CHENNAI: A year since the start of the pandemic, a second Ramzan comes amid fear and uncertainty, disease and disturbance. Even as festivity takes a reasonable dip in the face of the need to stay safe, people still find ways to keep the spirit of the festival alive breaking fast over video call, sending each other iftar boxes and remembering the sick in prayers. Bringing his share of goodness to the mix, Kombai S Anwar, director of QIAMS, hosted his annual Ramzan walk virtually on Wednesday.
As much as he would have liked to host a "real walk", Anwar is glad to have moved to the virtual space amid such a devastating second wave. "I was hesitant because the pandemic is raging, much more than last year. A few friends suggested that I do it virtually; after all Ramzan is about sacrifice, caring and sharing. And the event is meant to bring out the best in people. And so I waited till the last minute to announce the virtual walk," he recounts.
While last year’s edition had centred around Madras and its diverse Muslim community, this time around, the focus was on a larger level of representation - of sects, faiths, age and gender. And so we had Abdul Rahman, head of JBAS Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Madras, talking about the wisdom behind the ritual of fasting through Ramadan, and Father Joseph Victor Edwin SJ, professor of Theology and Christian-Muslim Relations, sharing insights on how Islam makes him a better Christian.
While journalist Tasneem Akbari Kurubuddin walked us through the ways of the Bohra Muslim community, writer Shazia Andaleeb shared the experience of being an Urdu Muslim in Chennai. Kumar, representing the Sufidar Trust the Sindhi Hindu establishment that has been serving iftar at the historic Wallajah mosque for well over a decade, brought up the Hindu-Muslim connect.
Huda Ahsan, researcher in Gender, Sexuality and Inclusivity in Islam, along with Shazia and Tasneem, discussed the treatment of women in Islam and how the lines between religion and culture tend to blur in these pitfalls.
"The idea was to sensitise people to other cultures. I used this opportunity to talk about the diversity in Islam. So we went back to the days of the Madras Presidency, discussed the life of the people of Malapuram (Kerala) and brought in the interfaith perspective," shares Anwar.
This was all the more welcome, given that over 2,000 people from across the world had tuned in through the event’s course.
Such heavyweight discussions were interpreted with comments on the universally loved element of Ramzan - food. While every participant shared their associations with iftar and what comes after, Anwar and Huda treated the viewers to pictures of fan favourites nombu kanji, semiya rolls, vadai, unnakaya and more.
Entertainment also came in the form of delightful music, performed by Afnan Ali Sebai and Izza Ahsan. Even this was a way for Anwar to push boundaries. "Even today, in Tamil Nadu, there is a section of Muslims who consider music to be haraam. It’s also seen among puritan Muslims in other regions. But, which way you choose to reach god doesn’t matter; so, I consciously made the decision to include music," he details.
While the virtual walk served its purpose and found its way to many across the world, it’s not without some pining for times that were. If there's one thing he misses about the real walks, it’s the response he got from the people of Madras, says Anwar.
"Last time we did it (in 2091), I just gave four days' notice and 70 people turned up. I had to cut it at that. So, I did another walk for people who missed it. That’s the level of affection. They (particularly non-Muslims) are very curious, they want to be involved. Even from the first year, I suggested that the nombu kanji would taste better if you go easy on the lunch; then, you would understand. So, some of them skipped lunch and the kanji really made a difference," he recounts.
At the end of yet another Ramzan Heritage Walk, the hope is that next year’s festivities would fare better and bring more respite. Until then, Ramadan Mubarak.