by Lori Riley
Ramadan, the holy month in Islam celebrated with fasting, prayer and giving, has been difficult this year for many Muslims in Connecticut due to the pandemic.
The holiday began April 24 and will end May 23. But Muslims cannot gather at mosques, which are closed, for prayer and iftar, the breaking of the fast at sundown, nor can they be with friends or extended family to celebrate iftar every day, as is customary.
Families or individuals are instead breaking their fast alone. Prayers and the reading of the Quran are done on Facebook Live, YouTube or Zoom and broadcast to the congregation.
“There was a camaraderie, you go [to the mosque] and talk to people,” said Mobashar Akram, the general secretary of the board of directors for the Islamic Center of Connecticut in Windsor. “People from different backgrounds, ethnicities, they come to pray and after, they socialize and hang out. And all of that is gone.”
During Ramadan, Akram said usually about 300 or 400 people go to the mosque in Windsor daily, especially at night, when there are prayers followed by a community meal.
“A prayer as a congregation happens because somebody’s leading it and you’re on the same premises following and hearing what that person’s saying; you prostrate and you do the rituals of the prayer, as that person leads it,” Akram said. “All we’re left to now is the person reciting the Quran and people listening to it [on their computers].”
Omer Bajwa is the director of Muslim Life at the Yale Chaplain’s Office and he and his wife are former board members of their neighborhood mosque in New Haven, Masjid Al-Islam.
“One of the unique challenges of this Ramadan, because we’re all in lockdown, there’s virtually no iftars taking place in mosques or community centers or peoples’ houses, so for a lot of people, that’s very jarring,” he said. “They’re so used to seeing their friends, seeing their co-workers, seeing their families.
“The second noteworthy disruption that a lot of people are feeling, they’re like, ‘I can’t participate in these communal prayers. Going to the mosque is part of the spiritual experience for me.’ I’ve been getting phone calls and texts and emails from people, ‘What do we do?’
“What a lot of mosques are doing, the imam will just recite, not in prayer. He’ll sit at his desk or in the mosque, he’ll recite that day’s portion on Facebook Live or YouTube or Zoom, then people can tune in and listen at home and then you would make your prayer yourself, individually. I think the silver lining, all of us are all praying more at home, with our families. I think that is really important.”
Another part of Ramadan is giving and outreach to those less fortunate. The fasting, Bajwa said, is to teach self-discipline of both the body and spirit as well as teaching people about feeling empathy for the poor and hungry.
“By physically feeling the effects of hunger for day after day and hour after hour, it’s supposed to soften the heart and make people feel more charitable, more generous, more compassionate human beings,” he said.
Normally, Bajwa said, he would circulate a Google document and people would sign up to host or put money toward having communal meal on the Yale campus during Ramadan.
This year, he sent out the document to ask people to contribute money to provide people who are members of Masjid Al-Islam with meals, as normally the mosque would be hosting meals.
Every Saturday, Bajwa and his wife go to local Muslim restaurants and get boxed meals to hand out between 6-7:30 p.m. — right before people are set to break their fast around 7:45 p.m. — in the parking lot of the New Haven mosque. On April 18, they gave out 130 meals.
“There are people who live next to the mosque, so when we did the distribution last Saturday, we had some extra meals, so we went knocking on doors,” Bajwa said. “They’re not part of the mosque, but they’re neighbors. So we gave them meals as well.”
In conclusion of Ramadan, there is the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr. This year it’s supposed to be on May 24 and it’s most likely going to be different due to the coronavirus restrictions.
“You’re celebrating a month of hard work, fasting, physical discipline, spiritual goals you’re trying to accomplish,” Bajwa said. “You go to the mosque in the morning, you pray. Everyone dresses up really nicely and you give gifts. You go from house to house, you’re having sweets and tea and coffee and it’s very festive. It’s a lot of visiting your friends, your neighbors, your family.
“As you can see, this is very problematic this year, it’s not going to work with COVID. It’s highly probable that all Eid prayers and festivities will be canceled this year. It’s going to be crushing. You’re literally going to be sitting at home and Eid Day just comes and goes.
“I have many Christian friends and colleagues – during Easter, you’re watching a Zoom sermon and you’re home. Same with Passover. This will be our experience of that disappointment.”
Lori Riley can be reached at email@example.com.