Ramadan or favourite food, let us also feel the pain of hunger that many around the world are set to go through.

In fact, the pain of hunger knows no difference in race, nations, and religions. Let us make every possible effort to share our rijik with those who are being tested for not having much to eat or having nothing at all.

Let us restrain our spending to indulge for favourite foods during buka puasa and share the balance with those who are in want of that. And let us stop eating while we are still hungry - that means keeping a part of our stomach empty.

In fact, that partial hunger will offer us some health benefits too. We can relate the health benefits of fasting (hunger) with the mechanisms of autophagy - the discovery of which brought a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi in 2016.

Fasting offers similar benefits of autophagy which is also known as consumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process in starvation. Indeed, this will empower our immunity to fight the deadly coronavirus causing COVID-19.

To add into this effort to empower our immunity, we may consider drinking jus lemon (replacing air tebu), albeit without ice. Anything cold should be avoided to help with the proper digestion.

I believe we are having a unique opportunity to observe a Ramadan that will make us restrain our indulgence for food.

We can also do our part of rituals through a recitation of the Quran, qiamul-lail and beg for His mercy, blessing, and forgiveness being at home with our family members.

I believe, our prayers at night and our compassion for our brothers and sisters will bring us nearer to Allah the Almighty.

Will He then not listen to our call for His mercy to lift the challenges that we are facing due to this pandemic of COVID-19?

Prof Dr Mohammad Tariqur Rahman is with the Faculty of Dentistry in University Malaya. He is also the Executive Editor for Annals of Dentistry University of Malaya and President of Malaysian Society of Oral Immunologist and Oral Microbiologist.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.