PHOTOS: Colorado Muslims Adjust Holy Rituals To Safely Remain Connected To Faith, Each Other During Second Ramadan In Pandemic Times
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will end next week, on May 12. This is the second time Muslims have observed this month during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Last time, many mosques closed their doors to ensure the safety of their community.
Muslims spend much of May in devout prayer. Most also fast from sunrise to sunset. For many, it's a very important opportunity to connect with their community.
KUNC reporter Adam Rayes spoke with Shakir Muhammad, president of the Islamic Center of Fort Collins, and Iman Jodeh, spokesperson for the Colorado Muslim Society Masjid Abu Bakr in Denver, to find out how the second COVID Ramadan is going for their mosques.
Jodeh is also a state House representative for the 41st district.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for clarity.
Adam Rayes: In many Masjids, Ramadan typically involves a lot of community Iftars (which is the meal that you break your fast with after sunset), extensive late-night prayers called Taraweeh and other community gatherings that allow people to observe and worship together. How much of that are your Masjids still able to do this Ramadan?
Iman Jodeh: Last year, unfortunately, we, like many mosques around the world, shut our doors. This year, we are incredibly blessed to welcome back community. We are still social distancing. We are not having Iftar dinners like we normally do. Under normal circumstances, we welcome about 400 people each night to break bread together. But this year what we are doing is offering boxed dinners Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. And we encourage people to eat outside or in their cars before welcoming them into the mosque to still socially distance and pray. Also to accommodate not working at full capacity, we are live streaming the Taraweeh or the nightly Ramadan prayers so people can still honor the spirit of the month.
Shakir Muhammad: At the Islamic Center of Fort Collins we are similarly offering online services. As far as doing the prayer and giving the sermon. We also are offering five daily prayers as we would normally. There's, of course, spacing, social distancing, there are hand sanitizers throughout the center. And also we require our congregants to pray on prayer rugs or plastic sheets that we have out, which you dispose of after the prayer is done. We are offering food service. Previously, we had break fast (Iftar) every night with people bringing in food from their homes potluck style. This year we decided to have it just two times a week, Saturday, Sunday. And the food would be prepared in the Islamic Center of Fort Collins.
Is there a part of Ramadan that you hold particularly dear, which you are no longer able to observe in the same way because of the coronavirus?
Jodeh: At the Colorado Muslim Society, just like Fort Collins, we are incredibly blessed to have beautiful architecture, a glass dome that looks on our minarets and the ambiance and the beautiful feeling that we get from the sound of Quranic recitation every night is one that, in my mind, is unmatched. And I will also say that the other thing to me that is really exclusive to Ramadan is, in fact, breaking our fasts together. Fasting for 2 billion people in the world is not only a physical cleanse, but a spiritual cleanse. And doing that, united over 30 days from sunrise to sunset, really allows us to re-center our mind, body and soul. And having the ability to recognize and honor why we do this every night and taking action, knowing that billions of people around the world do not have the privilege and luxury of reaching for food at their heart's desire. And really also having the opportunity to bring non-Muslims in to observe and celebrate and experience this spiritual month with us.
Muhammad: So the imam in the Islamic center is able to connect the people with their holy book, with their faith in a way that a person might not be able to have in their home. Of course, the prayers be made in their home. But just that connectivity to the sound, to the recitation of the imam, a lot of community members miss. The other thing that we miss is the connectivity to each other. We do have food service, but it's sort of at a distance. We're praying six feet apart at a distance, normally the prayer is side-by-side. So you're touching your arms, your body with the people who are next to you in prayer. And so just not being able to be close, to shake their hands, to hug people, I think that's the other part that's missing.
How has the pandemic affected your connection to and understanding of what's going on with the members of your Masjid community during this holy month?
Muhammad: So being six feet apart, wearing masks, I mean, that's another thing, you can't see someone smile at you. You try to see it in their eyes, but it's not the same thing. So the mosque is there, life is still going on. But at a distance, it's hard to get a pulse, as far as how everyone's doing.
Jodeh: I think it's important to actually define what a mosque is. I think traditionally in the United States, it's viewed as just as a house of worship. When in fact, throughout the Muslim world, a mosque is viewed as a community center. And this is where people flock to for services, for congregation outside of worship, for celebration and mourning, for education and to dialogue in general. Right? And so the Colorado Muslim Society has often served the community in this capacity and not just to our Muslim community, but to our greater non-Muslim community, and we're very proud of that track record. From hosting open houses to community forums to hosting elected officials and creating a platform for community to engage.
Are there any changes that your masjids made to these holy celebrations that you think might stick after/if we reach herd immunity? Any surprising benefits of a COVID Ramadan?
Jodeh: You know, I ask myself this question quite a bit about community in general. And really starting to reevaluate and reimagine what community can look like and adopt safe practices that have really shown to be beneficial for our overall community. I think for sure we will continue to livestream prayers and make that more available for people. I think we have now perfected what that looks like over the past year, whereas before it was done, but maybe not as professionally and not as regularly. I think this has also opened stronger channels for our elected officials to be communicative with the mosques that they represent and make sure that all of their concerns are addressed, their questions are answered, and that we are, in fact, not contributing to risky behavior in general. And whether that is in the time of COVID or any pandemic or not, we want to make sure that we are a shining example of strong community partners.
Muhammad: There's an Arabic proverb that says that the healthy person wears a crown that only the sick person can see. So with all these things taken away from us and those that are coming back bit-by-bit, we hope that we can appreciate them all when we return to much more normal situations. So we hope that the experiences that we've learned and shared in COVID aren't forgotten, but it propels us into the future to be better selves. And that's what the month of Ramadan directs us to be and to be better community members and be better spouses, better family members after having gone through such a great ordeal of this COVID-19 and in turn, hopefully, combined with the greater society, after having pulled all this together.
This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for May 3. You can find the full episode here.