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Celebration Among Crisis: How Muslim Communities Observe Ramadan during COVID-19


Ramadan: the Islamic month of fasting, prayer, and reflection, which ends with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, the utmost important holiday in the Islamic faith.

Every year, Muslims observe this holy month with their friends and families, praying side by side and breaking their fast over community dinners, known as iftars. Yet, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world, and half of the population on lockdown, Ramadan 2020 will be immensely different from that of years past.

Mosques around the world have temporarily closed as a precaution to limit the spread of the virus. The Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization in the United States, released a statement about COVID-19 stated that they "strongly recommend the Muslim community to take precautions, including, but not limited to, suspending daily congregational prayers, Sunday school, Friday prayers, and other gatherings in your communities and mosques temporarily."

Even Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is under the possibility of cancellation. Every year, 2 million Muslims head to Saudi Arabia to complete their pilgrimage, and it is one of the largest gatherings in the world. However, this year, for the first time in almost a century, the city of Mecca may be nearly empty during Hajj. The Minister of Hajj, Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Baten, urged Muslims around the world to "be patient" while making their plans for Hajj "until the view of the pandemic and its current and future effects become clear."

Islam isn't the only religion that has to pause its practices. Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism all have been working around the COVID-19 pandemic in order to continue religious services. Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, occurred at the beginning of March, when the spread of the virus began speeding up and closures were being put into place. While there was no official ban on the festival in India, The Diplomat, and other news sources, reported that the turnout was smaller than previous years. Vendors selling colored powder and water guns said that their sales plunged this Holi, and that people were reluctant to celebrate the holiday because of the virus.

Holidays such as Passover and Easter, which took place in the middle of April, were spent in homes due to the pandemic. Jewish families took to online video calling services, such as Zoom, in order to have virtual Seders, which is a ritual feast at the beginning of Passover. On Easter, Christians attended online services, and some communities even hosted "socially-distanced" easter egg hunts.

As Ramadan is set to start at the end of April, one might wonder how the Muslim community will commemorate their month-long holiday, which is both spiritually and physically challenging, as Muslims must go the entire day, from sunrise to sundown, without eating or drinking.

During Ramadan, Warda Butt, a sophomore at American University, and her family attend a community iftar dinner every weekend, where they break their fast with their friends and family. She said, "that won't be happening this year. Mosques are closed right now so nobody can go read prayers or visit."

Butt recognizes that aspects of Ramadan won't change, "Nonetheless, you can still fast, so that doesn't stop me from doing it. A lot will be different socially, but spiritually it should be relatively the same," she said. 


Photo by @hydngallery

Another AU student, Fahim Ali, said, "it [COVID-19] will affect having iftar dinners, having people come over, and making sure you have food to break your fast with. It will mentally, physically, and spiritually affect how we practice Ramadan."

Both students have been able to spend time with their family during the pandemic and will continue to do so during Ramadan. Butt and her family of five are planning to go on a picnic in a remote location for Eid-ul-Fitr, and Ali reflected on the increased time he has been able to spend with his parents. He said, "last night, we sat down together. My parents were sharing stories, which honestly, I haven't had that moment with them in a long time."

However, not all Muslims are able to commemorate the religious holiday with their families this year. Yasmin Hersi, a sophomore currently living on campus and working as a resident assistant, said, "I just like to go to the mosque and be there with other Muslims and feel like I am part of a community. I'm unable to do that when I'm alone on campus. I don't think there's a single Muslim I know of here."

While Muslims find ways to continue their Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr commemorations without their communities, leaders of mosques around the country have work to do. While self-quarantining in their homes, they must also continue to provide services to their members, especially during Ramadan. Ali Naqvi, a board member of the Shahe Najaf Islamic Center of Virginia & Washington D.C., said, "this year things will be quite different. We've traditionally had daily prayers, dinners, lecture programs, and food drives for the needy. This will all be adjusted."

The Shahe Najaf Islamic Center has already started conducting online religious programs, which they plan to continue into Ramadan. Along with this, their weekend school for children is being held over Zoom.

Another service that the mosque plans to provide to its community is a door-to-door delivery service. This will help community members who are elderly, immunocompromised, immobile or quarantined obtain their groceries, medicine, and other emergency supplies.

Along with planning for the Muslim community, mosque leaders such as Naqvi have had to deal with other things: tragedy in the community. "We have lost several members from the community to the coronavirus," Naqvi said. In order to support the families who are dealing with death, the mosque has set up a burial program where the funeral costs are covered for the family.

As the spread of COVID-19 shows no clear end, life has been put on hold. Many people have not left their homes in weeks, and communities have been plagued with sickness and death. Yet, Muslims have not let this stop their commemoration of the holiest month of their calendar. While COVID-19 can prevent community events and celebrations, it is unable to stop a force as strong as the spirituality of Muslims.

"Events like this teach us things like having patience, and understanding that you're not in control of what happens to you, but how you deal with what happens. That's an important thing that Islam teaches us," Hersi said.

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