Photo of Quran by Photo by Ali Burhan on Unsplash

Another Ramadan for Muslims in America amid COVID-19 pandemic

Another Ramadan for Muslims in America amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Maimoona Harrington

Starting April 12, Muslims in America, like myself will observe Ramadan. Ramadan is the holy month of fasting for 29-30 days. The start date and the length of Ramadan is calculated as per the sighting of moon as Muslims follow the lunar calendar. Ramadan is followed by the month of Shawwal. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations on the first day of Shawwal marks the end of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a time where we cleanse our bodies and purify our souls. For fasting its simple, we do not consume food or drink or any other form of nourishment from sunrise to sunset and abstain from certain actions prohibited only while fasting. For purification of our souls, we remember our almighty Creator through our daily prayers and our scripture, The Quran. We ensure to pay the obligatory yearly charity called, Zakat before the start of the month. We increase the amount of charity more than normal to share our gratitude. Social and religious gatherings are held at home and in Islamic centers.

But it does not end here. Muslim communities living abroad congregate in their local Islamic centers for social and religious gatherings and community Iftars.The special event begins with the breaking of the fast by sharing meal together and ends with praying in unity behind the Imam. This is one of the things that makes Ramadan so special.

Being a first generation immigrant I do not have an extended family in America. The local Islamic centers bridge that gap for many like me during these religious holidays. This is where I can join my local community and am able to feel the essence of Ramadan.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic stole the essence of Ramadan 2020 for many like me. Ramadan’s many rituals and traditions were curtailed. Ramadan became challenging for many of us to practice at home. We could fast and pray at home but were not able to pray in congregation with fellow worshippers and share community meals together in the Islamic centers. Social and religious gatherings during this holy month became intimate, restricted to our homes with our families only.

The pandemic challenged us to look into different ways to practice and participate in Ramadan from home. We created new traditions and some of these traditions are there to stay. Islamic centers held virtual recitations of the Quran and sermons using online platforms. While I could not attend community meals at Islamic center or with my friends, I did receive beautiful baskets of traditional treats. Hanging on to our faith made us more innovative, creative in sharing, celebrating and enjoying the holy month.

These new traditions are nice, I must admit, I still miss the old traditions. All this left a big void for me. Perhaps I had more time to pray at home, yet I missed the rush of getting to my Islamic center for the congregational prayers at night. I missed sitting next to my fellow worshippers, listening to the Imam’s beautiful recitation and sermon. I missed praying behind the Imam standing, bowing, sitting, prostrating in unity and perfection. This is something that cannot be achieved at home or in virtual events. For me the essence of Ramadan can only be felt in doing all this with my community at my Islamic center.

Most Islamic centers across America are open for services and are operating with state set safety procedures. The number of worshippers is still low due to COVID-19. I wonder if this year again I would not be able to join the Islamic center during Ramadan for the safety of myself and others. I wish, if only all of us are vaccinated before Ramadan begins or COVID-19 just ends so we are once again able to participate in Ramadan’s rituals without any fear of catching or spreading the virus. I know even if we are all vaccinated, it would be years before things will ever be normal, but I am hopeful it will happen! On this note, I will share one of my many favorite verses from the Quran:

So truly where there is hardship there is also ease; truly where there is hardship there is also ease. Chapter 94 – Verse 5/6

Those of us who feel the void like me during their faith based holidays due COVID-19 and miss their rituals and traditions, have faith. Our faith is stronger than any pandemic. Indeed there is ease with every hardship. We will once again celebrate and congregate in our gurdwaras, masjids, synagogues, temples, churches, mandirs and more.

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