Ramadan this year will be different from all other years; there are no big Iftar dinners and other parties with business relatives, colleagues, diplomats, foreign and local friends and acquaintances, and others. Iftar dinners are small gatherings, mostly for family members and close friends. Ramadan can therefore become a quiet month for religious reflection, prayers, and fasting, the way it is meant to be. It is a month of sacrifice, but also of celebration and hope. That we certainly need in this time of the Corona pandemic.

A few weeks ago, Christians celebrated Easter, similar to Eid-ul-Fitr, at the end of Lent, the month of fasting in the Christian tradition, although only some Christians practice fasting literally, but the message of Lent and Ramadan are the same as in Islam. This year, the churches were closed all over the world; only the priests and assistants participated in services and prayers. But this year there were transmission of services on TV, radio and Internet, much more than earlier years. I had the opportunity to watch many of these events from Norway and Sweden, the first from my home country, and the second, my country of studies. It was indeed interesting to experience the great importance that the modern media gave to reach faithful and others who would otherwise not be regular church goers. I hope that we will experience similar events during Ramadan. It is not the same as actually being in the church or mosque. Yet, there are also positive aspects to attending the virtual events, sitting at home with family and close friends. Men and women, old and young, house workers and others attend together. The room can be decorated with flowers, candles and other relevant things to make it festive and suitable for the prayer event, and family members can read holy texts and own prayers.

I believe that this year we must take advantage of modern media. Thus, the corona pandemic can bring something new that can used after it is over, not to replace old ways of meeting, but to add to them. The same is also the case for distance education, especially at secondary and tertiary levels, and in adult education. This time, we learn to use the modern media in ways that we have only talked about before. Yet, it is important to realise that distance education, and distance services, cannot replace the traditional ways of meeting.

When crises strike and when we experience other problems, religion becomes more visible and important. That is both logical and natural. The opposite might also happen; that people could feel that God should have protected them from the difficulties. That seems not to be the case, though. In Norway, where some seventy percent of the people say they have a religious faith, the churches have few worshippers on ordinary Sundays, but they are full when a crisis has struck. On 22 July 2011, Norway’s worst terrorist attack took place when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people at a youth camp at Utøya island and the government headquarters in Oslo. There were countless religious services afterward. The impressive memorial service in the Oslo Cathedral gathered people from all walks of life and persuasions, led by bishop and king, making it a unique unifying and comforting event. Somehow, it is in difficulties and we bend our knees and pray, realising that human beings in the end are vulnerable and small. Religion gets a revival when a crisis strikes.

I have dealt with refugee and development issues during much of my career, seeing and meeting people who do not have the lives they should have had, or deserve, as we say. Often, they seem to have stronger faith than others, whether they are sick, traumatised, have experienced unspeakable suffering, are jobless and penniless, and can see little or no hope for a better life for themselves, their children and loved ones. They pray five times a day, praising their trust God Allah, in spite of continuing to live in misery, at least as seen from outside.

There is one thing I would warn strongly against, namely that we should suggest that God punishes his flock. That is never the case because God is love. When the HIV/AIDS disease began in the early 1980s, there were preachers and victims who believed that it was God’s punishment for people having lived lives in sin. But as we know, God doesn’t allow us to do that; we are not our brother’s keeper or judges.

Today, when the corona pandemic has struck all countries and continents, it may also be easy to come up with theories about punishment for things we human beings have not done right. We must not do that and we have no right to do that. At the same time, the current crisis may help us see that many things were wrong in the ways we organised things locally and internationally; they benefitted the rich and powerful, not the poor and downtrodden. Now, we can change that when we re-build after the corona pandemic. Then the current crisis can actually bring something good for all people in a more humane and kinder world where we share and help others. “It is in giving that we receive”, said Francis of Assisi some nine hundred years ago, and many have said it and lived it before and since. If the corona pandemic can help us realise this, something deeply good has come out of the crisis.

Dear reader, I wish you a continued blessed holy month of Ramadan.