This was initially written for a documentary airing on Channel 4 on Ramadan in Lockdown. It doesn’t appear in the final cut but I would like to share it. I have tried to encapsulate, for Muslims and non-Muslims, some of the feeling of experiencing Ramadan in these conditions, as well as the spiritual blessings that are descending. There is a lot of variation in the metre and rhyme scheme; it’s a more fluid style than my previous pieces. I’ve put it into this video so it can be heard rather than read. It’s called ‘Be not Afeard’, meaning ‘don’t be afraid’, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Be not afeard the isle is full of silence:
That all the doors along the terraced roads
Have, all across the city, thresholds barred;
Have, all across the country, windows closed.
It is not fear that keeps us in our houses.
This isolation that we must endure
Is noble: the protecting of our neighbours.
Our chains are wrought of kindness, courage sure.
But now the moon is new in Heaven
And the gates are open flung.
The hosts in phantom grace descending,
Bearing gifts of peace extending,
Come at night to hearth and home
Where ‘welcome Ramadan’ is sung.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of splendour.
Angelic light effuses underneath the domes;
Diffusing all-embracing to surround our homes.
Beneath the heavy cloak of night,
With gifted starlit gleams alight,
Our Scriptures open to recite.
To every subtle inspiration, minds awake, aware.
And all the land becomes a place of prayer.
Both human and celestial voice in chorus –
Seldom does there come a sound more fair.
At eventide, the bite of hunger pierces,
But round the laden table, empty chairs.
When breaking fast, the hungry and the lonely we remember;
That they be given patience and provision to forebear.
And, heavy-hearted, those departed
Mentioned are in whispered prayer.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of courage:
Community has shown a living heart.
For here, in strength, we hold ourselves together
By bravely keeping ourselves apart.
No hand may touch another – still we beckon;
Though masks obscure our faces – still we smile.
The spirit of this month is not diminished,
Though kith and kin be held away awhile.
Already we are in seclusion – days for which we year-long yearn,
For their stillness and their silence, secrets of ourselves to learn.
We remain in our retreats, not in gloom or pensive mood,
But reflecting and rememb’ring, in the peace of solitude.
All the good we have collected
In this month so great respected,
Through the corridors is strewn,
Cheering every living room.
Bowers, on the Night of Power, filled with dreams by crescent moon.
O Seraphim who find our nation emptied of its people –
Attend ye here! Across the shuttered doors, link hand and wing;
Across the long-forsaken streets
Our waiting hearts connected keep
Renewing strength, an anthem of togetherness to sing.
So true the words of blest Muhammad, soul of mercy, ring:
Fear not, for God is with you in your hunger.
Weep not, for God is with you when you ail.
Grieve not, for God is with the broken-hearted.
With care and mercy, easing each travail.
Good friends afar who even from your kin abstain,
Relieve your loneliness and look outside your home,
For you shall see the Heaven’s solace on the earth.
This Ramadan and Eid you are not left alone.
Though all the world’s traverse is plagued by death and strife,
Be not afeard. The world will soon return to life.