For a time of year that normally brings the Muslim community together, social distancing measures bring new challenges.
Ramadan will run from Thursday until May 23 this year, but practices and celebrations will look different due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Though the communal aspect of Ramadan might be missing, Muslims observing the holiday will still carry on with the practices to the best of their abilities.
“It’s gonna make us practice Ramadan in ways we’re not really used to,” Omar Mahboob, a fourth-year in electrical engineering and male co-president of the Muslim Student Association, said.
During Ramadan, those who observe the holiday fast from dawn to dusk and focus on internal reflection and prayer.
“It’s a month of reflection on the many sort of favors that we experience, that we take for granted: the food security that’s available, the options of food that we have available, and also a month to hone in, and as Malcolm X said, ‘to sharpen your spiritual eye,’ which could become dull throughout the rest of the year,” Abdul Kaba, a fifth-year in biology and the male education chair of MSA, said.
In response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, mosques around the world have closed their doors for public worship. Nightly readings of the Quran in prayer called Taraweeh — typically held after the last evening prayer at mosques during Ramadan — will no longer occur at their normal locations, Fay Dahir, a third-year in public affairs and geography and the female outreach chair of MSA, said.
“Obviously, due to quarantine measures, we won’t be able to partake in that this year, at least not in the same way that we’re used to with everyone from the Muslim community going to a specific mosque and getting to see your childhood friends, extended relatives, but rather you’ll have to be at home,” Dahir said. “I think Ramadan this year will be less of a communitywide thing but more of a family or individual basis, which I’m pretty sad about.”
Mahboob can also attest to the struggle of adapting to different Ramadan practices this year.
“A lot of people are going to be missing the mosques because these are places where our communities get together, we break fast, we reflect, we pray and we gain spiritual-religious knowledge, and not having this sort of avenue this month is gonna kind of internally somewhat challenge us,” Mahboob said.
Though mosques are keeping their doors closed, they remain an active part of society. Mahboob said some prayer leaders, called imams, and scholars have livestreamed lectures through Facebook, YouTube and Zoom. Mosques in Columbus, Ohio, have also been providing relief efforts and delivery of food to those in need, Mahboob said.
Mosque closures are not the only obstacle faced, however. The older Muslim population and those with health issues might face a challenge in completing their Islamic duty of fasting, Dahir said.
“I’m really worried about how people are gonna juggle those two things: ‘How do I balance my Islamic duty while also balancing my health and safety?’ Which can be really difficult for some people because if you don’t already have the virus, you may think it’s not an issue,” Dahir said.
Dahir said she and her family will need to limit how frequently they see her grandmother.
Despite losing the chance to create larger community connections, there will still be an opportunity to forge stronger bonds this Ramadan.
“We’re gonna have to learn how to build this community with our families. We’re gonna pray together. While we won’t be building those bonds and those relationships outside, we will be building those familial relationships,” Mahboob said.
Kaba said Muslims can spend this time focusing on personal and spiritual reflection, as well.
“Everyone is going to be at home in isolation in a sense, and so this allows more time to reflect,” Kaba said. “Fasting and being out and about, your mind is occupied. Just being at home fasting by yourself, it allows you a lot more time to reflect.”
Dahir said non-Muslims can also be allies during Ramadan.
“Making sure that you’re reaching out to your Muslim neighbors and friends, seeing how they’re coping with this, because outside of the physical toll that fasting takes on you, not being able to connect with your community in a time like this can also take a real personal and mental toll on you,” Dahir said. “So just reaching out to them and seeing how they’re doing and just staying educated, learning more about Islam and learning more about Ramadan I think is the best way to stay informed.”