Ramadan 1441 will be a month etched in the minds of the Muslim ummah across the globe, as Muslims navigated this strange time of fasting under lockdown. With the masjid as the hub of spiritual activity during Ramadan, Muslims had to adapt to fasting and praying while social distancing – as mosques closed their doors in South Africa and other places. At VOC, we find ourselves facing the unprecedented challenge of working with 50 percent less staff during the lock-down, but having to also reconfigure Ramadan programming, which would usually centre around the masjid.
As programme manager Rashieda Davids explains, Ramadan placed immense pressure on our programming team, who had to completely change their draft ideas when the lockdown came into effect.
“The pressure was on a month before Ramadan already when the lockdown was initially announced as we realised the plans we had in place for studio recordings and such would have to be revised. My producers were also placed on rotating shifts, yet still had to produce daily shows with less time at the office,” she said.
“Everything that we have associated with and come to expect of Ramadan all our lives were no longer possible, like broadcasting the live Taraweeh salah from a different masjid every night. With the company’s lockdown regulations our producers worked in shifts so there was never a full complement of producers on duty and this was extremely challenging at times, but we made the most of it Alhamdulilaah, and still managed to produce content that was widely appreciated. The emotional challenges that came along with being at work and interacting with people during a pandemic was something that many had to contend with to some extent.”
The big task for the programming team was to explore the lived reality of Ramadan and lockdown and the way content was sourced and aired in itself was an indication of that new reality.
“Alhamdulilah we were able to bring the live Taraweeh salaah to the homes of our listeners by setting up at the homes of various Shuyoogh and many content contributors resorted to presenting their topics online and sending us the audio remotely. Most of the naseegas presented was contextualised around the Covid-19 pandemic with some programs like that of Sheikh Riyadh Walls, ‘Understanding Covid-19 In Light of the Quran and Sunnah’ being especially created to give perspective.”
Ramadan saw the explosion of web-based content, which allowed scholars and religious leaders to engage and remain connected with their audience through online lectures, Quranic recitation and discussions. VOC, through its vast network, was able to tap into that.
“Modern technology enabled us to pull it off, Alhamdulilah with many speakers observing the social distancing regulations by recording their audio on their devices instead of coming into the studio. Regular news updates kept listeners informed and we made space for discussion programs around Covid-19 on Tuesday evenings.”
VOC News editor Tasneem Adams said the news team also shifted focus on their usual Ramadan ‘feel-good stories’ to look more at the social and economic impact of the lockdown on Muslim communities.
“It was an eye-opening month, as our journalists traversed many impoverished areas in Cape Town, which are forgotten communities. I think our stories brought a human face to this crisis. There were many times where some of the hardships the journalists saw, left us all in tears. The stories weighed heavy on them and they became emotionally invested at times. Alhamdullilah, so there was much compassion, kindness and empathy told through their story-telling,” said Adams.
As for the listener’s response, Davids said staff remain overwhelmed by the influx of positive messages received.
“We were quite pleasantly surprised that not only our listeners commended the station for our efforts but some of our presenters and contributors like Sheikh Isa Al Jazzary as well. Just yesterday I took a call from a 70-year-old lady who was in tears as she thanked us and made duah for us because she spent the entire month listening and found the programming to be very beneficial to her and her family, Alhamdullilah.”
This was evident as VOC closed off the month with an on-air pledge line to support the station’s operations and new studio, which raked in more than R200 000 in pledges (and counting). Listeners called in to share how the radio station had impacted on their lives since the start of the lockdown and the influential role it plays in providing spiritual upliftment, education and companionship during this bleak time.
Davids concludes: “The listeners are everything…we cannot do this without their support. We say shukran to our listeners for allowing us to be in their homes, for every call or message of kind encouragement, every bit of constructive criticism and most importantly, their duas. May Allah SWT accept our humble efforts, Ameen.”